Tsumeb is one of the smallest enclaves of Namibia and a relatively quiet place with not much of a claim to fame besides the Copper Mine and previously Etosha Lions, in later years to be christened Chief Santos, and of course the nearby Otjikoto Lake, a noteworthy tourist attraction.
Nevertheless, out of this sleepy northern town came a young boy going by the name of Hasso Ahrens.
The young Hasso would defy regular hidings from his old man to sneak out and play what the world’s greatest footballer “Pele” duped, “the beautiful game”, from dawn until the darkness of night had set in – very much against his father’s wishes.
By Carlos Kambaekwa
Hasso was born in Windhoek on the 5th of May 1947 but moved to Tsumeb with his parents at a very tender age. He grew up in the Copper Town and became addicted to chasing leather at any given time.
He mingled with youngsters who would become great footballers in the intervening years such as his younger brother Uwe and cousin Gernot, as well as Gunter Hellinghausen. It did not take young Hasso long to be recognized as a boy with exceptional talent and the young winger was drafted into the then South West Africa Eleven at the age of eighteen .
“We played several friendly matches against top teams from South Africa in the form of Boksburg, Southern Suburbs, Rangers and Port Elizabeth City and I really enjoyed every moment of those games as I ran rings around some of their ageing defenders.”
Hasso became an instant hero and was subsequently lured to the city of lights Windhoek, where he joined the formidable Ramblers outfit that was then campaigning in South Africa’s second tier league – the National Football League in 1969.
Following England’s triumph in the 1966 World Cup finals on home soil – Ramblers raised the bar and acquired the services of the then England coach Greg Smith, who turned the team’s fortunes around with his vast knowledge of the game.
1971 saw the amalgamation of Ramblers and Talpark – leading to the birth of Windhoek City. “That was a move in the right direction because our soccer improved dramatically under the guidance of Greg, and we used to draw large crowds with an average of 2 000 spectators on Friday evenings at the old showgrounds.”
City had assembled a great squad with players such as Wessie van der Westhuizen and Winton Geiser from Talpark, whilst Ramblers supplied the likes of Raymond Dodds, Xavier Kuhn, Fred Riley and Don Corbett who joined the club from Port Elizabeth City.
“Greg was a very nice lad with a great sense of humour and it was he who masterminded my transfer from Windhoek City to Hellenic in Cape Town – where I rubbed shoulders with great footballers such as George Eastham who had just won the English FA Cup with Stoke City the year before.
“Eastham became a player-coach at Hellenic and moulded the team into a formidable side and after the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico – Hellenic reinforced their playing personnel with great players such as the English legend Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Ian John from Liverpool and a number of top players from the German Bundesliga, which included tough as steak defender Berndt Patzke from 1860 Munich.
“I spent one season with Hellenic and when I came back to South West Africa, I managed to persuade a few guys from the mother city to follow me and try their luck at Windhoek City. The likes of Vic Lovell, Ian Buchanan, Siggy Anderson all came along and we formed a great partnership at City.”
City gave a good account of themselves and Hasso vividly remembers his countless duels with the Highlands Park duo of Frank “Jingles” Parreira and Freddy Kalk.
“In those years, the political climate in the country started to change a bit and football authorities organized an exhibition match between the South West Africa Black Eleven and White Invitational Eleven, which ended in a 3-all stalemate at a packed to the rafters National Rugby Stadium in Windhoek in 1975. In my opinion that was not a good gesture because we needed to play with each other and not against each other.”
Hasso’s exploits on the football field did not go unnoticed and he deservedly walked away with the prestigious Sportsman of the Year Award in 1975.
The diminutive winger says he had very little qualms mingling with players of colour on and off the field in his prime time. “While I was growing up in Tsumeb, we used to kick around with other young footballers across the colour line, such as the late Albert Louw and some other talented boys from the townships.”
Hasso cherishes the moment when he was chosen to turn out for a multi-racial South West Africa Eleven against the visiting Kaizer Chiefs in 1976, and rates the late Chiefs midfield maestro Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe as the greatest footballer he has ever come across on the football pitch.
“I think Ace was born at the wrong time and in the wrong country because he could have easily walked into any team in the world, had it not been for the South African Apartheid regime, which isolated South Africa from world football,” fumed Hasso regretfully.
When local football came under one roof – Hasso found himself back at Ramblers where he became player-coach for a few seasons before he jumped ship to join local rivals Sport Klub Windhoek (SKW).
He was a member of the victorious SKW outfit that won the country’s most sought-after silverware at the time, the Mainstay Cup in controversial fashion against Orlando Pirates, with Hasso netting a brace in that memorable match at the Windhoek Stadium (now Independence Stadium) way back in 1979.
Pirates won the penultimate match 5 – 3 after extra time but were controversially disqualified after the Dios Engelbrecht- led team arrived 45 minutes late for the kick-off, much to the dismay of the country’s football authorities who summarily resolved to declare SKW the legitimate winner.
“I’m not exactly proud of that medal because I’m not the kind of guy who likes matches being won on the green table and personally thought the cup should have gone to Pirates because they won it fair and square on the field of play – that’s the bottom line.”
Hasso retired from active soccer at the age of 50 after playing for SKW in the midweek Old Boys League. He looks back with fond memories on his blossomed football career and singles out the likes of Hermann “Pele” Blaschke, Albert “Hoonjo” Tjihero, Hansie Lohmeier, Oscar “Silver Fox” Mengo, Hugh “Bobby” Craddock, and the departed trio of Siegfried “Dale” Stephanus, Hendrik “Doc” Hadley and Norbertus “Norries” Goraseb as exceptional footballers.
He still watches the odd league game but he is not entirely impressed with the standard of modern footballers in the domestic league.
“In our days we played for the love of the game – unlike modern players who lack commitment and technical ability which I personally attribute to sub-standard coaching methods. Don’t get me wrong – potential-wise our players are up there but the coaching department leaves much to be desired.”