It has been a long, hard road to recognition and respect for United Boys and Nampol Ladies’ coach Aini Katanga.
As the head coach of both United Boys, the current 2015 champions of the Samora Soccer League (affectionately referred to as Kasi League), and the Nampol Ladies in the Women’s Super League, Katanga says she has always commanded the respect of her players. However, not everyone was a believer from the start.
“I’ve always been passionate about coaching, even from a young age. When I joined the Samora Soccer League and would go on radio to call on people to come for trials, promote the league and announce results, there were plenty of naysayers who felt I wasn’t really looking for a team, but was only looking for boys,” chuckles Katanga.
She says she never allowed all this to discourage her. The idea of a woman coaching a men’s football team might not have sat well with some people, but respect for her has never been far from her players, whom she says see her as their mother.
Katanga started coaching her Grade 7 school netball team at the Shoopala Primary School in Ruacana, but switched to football in grade 8 as she preferred that instead.
She trained and coached the school boy’s football teams at the Ombuumbuu Secondary School in 2005, and various other teams and schools up until 2010 when she came to Windhoek to look for employment, which she eventually got in the construction industry.
Soon after, she took charge of United Boys, which was previously managed by Shikongo ‘Madala’ Sackaria in the Samora League’s inaugural season of 2012. They finished fifth on the log that year.
The team then continued to steadily make progress over the years, finishing fourth in 2013, second in 2014 before eventually winning the competition this year.
Her touch was such an influence that in 2014, the league achieved a record when 14 players joined the Namibian Police (Nampol) football team, then in the second division, with the majority coming from her team. Through this, she was also able to secure employment at Nampol for both herself and the players. She now serves as a constable.
“Nampol went on to win the first division playoffs and are now second in the first division, with strong ambitions of getting into the Premier League. I am proud, knowing I played a part in that. In the Women’s Super League, I coach ladies who have a higher rank than me in Nampol but when it comes to football matters, they take my instructions,” she said.
“There is often criticism from some people, such as those who thought I was breaking up the team after letting so many players leave for Nampol, but they are quiet now that we are the champions. I have helped many others get employment, and that is something to be proud of”, Katanga beamed.
She recently got her coaching course C-licence through the Namibia Football Association (NFA), and has challenged the belief that men cannot be coached by a woman at the highest club level locally in the Premier League.
Katanga proudly points to Johannes Shimbwale as evidence of her ability. A rock in the Nampol defence, Shimbwale was coached by her at United Boys, and was a stand-out performer at the Regional Police Games held in Swaziland last year.
“I looked at Brave Gladiators’ coach Jacqui Shipanga, and thought why can’t I coach men? We need more women to step up as coaches. Women think it is difficult to coach men, but it is not. However, coaching women also has its benefits if you’re a woman as the players are more likely to approach you with problems they have than if you’re a man. But if you think you have a talent, show it out. Don’t hide yourself,” Katanga stated.
She further notes that there is a good amount of work they are doing in the Kasi League. For example, Peter Shalulile, a current Brave Warriors’ international and named Most Improved Player of the Year at the Namibia Sports Awards, came from G-United in that league before he was spotted by Tura Magic.
Although finances continue to plague the sport, she says through support from businessmen like Angala Matias, Kashivulu Hango and others, life has been made easier.