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Defying odds for football

Sun, 8 November 2015 18:04
by Andreas Kathindi

At 17 years of age, winning the new Namibian Football Association (NFA)-endorsed Alberta ‘Chicken’ Dawes Player of the Year award might be the pinnacle of any female footballer’s young career. Not quite so for Memory Ngonda.

The cheerful yet confident midfielder/ striker who plies her trade for Tura Magic in the Women’s Super League (WSL) has already represented the national team’s senior squad, the Brave Gladiators, and has 18 caps to her name, most notably performing stylishly at last year’s CAF Women’s Championship held in Windhoek.

She has played for the national team from the time that she was as young as 15, and is fast becoming a key member of the team as she played all three games in the CAF Women’s Championship. Although the team eventually lost, they impressed against African giants like Ivory Coast and Nigeria. It appears that she was born with a football at her feet.

She was playing football with her male friends at age six, and was discovered by national team coach Jacqui Shipanga at age nine. Although Ngonda’s trajectory might seem as having been smoothsailing for some, she has grown up in the SOS Children’s Village in Khomasdal, Windhoek, with little recollections of life before the orphanage.

Although many teenagers have hard memories of their times in orphanages, hers are mostly happy ones. “It’s like a family for me. Even though I am curious of where my biological family is and want to know why they left me, I never feel lonely. My SOS family supports me, and always come to games to chant my name and with placards with messages of support,” beamed Ngonda.

The woman who Ngonda calls mother, Christophina Kamara, is the caretaker of the SOS Children’s Village. She has taken her in, and will leave with her when she retires at the end of the year. At the children’s village, Ngonda’s love for football was developed.

Although Kamara was initially opposed to her playing football and wanted her to pick up netball instead, her adopted brothers convinced the caretaker to allow the youngster to play with them. Her talent shone through, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although she currently plays for Tura Magic, she was groomed through the Baby Okahandja Beauties and through the Galz and Goals programme, which she joined in 2009.

As an attacking midfielder, she has quite a shot and jokes that she enjoys it when the opposing team has had to change goalkeepers because the last one had failed to keep her shots out. “What helped my development was coach Shipanga, who was always willing to play young kids against bigger girls. I was afraid at first, but it taught me confidence, and now I feel I can take on anyone,” Ngonda stated.

Along with teammates Thomalina Adams and Zenatha Coleman, the latter whom she describes as the best player on the team and an inspiration, Ngonda has helped Tura Magic to the top of the WSL log table. Her team has scored over 73 goals in just seven matches, and Ngonda has netted her fair share. She described the reason for their success as sheer hard work.

“We train from Tuesday to Friday. None of the girls on the team drink, and we all show up for training. Coleman has also been a massive help for me because she is a leader,” she stated.

The young footballer, who dreams of one day following in the footsteps of teammates Coleman and Adams who have both signed for clubs overseas, and becoming perhaps the next Martha (the Brazilian legend), refers to winning the Alberta ‘Chicken’ Dawes award as a shock.

“I didn’t expect to get it. Alberta was special to me. She was my captain in the U-16s, and was always very friendly. She always motivated us, and told us to never let anyone break us down. She would take us to the field and help us with freekicks. She was a joy to be around,” noted Ngonda.

“The day she passed on, it hurt me. When I got the award, I danced like she used to in memory of her”, the footballer said.