“Ejengo Okaserandu Nguari Pe Jovi” – the Red One who masterminded African Stars’ victory over Black Africa in the final of the first ever soccer tournament carrying a prize money of N$1000, which was plenty of moolah at the time in 1974.
Without a doubt, Albert “Hoonjo” Tjihero was one of the greatest footballers this country has ever produced.
The former Black Beauty Chiefs (BBC) and African Stars icon relives some of his memories in the game that saw him becoming the first young footballer to skipper a national team. He was bestowed with the honour of leading the then South West Africa Black Eleven against their White counterparts at a packed to rafters Suidwes Stadion – a record 35,000 spectators attended the historic occasion in 1975.
By Carlos Kambaekwa
Albert Tjihero needs very little introduction in local football, after all was he not the long-legged boy who captained the first ever Black Eleven against their White counterparts in the historic match that saw darkies pitting their skills against laanies in days when it was taboo to rub shoulders with the pale skinned, let alone chasing an inflated pigskin with a common purpose?
Born at Okahandja on the 21st of June in 1956, like many youngsters his age at the time Albert did not take football seriously and only kicked around to while away time after school with a number of bored friends from the neigbourhood.
“We mainly played during the school break with other boys such as George Gariseb, Bethuel ‘Ace’ Tjirera, Hans Haraseb, Siegfried ‘Jossy’ Haoseb and the late pair of Richard ‘Naana’ Uaendere and Ignatius ‘Ngarukue’ Kaitjirokere – all learners from the Okahandja Inboorling Skool.”
It was not long before he was drafted into the Black Beauty Chiefs lineup where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Dave Nangombe, Elias Leopaldt, “Big Shoe” Kauaaka Zebedeus “Merino” Kandonga and Binga Kairikove.
It was at Dobra under the tutorship of teacher Willem Hans where young Albert came out of his shell while turning out for Indian Pirates in the inter school unofficial league.
“My teammates in that team were the late Lourens ‘Vossie’ van Wyk, Job Tjiho, Bernard ‘Hassie’ Mingeri and Benny ‘Boone’ Zaaruka,” recalls Albert.
He soon graduated to the senior school team and found himself playing alongside established names that included Max Johnson, Albertus “Karumbu” Kahiha, Efraim “Katjimbungu” Riruako, Hannes Louw, Stu Damaseb, Hassie Mingeri and the Hans siblings Mike and Johannes.
“We had a formidable side and always participated in major tournaments against the likes of African Stars, Orlando Pirates, Black and Tigers and the closest we came was a couple of semifinals.”
His talent did no go unnoticed and the quartet of Mike Pack, Willy Tjongarero, Levy “Riroo” Hijamutiti and the late Meester Karuhumba tiptoed to the Garden Town with the aim of twisting the arm of Albert’s uncompromising old man Festus in an effort to allow them the usage of his talented son. “My father reluctantly gave them the green light on condition that football was not to interfere with my schoolwork.”
His debut for Stars turned out to be a nightmarish affair after pandemonium broke out between Stars and Orlando Pirates with the match marred by a free for all fistfight after the late Izak “Hoops” caught Stars’ left winger Katjimune Kamaheke with a flying boot in the face while executing one of his trademark acrobatic kicks.
“I vividly remember that fateful day, the late Ephraim ‘Katjiheiue’ Hei, started the fight when he ‘bliksemd’ the hell out of the gigantic Pirates defender.
“When I joined Stars, they had very good players and competition for starting berths was tough, with a mixture of some of the old guard and young brigade. The more experienced players in the team were Amos Tjombe and Mike Pack, while the likes of Kaika Kuzee, George Kambirongo, Kandjambi Veseevete, Eliah Tjipuna, Ben Kauejao, Merino Kandonga, Bush Menjengua, Nicklaas Kajau, Arnold Tjihuiko, Metusal Kangombe and Oscar Mengo completed the lineup.”
Albert’s moment of truth arrived when Stars won the first ever knock-out tournament with a first prize of N$1 000, after a good run in the knock-out stages that saw Stars claiming the scalps of Eleven Arrows, Blue Waters, and Chief Santos to set up a thrilling final against the star-studded Black Africa outfit.
“Let me set the record straight here. I scored the winning goal in our hard fought 3-2 win and earned the nickname ‘Ejengo Okaserandu Nguari Pe Jovi’ – but ignorant fans later changed the whole phrase to ‘Kamuserandu Nguari Pe Jovi’ making reference to Stars fast as lightning winger Immanuel Kamuserandu. Immanuel was playing for Blue Waters at the time and was even in the Blue Waters lineup together with the Kuhanga brothers Kaputji and Seadog as well as Jerry Shikongo, Ranga Lucas, Julius Stephanus and Riva Jakonia.”
That was the beginning of a new era for Stars as the team became unbeatable and went on to dominate domestic football for many years. The 4th of October 1975 is a day that never fails to run riot in the ageing belly of Albert wherever he finds himself on this universe.
“I will always cherish that day until my last breath because that was the day when I captained the Black Eleven against the White Eleven in front of a capacity crowd at the Suidwes Stadion (Hage Geingob Stadium) – the match ended in a 3-all draw and we shared the cup with each team keeping the trophy for six months.
“The bulk of the players wanted to revolt against the idea of playing against our oppressors at the time and we had several meetings with bigwigs from the SWAPO Movement under the leadership of the late Sisingi Hiskia and it was eventually agreed that we should not mix politics with sport.”
Back at Stars, the team ventured into sacred territory and started to challenge predominantly White teams such as Windhoek City and Sparta.
“The White teams were technically better and knew the rules, but we had natural talent and were also driven by a political urge not to lose against Whites. We beat both City and Sparta in their own backyards. This time Stars had now reinforced their playing personnel with young George Gariseb, Immanuel Kamuserandu, Benjamin ‘Doc’ Naobeb, Zenga Dodos, and Willy Rwida all coming on board.”
Stars went on the rampage and won the double in 1977 – beating Ramblers in both finals of the National League and the Mainstay Cup – the equivalent to the MTC NFA Cup in modern football. Albert picks out his brother-in-law Oscar “Silver Fox” Mengo as the most complete footballer of his time.
“He had all the attributes of a great footballer and was capable of coming up with something extra when the chips were down.” Albert became a regular member of the Currie Cup team that consisted of the country’s finest footballers, amongst them, Wolfgang Fleischhammer, Gunter Hellinghausen, Hugh “Bobby” Cradock, and Hasso Ahrens with the late Vic Lovell as coach.
“That was a very good team but we the Black players were not committed because we simply felt that we could not play normal football in an abnormal society as a result of the apartheid laws. Most of us only used the opportunity as a ‘Jolly Trip’ and sometimes even faked injuries to avoid competing in these tournaments.”
Albert strongly believes that Namibian football has reached a point of no redemption.
“The current executive of the NFA has not been able to identify the root of the problem and has been using the wrong remedy, whilst the tendency of importing foreign coaches who do not understand the culture of our football is hampering the growth of our football big time.”