Young Totii Hanavi began what would become a flourishing football career at non-league outfit Cosmos Football Club.
The gold and black-striped outfit consisted of young footballers desperately craving action, as they could not break into boyhood teams African Stars and Hungry Lions’ star-studded squads.
Cosmos started out competing in what used to be referred to as “bush tournaments” (unsanctioned tourneys), with the club’s favourite hunting grounds being remote villages, such as Groot Aub, Rehoboth, Okahandja, Otjimbingwe, Gobabis and Otjinene, amongst others.
Born in Otjimbingwe in the vast mountainous Erongo Region on April 8, 1965 young Totii relocated to Windhoek at the age of ten to start his schooling at Bertholdt Himumuine Primary School in 1975.
Ironically, his arrival in the city of bright lights coincided with the year domestic football took a dramatic turn, with the first football match between a Black Eleven and their white counterparts at the packed-to-rafters Suidwes Rugby Stadium, later rechristened Dr Hage Geingob Stadium upon Namibia’s ascent to democracy in 1990.
That particular exhibition match was to change the mindset of the South African apartheid regime after they saw that black people were equal in many terms – which soon resulted in the abolition of a significant number of discriminatory laws that were oppressing and dehumanising black people.
Blessed with a brilliant first touch and dribbling skills second to none, Totii started out as a striker banging in goals like they were going out of fashion. He was the club’s leading striker, alongside lanky striking partner Patrick ‘Mandala’ Kaizemi and free-scoring Willy Nependa.
The squad boasted exciting youngsters, led by the tough-as-steak fullback Bobby Tjiho, Abel Kazondunge, and the football crazy Wimmert twins, Boetie and Toto.
After a few seasons competing in several unofficial knockout tourneys in nearby towns, such as Aranos, Dordabis and Groot Aub – the team went a step further – joining forces with the newly established Central Namibia Football Association (CNFA) breakaway faction, under the guidance of Namibia’s football guru, Uncle Bobby Sissing.
“The competition was tough – although not at the same level as the strong Central Football Association (CFA), which housed the big guns, African Stars, Tigers, Ramblers, Black Africa, SKW and Orlando Pirates – teams like Swansea, Thistles, Sorento Bucks, Luton, Arsenal, Civics and Benfica were very competitive,” recalls Totii.
With Swansea dominating proceedings in the popular league, Cosmos had to be content with playing second fiddle to their more affluent opponents, despite occasionally winning the odd tournament.
CNFA was well organised and enjoyed massive appeal among Khomasdal residents, to the extent that some of the finest footballers in Khomasdal, led by Lance ‘Jakkals’ Willemse, Connie Mouton and Ritchie ‘Ski’ Steenkamp would jump ship to join their ranks.
Players were exposed to tours, with teams from the Federation League in South Africa flocking to Namibia en masse, but in his own words, players from both Cosmos and Sorento Bucks were deliberately ignored for selection, because of their their skin colour.
“It was crystal clear that the selection policy was biased, primarily driven by sentiments perfectly tailored to advantage the coloureds and baster athletes. Well, that was football politics and we just had to live with it or face the risk of forfeiting our membership.”
Having reached the ceiling in their ambitious football careers, the majority of Cosmos playing personnel resolved to seek greener pastures elsewhere. While a significant chunk joined Hungry Lions (Bobby Tjiho and Mandala Kaizemi) Totii went the opposite direction, joining forces with the country’s oldest football team, Tigers.
He arrived at Ingwe at a time when the team was rebuilding after many of its star players started getting a bit long in the tooth.
“We were a bunch of football crazy youngsters, that included Bricks Hangula, Lucky Iyambo, Ronnie Hangula, Tiwi Kaundje, Gabes Christof and were literally thrown into the lion’s den.”
The squad had in its midst the likes of veterans in the shape of Grey Umati, Bandike Ochurub, Oubaas Pogisho, Kumi Umati, Jerry ‘Magobetzy’ Tjizoo, Issy Naruseb, Mentos Hipondoka and Pele Uri-Khob.
While many of his peers struggled to secure starting berths with their new teams, Totii walked straight into Ingwe’s first team and was converted into an attacking midfielder, and as they say – the rest is history.
He was to play a pivotal role in Tigers’ upsurge in the breakaway Namibia National Soccer League (NSSL) that saw Tigers winning the maiden league title of the rebel league.
Apart from the coveted NSSL title, his stint with the Shandumbala Boys saw them being crowned champions in both the Castle Classic and Metropolitan Cup knockout competitions – defeating cup kings Black Africa in both finals.
However, much to the amazement of Ingwe’s followers, Totii developed itchy feet and irked the club’s diehards by joining eternal rivals, African Stars. “I just wanted a new challenge, because I’d won almost everything there was to be won in the business with Tigers and needed to recharge my batteries.”
Totti’s homecoming to his boyhood team coincided with Namibia’s Independence and the inevitable departure of many of the club’s old guard. The club was mentored by wily Zimbabwean import Sheperd Murape, who transformed the Reds into a formidable outfit. Amongst his teammates were Angolan football’s wunderkind Domingo Martin and Zambian stocky goal machine, Abidal Bwalya.
Stars’ midfield pairing of newcomer Totii with Richard Kamberipa, Tsetse Nerumbu, Bernard Neumann and Wagga Goagoseb was hailed by many football pundits as the finest combo in the highly competitive domestic league.
“Playing alongside those great footballers was an honour for me, something that I would always cherish for the rest of my life. Eish! How I wish one could turn back the clock and relive the good old days when footballers took the game seriously.
“A guy like Wagga (Goagoseb) was a marvel to watch, I really enjoyed playing alongside him, because he possessed such an incredible football brain and knew exactly when and where to release the ball. Waggies was doubtlessly a cut above the rest. He was the kind of footballer people would pay money to go and watch him play football the way it should be played – spreading those telling passes.”
Like many retired footballers, Totii bemoans the lack of commitment – aided by indiscipline – demonstrated by footballers in the modern era. He has great respect and admiration for Black Africa’s hard-as-nails midfielder, late Bernard Diocothle.
“In our time, we used to do extra training on our own, something that’s shamelessly missing with the current crop of footballers,” he concludes.
Totti retired quietly from competitive football, a scenario he blames on club management for putting too much faith in relatively inexperienced young footballers at the expense of the tried and tested.