African Stars, Life Fighters in historic derby…round-of-32 promises fireworks

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Otniel Hembapu

Windhoek-Namibia Premier League (NPL) returnees and one of the country’s oldest football clubs Life Fighters FC couldn’t have asked for any other better platform to signal their return to topflight football than their round-of-32 clash in the Debmarine Cup against old foes African Stars.

This spectacular return comes after Life Fighters languished in the country’s lower divisions for almost over a decade.

At least for the time being, the confusion around the participation of some NPL clubs in the round-of-32 of the Debmarine Cup was partly put to bed yesterday when the launch and draw of the round-of-32 of the Debmarine Cup was successfully conducted in the capital.

The draw featured all 16 NPL clubs and the various regional winners, with the round-of-32 of the Debmarine Cup scheduled to start next month.

Among the many exciting fixtures drawn yesterday, the pick of the round-of-32 of the Debmarine Cup is the clash between old archrivals Life Fighters and African Stars.
The clash is expected to ignite the fierce and historic rivalry between the two clubs.
With Stars being 12 years older than Life Fighters, the rivalry between the two clubs dates back to the mid and late 60s during the apartheid era. Stars were established in 1952 while Fighters was established in 1964.

Life Fighters joined organised football structures only in 1987, joining the national elite league known as the Namibia Soccer Super League (NSSL) back then, but the club was unfortunately relegated to the lower division after just two seasons in premiership football.

After a stifling period campaigning in the lower division for almost five years, Fighters finally made their long overdue return to topflight football in 1994, and went on to become a force to reckon with in the premier league.

Their great league run saw the much-loved Otjiwarongo outfit finishing in second place behind champions Black Africa in 1998.

The club also went on to reach the final of the lucrative NFA Tafel Lager Cup in 2001 – setting up an unforgettable home clash in the final against Chief Santos at the Mokati Stadium, but sadly lost the tie 4-2.

Two years later, Fighters again reached the NFA Cup final but once again fell short as they went down 2-0 against Black Africa at the Oshakati Independence Stadium in 2003.
As fate would have it, the club again suffered relegation the following season and was subsequently relegated to the third division. With almost over a decade in the trenches, ‘Okahirona ja Tjiwarongo’, as Fighters is zealously known among its followers, the club is finally back in the thick of things following their 2015/2016 season promotion to the NPL.

This time they have vowed to make their presence felt – starting with next month’s round-of-32 clash against African Stars on a yet-to-be announced date and venue.
As history would have it, especially during the dark years of apartheid when sport and social activities were conducted strictly along tribal lines, football clubs were equally required to operate within the confines of the apartheid mentality.

As a result, in the mid-late 60s and in early 70s, Life Fighters were the official hosts of the popular annual Ovaherero Knockout Tournament at Otjiwarongo.

The popular knockout tournament was strictly reserved for the Otjiherero-speaking football teams featuring clubs such as African Stars and Flames (both from Windhoek), Black Beauty Chiefs (Okahandja), Scorpions (Omaruru), Sunshine (Gobabis), Red Bees (Tsumeb), African Stars (from Otavi), Poison Arrows (Grootfontein), Red Fire (Walvis Bay) and Okaondeka (Okakarara) – all consisting of only Ovaherero.

Down the years, and due to the tourney’s competitive nature and tribal allegiance, the Ovaherero Knockout Tournament gave birth to the hot rivalry between African Stars and Life Fighters fans – especially among the Otjiherero-speaking people.

That fierce competition between the two set of fans would over the years rub itself off on future generations and still manifests itself in today’s debates whenever people mention the two clubs.

Given the historical facts and fierce rivalry between the two outfits, it is only fair and just to make the African Stars and Life Fighters clash the pick of the round-of-32 of the Debmarine Cup.

The Debmarine Cup round-of-32 draw is as follow: (21-23 & 28-30 April)

• Life Fighters vs African Stars
• Rhino FC vs Young Beauties
• Khuse FC vs Touch & Go
• Orlando Pirates vs Gendev FC
• Young African vs Otjiwarongo FC
• Mighty Gunners vs Citizens
• Try Again vs Chief Santos
• Young Chiefs vs Kantema Bullets
• Black Africa vs Bee Bob Brothers
• Ogongo United vs Eleven Arrows
• UNAM FC vs Eleven Champions
• Tigers vs Eastern Chiefs
• King Fischer vs Tura Magic
• Blue Waters vs Rundu Chiefs
• Civics vs Ohangwena NAMPOL
• Outjo FC vs United Stars

*Venues and exact dates to be announced in due course.

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