Ritchie Steenkamp aka ‘Skii’ – Generalissimo of the Midfield

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Skii (above) singles out Black Africa’s mercurial midfielder Lucky Boostander, as his most difficult opponent during his football career.

Just slightly under a decade before the arrival of a young and highly gifted skinny footballer going by the name of Johannes ‘Congo’ Hindjou, local football supporters would pay any kind of money to squeeze their bodies through the turnstiles to watch a team of unknown footballers from Khomasdal, known as Young Ones Football Club.

Young Ones – ‘Kings of the Night’ – as the exciting youthful outfit was affectionately known among local football lovers, was not short of gifted footballers, who enjoyed the admiration of football fans and earned the genuine respect of their opponents wherever they played as a result of their simple ‘one-touch’ style of carpet football. The likes of Boet Mathews, Lance Willemse, Makes du Plessis, Willy Erasmus, Dove Fransman, Mike Peterson, Capes Nel, George Wiertz, Dawid ‘Donkey’ Majiedt and Fire Bailey were all athletes of note, who excelled in the red, white and black colours of Young Ones.

However, there was a ginger-haired slippery midfielder who captured the imagination of football fans with his trademark silky movement on and off the ball, great positioning and above all, whose unpredictable killer passes, which almost always left the opposition in the doldrums. That man was the shy, lanky box-to-box midfielder, christened at birth as Ritchie Steenkamp, aka ‘Skii’ in football circles, a naturally gifted athlete who marshaled the Young Ones engine room with maturity and confidence.

Skii went on to match seasoned campaigners like Oscar Mengo, Lucky Boostander, Koko Muatunga, Grey Umati, Doc Hardley, Five Hochobeb, Ranga Lucas, Ivo de Gouveia, Norries Goraseb and many other great midfielders pound for pound in almost every aspect of the beautiful game. New Era Sports finally caught up with the slippery fox and here is his story as he reveals how the notorious ‘Rooi Oog’ or Red Eye gang, hastened his pre-mature departure from football. 

 

WINDHOEK – Arguably one of the most gifted midfielders to have come out of the shores of the land of the brave, Skii like many of his Young Ones teammates, was born in Upington, South Africa, in 1962, but literally grew up in South West Africa (Namibia) when his parents relocated to Windhoek, when he was barely out of his nappies at the tender age of three.

 

His football career started at the Gammams Primary School in Khomasdal where he featured for the school football team playing alongside Deon van Rooi and Hendrik Vries during his early days on the football pitch. He became a noted footballer when he went on to Ella du Plessis High School where his hidden talent was discovered. Skii started out in the school’s 2nd team with cameo appearances for the first team, but eventually gained promotion to the school’s 1st team in his second year of high school. “In those days, school football was extremely competitive, because most of the schools such as Augustineum, St Josephs (Döbra), Martin Luther, Cornelius Goraseb and Ella Du Plesiss had great players in their midst. The majority plied their trade in the country’s topflight leagues with African Stars, Black Africa, Blue Waters, Chelsea, Tigers, Orlando Pirates and Thistles,” recalls Skii. In 1974, Skii became a founding member of Khomasdal-based Young Ones FC under the guidance of former South West Africa player John Swarts, the man widely accredited for having introduced the much-adored ‘one- touch’ football strategy associated with the youthful Khomasdal outfit.

 

Some of Skii’s celebrated teammates in the exciting Young Ones line up included Lance Willemse, Willy Erasmus, Capes Nel, Dawid Madjiet, Dove Fransman, Olic Peterson, Fire Bailey, Makes du Plessis and Boet Mathews. “At the beginning, we only competed in small knockout tournaments in nearby towns such as Groot Aub, Rehoboth and Dordabis, because there was no proper organized football league structures in place for emerging clubs. We joined forces with the Central Football League (CFA) second division, indeed a very strong league comprising of great teams led by Hungry Lions, Benfica and Sorento Bucks.”

 

Not surprisingly, it did not take long for the Khomasdal rookies to establish themselves as a major force to be reckoned with in domestic football. “We all had a unified natural playing style attributed to the fact that we all came from the same background, starting from our early days at primary up to high school level. Almost that entire squad has played together for many, many years and that could have been the primary reason why the team gelled so easily on and off the pitch, because we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses like the palm of our hands.”

Skii played an instrumental role in leading Young Ones to promotion into the CFA division one league at the beginning of the 1982 league campaign. Just as the exciting Khomasdal outfit started to make serious inroads into the elite football league Skii sent shockwaves through the football fraternity and the club’s faithful when he left Young Ones to join Swansea in the rebel non-racial Namibia Central Football Association (NCFA). The motto of the militant league was: “You can’t play normal sports in an abnormal society,” as it sought to resist apartheid through sports under the stewardship of hippy-look-alike veteran football administrator and former player, Bob Sissing. Skii enjoyed a successful season with Swansea in the popular, but less competitive football league as his new team swept their opponents aside to win many knockout tournaments, while he also earned inter-provincial colours for the NCFA invitational side for the South African Soccer Federation National Inter-Provincial B-Section Zonal tourney in South Africa.

Back home, something was amiss in his pursuit for excellence. The highly gifted hard working attacking midfield general was itching for more competitive action and was left with no other option than to return to his old club, since he desperately wanted to take his promising football career to another level. A return to his boyhood team was inevitable and the skinny midfielder made a quick retreat to take his rightful place alongside the legendary Boet Mathews, Makes du Plessis, Willy Erasmus and Ben Hendricks in arguably the finest midfield combination in our neck of the woods. For the fans Skii was an icon and his return to the Young Ones nest provided more gusto and excitement to the much-adored Khomasdal outfit. He immediately announced his return to topflight football with a string of stellar performances in the heart of the Young Ones engine room. Skii was the chief architect when a fired up Young Ones side mesmerized an out of sorts Black Africa on a cold night at the SKW stadium under floodlights to the extent that their confused opponents humbly requested the referee to stop play and count the Young Ones players. On that particular night BA were completely outplayed and outthought, so it was little surprise if any, to those in attendance when the totally out of depth Gemengde outfit, all of a sudden started crying foul play by requesting the match official to stop play and do a quick recount. BA suspected their opponents had fielded more bodies than the required eleven on the playing field as Young Ones players casually strung together dozens of uninterrupted passes among themselves en route to a comfortable win, while enjoying the lion’s share of ball possession resembling actors at work in a Boswell Wilky circus, very much to the chagrin of their opponents.

The powers that be at BA had seen enough and managed to persuade Skii to jump ship and cross the floor to join BA, as they sought to strengthen their fragile midfield with a high profile player who could complement the exploits of overworked playmaker Lucky Boostander. Skii jumped at the opportunity to play for a big team and joined forces with BA, but the prodigal son was soon back in familiar territory after a few below par appearances for the Gemengde outfit.  With Skii back in the thick of things, the next notable casualty on the hit list of Young Ones were Orlando Pirates, another big fish, after waltzing past Tigers in the semifinal of a knockout tourney. Skii still has bad memories of that ill-fated clash against Ingweinyama that ended prematurely after the notorious ‘Rooi Oog’ gang resolved to take matters into their own hands. The gangsters could no longer stomach the painful and embarrassing humiliation of watching their favourite team being torn apart by the silky moves of their opponents, which propelled the Khomasdalers to a comfortable 2-0 lead with 20-minutes of playing time left on the clock. Tournament organizers correctly awarded the points to Young Ones, who proceeded to the final for a mouth-watering showdown with Pirates.

 

What was meant to be a leisurely afternoon at the SKW stadium soon turned into a cowboy movie, featuring John Wayne and his sidekick against the baddies. The gun-totting ‘Rooi Oog’ thugs were apparently not happy with the outcome of the disciplinary case, which led to the expulsion of Tigers from the competition and resolved to disrupt the final thug-style. The notorious thugs started firing gunshots in the air, forcing both sets of players to run for cover. The unwarranted disruption caused the match to be abandoned, but Skii vowed never to return to the football field again and decided there and then to hang up his football togs for good, while still at the pinnacle of his flourishing football career. Despite his natural football skills, Skii was deemed a bit of a lightweight in the tough and demanding rigours of provincial football and missed out on selection for the combined South West Africa (SWA) Army team, despite an impressive showing during the trials.

By Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa

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