Death is like an old friend who keeps following you unknowingly and tips you on your shoulder just to greet you with the following phrase: ‘Hi ! do you still remember me?’ and by the time you turn to acknowledge his presence, you instantly become a statistic without further warning. That’s the game, called death.
The Namibian football fraternity has been struck by another sad event with the sudden departure of the likeable former Tigers Football Club flying winger, Johannes Issy Naruseb.
Born in Windhoek’s Old Location in 1959, Issy suffered the emotional pain of being rejected by boyhood team Orlando Pirates as a youngster, despite desperate begging from former Ghosts Wunderkind, the mercurial midfielder Norries Noraseb, whose advice to the club hierarchy to give the boy a chance to prove himself ended in vain.
Nevertheless, the old adage that when one door closes another one opens seemed to favoured the football-crazy lad, as he found refuge next door at the Buccaneers’ eternal rivals, Tigers.
Famously known for his diagonal deliveries from the right wing, Issy became an instant hit with the Tigers faithful after he almost single-handedly propelled Ingwe to become league champions in the maiden edition of the breakaway Namibia National Soccer League (NNSL) in 1985.
Apart from his exploits on the football pitch, Issy joined the long list of former footballers turned-musician, following in the steps of Jephta Naobeb, Jomo Haoseb, Ben Molatzi, Brazzo Gomusab, Elvis Afrikaner, Doc Naobeb, Killer Kamberipa, Tara Shimbulu, Dave Webster, Tommy Kaimbi, Nicky-Boy Mokomelo and Bobby Ihlein, who all doubled up as formidable musos.
At the time of his untimely death, Issy was the frontman, smoking his adopted favourite toy, the bent-pipe (alto saxophone) for the Cross Roads Gospel Jazz Band.
For a supposed novice in the real sense of the dog-eat-dog industry of live music, Issy was destined to become an accomplished saxophonist in the mould of departed Mbaqanga greats Ou Leyden Naftalie, Johannes ‘Warmgat’ Mureko and Xarigurob Naweb.
Sadly, the mild-mannered razor-sharp winger-cum-muso took a bow from the game of life, aged 57, after losing a long battle with diabetes. In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sports feature, ‘Tales of the Legends’, details and relives the times and untold tales of this son of the soil: Johannes Issy Naruseb.
As a young boy Johannes Issy Naruseb was exposed to a multi-cultural upbringing, following his enrolment at Goas Primary School near Karibib,at the Roman Catholic Mission.
However, he often found himself subjected to tribal abuse in later years, as he had to shield himself from insults and all sorts of abusive harassment from opposing fans during his time with his beloved Tigers FC.
Nevertheless, the calculating winger managed to weather the storm and went on to make those who freely jeered and taunted him eat humble pie when he single-handedly orchestrated the winning goal – with a telling assist – on the path of the onrushing sharpshooter Steve Haihambo.
What made that moment special is that it was his debut in the blue and white strip of Ingwe against eternal rivals Blue Waters in the now-defunct popular Top 16 Cup in Tsumeb. Ingwe won 1-0.
A product of the notorious Old Location, Issy started out playing street football with other young boys in the neighbourhood. It was not until he went to Goas Primary School in the vast mountainous Erongo Region that he was exposed to playing football in organised structures.
Here he rubbed shoulders with some of the finest young footballers on display, such as the former Black Africa pair of Alacatz Kurivera, Joseph ‘Mombakkies’ Eiseb, Tigers’ lethal goalpoacher Utini ‘General’ Hangala, and many other talented youngsters.
The football-mad Issy was a Jack of all Trades, as he was also a noted sprinter, who often left his competitors inhaling dust during the revered Inter-School Athletics meetings. He excelled in the 100 metre and 200m sprints and the 1500m race.
Ironically, Issy started out as a goalkeeper and would occasionally play in defence, before he switched to the firing line. Blessed with amazing pace and a brilliant first touch, it was inevitable that he would be converted to a right-sided winger.
After a few exciting showings, he was rewarded with a call-up to the star-studded Western Schools Invitational Eleven, where he passed the test with flying colours.
By the time he left Goas to further his schooling at the revered St Joseph’s Secondary School (Döbra), Issy was already a household name and thus it became as no surprise when he was snapped up by Eusebio FC, a hostel team campaigning in the unofficial domestic hostel football league.
Some of his teammates were Indies Damaseb, Carpio Kauendji, Otto Gaeb and Pascal Newaka, but it was not long before he graduated to the school’s first team – in only his first year there.
“I was lucky in the sense that we had an excellent mentor in the form of schoolteacher Willem Hans. That man was way ahead of his peers in terms of modern techniques of the beautiful game. He taught me the basics of football at an early age.
“Many other youngsters, who went on to become great footballers from Döbra, are indebted a great deal to him, because we were not only taught about individual glory, he put more emphasis on teamwork. He was very humble and would always tell us to respect our opponents, including our teammates, on and off the field,” Issy recalled during an interview with New Era Sport in March, 2013.
He was still at Döbra when he for the first time watched the FIFA World Cup on film in 1978.
“It was amazing to see how the game was played, and after that many of us as young footballers started to model our playing style on the silky skills of the Brazilians, such as legendary winger Jairzihno and others.”
Alongside his buddies from Döbra – Indies Damaseb and Otto Gaeb – the trio would be regularly fielded as guest players by Orlando Pirates, but their role was strictly restricted for the gravel B-field next to the grassy Katutura Stadium, featuring for the Ghosts’ second strings.
Despite displaying flashes of individual brilliance on the field, Pirates’ officials were for some unknown reasons reluctant to promote the trio to the first. When his clearly fed-up buddies, Indies and Otto, jumped the Buccaneers ship to join Black Africa, Issy headed in the opposite direction, only to resurface at Tigers, following some aggressive lobbying by his boyhood buddy and former bone-crunching Benfica FC tackler Zacks Hangula.
Issy announced his arrival with a stunning performance on his debut in the blue and white strip of Ingwe in the Top 16 knockout tourney in Tsumeb.
He surely left a longlasting impression, as he masterminded Tigers’ narrow win over African Stars in their opening match.
Ingwe also accounted for the demise of the much-fancied Chelsea in their next match, with Issy registering his name on the scoresheet with a hat-trick in a 5-2 triumph. Tigers claimed the trophy after defeating Khorixas outfit Robber Chanties 2-1 in a nail-biting final.
The late Issy is still regarded by many football pundits – including the author – as the most polished right winger in the business, bar former African Stars’ fast-as-lightning winger, Immanuel ‘Marques’ Kamuserandu.
Strangely enough, both wingers never managed to book a place in the prestigious annual South African Provincial Currie Cup during their flourishing football careers.
However, Issy would later be rewarded with some sort of consolation when he was selected to represent then South West Africa at the Impala Cup (for Bantus) in Transkei.
After coming on as a second-half substitute in the final he netted the decisive equaliser to force a replay after a 2-all draw.
As fate would dictate, Issy never laid his hands on the coveted trophy in the replayed match at Katutura Stadium.
The majority of the squad members were deemed ineligible for selection by the country’s football authorities (SWAFA), who made a shocking turnaround in the aftermath of the rebel league (NNSL).
The setback did not dent his confidence, as he went on to claim the NNSL crown, followed by subsequent victories in several knockout tourneys, including the Novel Ford Cup and the sought-after Windhoek Lager NFA Cup, before retiring from competitive football while still at the pinnacle of his career.
In his own words, pressing work commitments were the main reason for quitting the game that brought him so much joy and pride during his playing days.
A committed family man, the late Issy was in the employ of Telecom Namibia, where he held the plum position of operations manager. May his soul rest in eternal peace.