Village football offers second chances
Although they may not be able to play in the Namibian Premier League (NPL) or first division, village football has offered many villagers a second chance at the beautiful game.
The men of the Uukwambi area can be found every weekend, playing in the dusty white sands of the oshana plains. After a long week or herding and working at their various posts, their aim is simply, to have fun and make a few bucks while they’re at it.
The village soccer games are organised in fashion akin to that of the UEFA Champion’s League in that there is a home and away set-up. Teams that play in their village or what they prefer, home ground, on Saturday will travel to the other team’s village to play so as to give everyone an equal ground.
Captain and player-coach of Onanime United Football Club, Wellem Kandowa, says that his team has over 40 players, most of them willing lads from the surrounding homesteads of Onanime village with a bit of talent and the vigour of youth.
“I have been in the team for about five or six years. Onanime United itself has been around since 2003. I was there when it was formed but I could not yet play games. I had to prove myself through hard work, training and dedication,” he says.
Kandowa gets to pick the players for matches. He says he does not pick based on seniority or age, but only on talent.
He says his picks are strategic, based on fitness talent and like an African Jose Mourinho, he picks his players based on how he anticipates the other team to perform.
That appears to be true as 17 year old Joseph Shikongo has now played for the team’s last four games in a row.
“I’m 35 now, but when we have a big tournament that’s coming up, we will pick young talents to play as some of the coaches and scouts from the NPL and first division might be there and it can be their chance to get discovered, depending on how they play,” Kandowa says.
Usually, three teams play each other on a weekend. Due to fitness, games do not last the full 90 minutes, but rather 35 minutes for each half. On Saturdays at around 12, die are cast and two teams step on to the field, with the winner facing the remaining team afterwards. The process is repeated on Sunday in the reverse fixtures.
In true professional fashion, a referee and linesmen are picked from the team that is not currently playing to officiate the match.
“Each team gives N$200 each. The winner of the first round takes N$400 and the winner of the last round takes the remaining N$200. The loser walks away with nothing.”
Some of the teams they play include villages such as Otshitasi, Onangodthi and Okaku.
The most dominant team along the lot is New Start, a team bolstered by the physique and muscle of men who brag about eating Omahangu.
Although the teams don’t have kits yet, and usually only play by colour coordination, the sponsorship of a local Onanime legend, Tate Mbola, and NBC radio presenter, Kondjashili ‘Mapeni Protocol’ Simon, provides them with balls to play with. However, the players hope to have kits soon.
“In the start we would only play with balled up plastic bags. But they are not good for football because as soon as you kick it hard, it will go with the wind because it is weak. We need balls and pumps,” says Martin Alpheus, one of the senior players of Onanime United.
Alpheus also explains that most of the senior players in the team do not have established positions and rather plug whatever hole is currently in the team.
In other words, you can play defender today and left wing the next weekend.
Because there are so many players in the team, training matches can usually have as many as 13 players per side, just so everyone has had the chance to kill the ball and show their talents.
Although great care is given to the youth to show off their skills should a big team be in attendance, Shikongo, who got in the first team by partaking in one a heavily packed training session, says that he is pursuing an education and the game is only there until he goes off to college.
“I love football but I’m only here until I go to the college. I know that education is most important,” he says.
The villagers’ love for sport is such that while there is no official break for the football league and it goes on continually, it had taken a bit of a pause because of the wedding fever that usually infects the northern regions. Around this time, most of the players help while the slaying of cows and tidying up around the house.
The love of football is so strong in the region that when this reporter conducted this interview, some of the players had already snuck off to have themselves another game.