Ode to departed football hero, Don Corbett 1943- 2017

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When former Eleven Arrows and Brave Warriors bustling winger, Eliphas ‘Safile’ Shivute, turned out for Scottish Premiership giants Motherwell, very little did the Walvis Bay-born speedy winger know that he was indeed reciprocating another Namibian Scottish-born football great, one Don Corbett.

Motherwell has its roots engraved in Namibian football way back in the 1970’s ever since former apprentice Don Corbett graced the shores of his adopted country as a gifted midfielder with the now defunct South West Africa (SWA) semi-professional outfit Windhoek City, and Ramblers FC, with great aplomb before retiring from competitive football in 1976.

The bow-legged lanky midfielder captained the very first White Invitational Eleven to a hard fought 2-1 triumph over their black counterparts at the packed to rafters Suidwes Rugby Stadium in Windhoek, in October 1975.

In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sports feature, Tales of the Legends, New Era Sport pays a fitting tribute to one of Namibia’s football greats, Don Corbett who sadly exited the game of life last week, aged 73.

 

Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa

Walvis Bay-Don Corbett was born on 17 November 1943 in Motherwell, Scotland and growing up in his birthplace it was only obvious that the highly gifted youngster would turn out for his boyhood team.

He featured for all Motherwell’s youth teams and by the tender age of 16 he was a already a much adored valuable member of the Scottish Under-16 national side.

With professional football taking shape in faraway South Africa, young Don could not resist the challenge of starting afresh on foreign territory.

He packed his bags joining an exodus of young footballers from that neck of the woods, inclduing players from Ireland and England, who headed down South to seek greener pastures on the African continent.

“I was only 21 years old and wanted to travel abroad to experience new challenges. There were a number of good footballers from Liverpool and Southampton and I thought why not give it a try and see how things would unfold,” recalled Corbett when New Era Sport visited him at his home in Walvis Bay a few years ago.

His first stop on the African continent was Eastern Province in South Africa where he joined Port Elizabeth professional outfit Westview Appolon in 1965.

The seasiders were a mid-table side living in the shadows of their more illustrious opponents Highlands Park, Cape Town City, Durban City, Jewish Guild and Hellenic in the highly competitive whites-only National Football League (NFL).

Nevertheless, the team always instilled fear into their opponents with their fast-flowing passing game. Don’s presence in the Appolon midfield immediately transformed the fairly average team into formidable competitors as the bow-legged dribbling wizard led the unfashionable coastal outfit to some commendable results during the two seasons he spent there.

The squad boasted a significant number of great footballers such as John McKenna, Ronnie Hoole, Dennis Cunningham, Thomas Kollias, Kenny Smith, Stamatis Scafidas, Casta Linardos, Dimitri Dounias and John Pryde.

After two seasons in the colours of the Port Elizabeth outfit, Don and a friend decided to hit the road to South West Africa (SWA) only to resurface in Windhoek.

An ardent football fanatic, Don could not resist the chance of going out and watch a local football derby featuring traditional rivals Ramblers and Sport Klub Windhoek (SKW) – and as they say, the rest is history.

“One bloke, a diehard Ramblers supporter was seated next to me and probably realized from my body language that I was a footballer. He asked me whether I was one, to which I responded in the affirmative.”

The man turned out to be Helmuth Durseweit, a trusted Rammies follower. “He politely asked me whether I could be interested in joining Ramblers. Well, I thought this will be another good opportunity to try something new.”

This was the start of a new life for the highly talented tricky Scottish midfielder as he led Ramblers to league and cup glory in only his debut season with the Tunchel Street Boys.

“It was a great season and I can clearly visualize our last league match that year – we needed an avalanche of goals in our last match against Swakopmund FC to topple our rivals SKW at the post in the last hurdle.”

The Don Corbett-inspired Rammies massacred the coastal outfit 10-1 to claim the elusive league title on goal difference, leading to the club breaking a 14-year drought for a league trophy.

Ramblers defended their league title successfully the following season to eventually gain promotion to South Africa’s second tier semi-professional league, which culminated in the birth of Windhoek City.

Don developed itchy feet and headed north-east to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) at the invitation of a friend to join Salisbury (Harare) outfit Rufaro Rovers.

“The standard of football in Rhodesia was much higher because football was already multi-racial in that country. We had two players from Scotland, a few local white guys but the majority of the squad members comprised of black footballers from the city.”

After one season, Don made a quick retreat to his adopted country and rejoined Ramblers as player-coach. The tiny midfielder with the Midas touch wasted little time and propelled Ramblers to league triumph again upon his return.

In the meantime, he would feature for Windhoek City where he played alongside Hasso Ahrens, Bob Koudelka, Werner Massier, Richard Wagner, Siggy Anderson, Ian Wood, George Hill, Ronnie Hoole, Gunter Hellinghausen and Karl-Heinz Steinfurth (Steini).
Don won every available cup on offer in the domestic league with the rejuvenated Ramblers in the intervening years as player coach.

When the country’s football authorities defied racial segregation to stage a football match that would pit the South West Africa White Eleven and their Black counterparts in 1975 – Don was deservedly given the captain’s armband in the historic exhibition match.

His near faultless display in the middle of the park alongside the De Gouveia brothers Carlos and Ivo inspired the Whites Eleven to a narrow 2-1 win against the Steve ‘Kalamazoo’ Stephanus-skippered Black Eleven in front of a capacity crowd at the Suidwes Rugby Stadium in Windhoek.

Paul Carstens’ brace against the late Lewa Awaseb in goal proved to be the difference in a closely contested tie that saw the Blacks have their more direct but well-organized opponents chasing shadows for the better part of an otherwise entertaining encounter with their slick display.

Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo netted the only goal for the Blacks but turned from hero to villain when his second-half penalty was brilliantly blocked by the late Vic Lovell to hand the Whites a narrow 2-1 victory.

“In all honesty, the blacks possessed great individual skill but since the bulk of the players in our squad were from both Ramblers and SKW – we played more as a unit and that won us the match.

“It was a great game since both sets of players went out there to play football and enjoy the game in a good spirit. In the long run, football turned out to be the ultimate winner.”
Don was deservedly voted Sportsman of the Year in the same year he skippered the SWA Whites Eleven . He also went on to captain the team in the lily-white SWA Football Invitational team that represented the country in the annual South African Provincial Currie Cup in Durban the following year.

He spoke fondly of former teammates Hasso Ahrens, Gunter Hellinghausen, Werner Sasse and Corky Horstemkhe and still had fond memories of his countless derbies between Ramblers and SKW.

Sadly, the long awaited introduction of multi-racial football in the the apartheid SWA came too late as he was getting a bit long in the tooth by the time and had to call it quits as his advanced age deprived him of an ideal platform to showcase his god-given talent and unmatched football skills against the country’s best footballers.

The late Don met his gorgeous spouse Bev in Windhoek during his playing days with Windhoek City. However, the childless pair relocated to Walvis Bay, where they happily spent their advancing existence on earth before death struck. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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