By Carlos Kambaekwa
It’s not every now and then that one would find young footballers adopting the name of the legendary Edson Arantes Donascimento alias “Pele”.
So far, Namibia has had quite a few footballers going by that famous name but three names immediately spring to mind – the trio of Hermann “Pele” Blaschke, Pius “Pele” Eigowab also known as Garrincha, and the late Doctor Pieter “Pele” Damaseb, were exceptional footballers in their own right and certainly lived up to the demands of their top billing.
However, Blaschke was a phenomenal footballer who mesmerized opposing defenders at will during his heydays with Swakopmund-based outfit Atlanta Chiefs, where he formed a deadly combination with the bow-legged Ruben “Ruby” Kamulu in the late sixties.
Other footballers of note who had the privilege of playing alongside Pele in the star-studded Atlanta Chiefs lineup were Gabes Masilo, Efraim Hangala and Hanga Namupala.
From the moment young Pele started kicking plastic footballs in the streets of the notorious Laeveld Section of Khomasdal – a previously reserved township for the coloured community – Pele showed talent belying his tender age and soon found himself playing for Khomasdal’s glamour football club Thistles.
Young Pele rubbed shoulders with Fritzie Poulton, Edward “Nose” Morgenroth and younger brother Gustav “Ou Reus” Blaschke and had sporadic stints with Flames (guest player) and Black Africa where he cut his teeth with the likes of Benjamin “Spokes” Tibinyane, Bethuel “Five” Hochbeb, Corrie Uri-Khob, Stu Damaseb, Pius Eigowab and the late Albert “Boetie” Louw.
But it was at Atlanta Chiefs where Pele made his name when the team was playing in the then popular annual Easter Tournament in the Copper Town of Tsumeb, way back in 1969.
“At the time, the legendary Percy ‘Chippa’ Moloi came to Namibia at the invitation of Chief Santos, under the leadership of the late Herbert Conradie, and oh boy we played the match of our lives against the hosts, and the fans went as far as requesting a rematch to which we duly obliged,” recalls Pele with a twinkle in his ageing eyes.
“That was an exhibition match second to none and I was even requested to exchange sides with Moloi who was playing for Santos.”
Pele’s big break was as a result of public demand after the South West Africa Invitation Eleven was given a thorough roasting by the visiting Kaizer Eleven at a packed to rafters Katutura stadium in Windhoek in 1969.
The fans demanded the inclusion of Atlanta Chiefs’ terrible twins Pele and Ruby, prompting football officials retreating to Swakopmund after darkness had already set in to fetch the pair in a desperate effort to salvage some lost pride.
“We should have been in that team in the first place, but you know mos football politics in those days, because our initial exclusion had nothing to do with our playing ability, it was more location-wise since we were not from the city of lights (Windhoek).
“We played against Kaizer Eleven on the Sunday and convincingly beat them – I think the final score line was 3 – 1 with me scoring a scorcher that beat my good friend Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi hands down. That team had very good players such as Martin ‘Sika’ Williams, Tommy Uushona, Benjamin ‘Spokes’ Tibinyane, Ismael ‘Lemmy’ Narib, Eddy Cloete and the late dribbling wizard Timo Mwetuyela.”
After that, the South West Invitational Eleven was invited to tour South Africa for several friendlies against top South African sides in the mould of Giant Aces, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Eleven.
“We were very tired upon arrival after travelling the long journey by train and lost heavily against Kaizer Eleven – 5 goals to 1 – in our second match but managed to recover in the next game where we beat Orlando Pirates by 3 goals to 1. Lemmy, Timo and Tomy played a blinder in that match and myself and Lemmy were signed straight away by the late Ewert ‘the Lip’ Nene who had an incredible eye for talent.”
The 21-year old Pele returned to Namibia to bid farewell to his family and friends but his romance with the Soweto glamour football club was delayed.
“You know what happened ……. ” … Laughs … “I chopped the money that Chiefs had given me to pay for my air ticket and it took some bravery from Kaizer Motaung to come over here and drag me along to Johannesburg. Soon afterwards, Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo and Pius ‘Garrincha’ Eigowab also joined us at Chiefs.”
Pele reckons Mengo could have made the grade at Chiefs had he not become homesick, and his wife Jenny quickly chips in. “Daai ene was baie stil and wou net heeldag geslaap het. Yes I vividly remember him as a very good boy and I really liked him a lot.”
“My broer! that was the real Kaizer Chiefs, we had great players like our late captain Ariel ‘Pro’ Kungoane, Gerald ‘Umgababa’ Dlamini, Johannes ‘Ryder’ Mofokeng, Eliakim ‘Pro’ Khumalo, Petros ‘Terror’ Maphuti, ‘Ten Ten’ Nzimande, Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi, Jacky ‘Asinamali’ Masike, Bizzah Dlamini, Zacharia ‘Computer’ Lamola and the legendary Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe.”
Such was Chiefs’ popularity that the team went straight into the country’s top league after its formation. “We were playing friendly games in other townships under the Nigel Association and attracted large crowds with our entertaining brand of football wherever we played, thus leaving established teams such as Pirates and Swallows struggling to draw crowds to their games, and that did not go down well with the football administrators who literally begged us to join their league.
“During my stint at Chiefs, I always scored vital goals or assisted in the other goals. We had Ace and to tell you the truth that boy could read the game and it was a marvel to play alongside the tireless Ryder on the right flank, because he was making the runs – overlapping non-stop like a mean machine.”
Pele and Ace left Chiefs briefly and signed up with Miami Torros in 1972 after Kaizer had brokered the deal for the team’s most prized assets. The duo’s departure had a very negative effect on Chiefs’ fortunes as Pirates started to dominate proceedings on the domestic front.
“I came back to Chiefs the following year, a move I still regret up to this day considering what I would have earned in those days, but nevertheless, I still have great memories of my days with Chiefs and I’m thankful to people like Ewert Nene and Kaizer Motaung. Kaizer brought professionalism in South African football with his vast experience gained while he was playing in the United States and that really rubbed on the rest of the team.”
Whilst enjoying unequalled success on the playing field, Pele recalls a very nasty incident that almost saw him crossing swords with authorities while still playing for Kaizer Chiefs in the late seventies.
“The late Danny Tjongarero came to Johannesburg and we hooked up as homeboys from Swakopmund, not knowing the brother was under surveillance by the South African Intelligence Squad, who thought I was busy with politics. I was about to deny that I knew Danny but my colleagues advised me otherwise and I was eventually let off the hook after pleading ignorance.”
The 59-year-old Pele is currently working at the South Africa Airlink Upholstery Maintanance Department. He is married to Jane and the 33-year old marriage bore the couple two children – a son Sidney and daughter Jolene.