WINDHOEK – A quick glance at the plight of many a football club that were chief beneficiaries of massive sponsorships from local business moguls and investors, some fly-by-night self-styled business executives, reveals a sad tale and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Immediately after independence in 1990, Namibian football was admitted to the family of the world’s football governing body FIFA, obliging clubs campaigning in the country’s topflight league to tie in with the inevitable concept of professionalism.
For this to materialize clubs needed massive financial injection from the corporate world but only a handful could attract potential sponsors. Katutura giants Tigers and FNB Orlando Pirates were trendsetters when the pair acquired lucrative sponsorships from Business Services and Sarusas Fishing, respectively.
As time went by, money started to dictate the pattern of the game culminating in a change of guard regarding loyalty as those clubs with deep pockets could easily dangle a juicy carrot before their potential transfer targets – thus attracting the crème de la crème of local footballers.
Khomasdal outfit Civics were the first to break the tradition when a German fellow going by the name of Helmuth Scharnowski entered the fray in 1999. He acquired 100% shares in Civics, a mid-table club that lived in the shadows of their more celebrated neighbours Young Ones.
Scharnowski’s arrival was to change the face of Namibian football for good as the Civilians rose to prominence winning silverware including an unprecedented trio of back-to-back league titles.
There is an old saying that when money talks everything else walks and other clubs took a damn good heed of this adage.
Civics’ newly found success left their competitors green with envy and the likes of Blue Waters, Eleven Arrows, African Stars, Orlando Pirates, Black Africa all followed suit roping in investors, but as they say, any investment in any kind of relationship must be reciprocated.
The business moguls’ arrival immediately yielded success for their respective partners but the burden of bankrolling a football club with no returns proved to be a potato too hot to handle and many sponsors backed off, abandoning the sinking ship.
These unforeseen divorces usually have dire consequences for the survival of the clubs with the majority either relegated to the lower league or left to fight tooth and nail for their premiership status.
Flamboyant mining mogul Johnny ‘JJD’ Doeseb’s romance with Eleven Arrows ended on a sour note when he abandoned ship. “When I joined, I found the club with a huge deficit but when I departed, I left them with valuable assets including a healthy bank balance,” boasts Doeseb.
Former Blue Waters owner Hendrik Dawid left the Birds under a dark cloud but as soon as he exited, the coastal giants found themselves in unfamiliar territory campaigning in the country’s 2nd tier division.
In the meantime, Sidney Martin’s shock departure from African Stars in the middle of the season has set tongues wagging.
“It should be clearly understood that my association with the club was purely a gesture of my social responsibility. The current setup in football does not allow for a viable profit-making business venture and on top of that, I’m involved in other businesses and will lose focus if I concentrate all my energy on football.”
Another football heavyweight Ranga Haikali, a majority shareholder in Black Africa, leapt to Martin’s defence saying some board members and the majority of supporters do not genuinely appreciate the real value and financial commitment from investors.
“My involvement in football is purely passion-driven for the game and of course that comes with emotions. There is an urgent need to professionalize the game in general because it’s pointless to have just a few clubs conducting their business in a professional manner while others are lagging.”
Haikali reckons the successes of Black Africa, African Stars or any other club will not be fulfilled if the majority of clubs are not on par in terms in the area of offering stiff competition because the playing ground is not level.
And while football is a much sought after commodity in the global village – many believe Namibian football still has a long way to go before it can attract big sponsorships, which normally arrive in the form of television revenue.