New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia/South Africa: The Currie Cup Was His Glory - Johannes \'kumi\' Umati

Windhoek — The South African Currie Cup competition was inaugurated towards the end of the second-last century and has at all times been the most outstanding amateur competition of South African football.

Originally, there were only six teams which competed in the annual tournament but with the increase in the popularity of this particular tourney the number of participating associations increased to 16 regions in the intervening years.

South West Africa, as Namibia was known during the apartheid era, became an integral part of this provincial showpiece. Any local footballer worth his salt and who had not represented his native land in Southern Africa's august competition - their football careers would be considered incomplete.

Former Tigers' hard as nails defender Johannes "Kumi" Umati, aka "Kanniedood" is among very a few elite of local footballers who tasted Currie Cup football during their prime time.

There is an old saying that one man's loss is another man's gain. With many of the old guard getting a bit long in the tooth - the football careers of two promising youngsters going by the names of Kumi Umati and the late Packey Nujoma took a sudden twist when the highly talented football crazy youngsters found themselves thrown in at the deep end.

The energetic youngsters whose football careers started almost simultaneously in the dusty streets of the old location in Windhoek, formed a telepathic relationship on the football pitch as they exchanged positions down the wings to torment opposing defenders at will.

The pair started out by playing together in stake games at the Rhenisch Herero School in the old location before graduating to club football for their favourite team, Tostao Eleven FC from Donkerhoek, on the outskirts of Katutura.

Tostao Eleven became a much sought-after product and started challenging Tigers Football Club for supremacy in the Donkerhoek enclave - very much against the wishes of the Tigers' elders who immediately put their hands on the block and ordered the emerging team to be disbanded as it apparently threatened the existence of the country's oldest football club.

Tostao Eleven consisted of Kumi, Packey, Ringo and Nairo Mbako as well as the Ipangelwa siblings, Naughty and Pepsi. The youngsters were incorporated into Tigers' second team but it took the twin striking pair of Kumi and Packey just one match in the lower ranks before they were deservedly promoted to the first team.

Kumi made his debut in topflight football against the rampant Ramblers FC from Dolam and ended on the winning side as Tigers emerged 1-0 victors in that particular match.

His team mates in the Tigers line-up were: Martin Veiko, Tives Mbako, Brown Amwenye, Kayala, Bollie Kandonga, Shaka Mbako, Tommy Smith and elder brother Grey Umati.

Kumi was soon redeployed to the defence to replace the ageing Tives Mbako in the Tigers rearguard and the hard-tackling youngster never looked back as he cemented a permanent place in the Ingweinyama starting line-up.

"We had a shrewd coach in Sisingi Hiskia. He was always head and shoulders above the rest and understood the game of football better than most of his peers," recalls the 54-year-old Kumi enthusiastically.

Kumi became an integral part of Tigers and any team sheet without his name engraved on it was considered incomplete as he went on to form the spine of the Donkerhoek outfit alongside Mentos "Mr Reliable" Hipondoka, Fernando Simao and elder brother Grey.

However, the youngster missed out on making history as local football authorities prevented him from featuring alongside elder brother Hofney (Grey) for the South West Africa Currie Cup team. It was decided that the touring squad should not consist of two members from the same household and since Grey was a member of the Currie Cup squad the previous year - he bravely and unselfishly stepped aside to allow his younger brother the chance to taste international football.

Kumi was a valuable member of the South West Africa Currie Cup team that played in the 89th edition of the annual South African Provincial Currie Cup competition hosted by Western Transvaal at Orkney, near Johannesburg in 1981.

Many football pundits still believe that squad was one of the strongest ever picked by the national selectors to represent South West Africa after the inevitable introduction of multi-racial football in 1977.

The 16-member squad was made up of Ivo de Gouveia (captain), Oscar Mengo (Vice-Captain), Doc Hardley, Bobby Craddock, Rusten Mogane, Albert Tjihero, Alu Hummel, Ndjiva Kauami, Klaus Hubner, Ingo Hoebel, Kumi Umati, Wayne Jones, Mentos Hipondoka, Steve Haihambo, Brian Greeves, Don Renzke and Vic Lovell (coach).

Back home, Kumi was an imposing figure in the all-conquering Tigers outfit that surprised friend and foe to clinch the coveted league title during the inaugural year of the breakaway Namibia National Soccer League (NNSL) in 1985.

"We had a great team with a bunch of committed players and our consistency was proven when we finished in a modest second place the following year."

He oversaw several generations at his boyhood club and steered Tigers to success in the prestigious annual top 16 tournament while his unmatched defensive ability was responsible for Tigers claiming the scalps of Black Africa in the NFA Windhoek Lager Cup via Foresta Nicodemus' last-minute goal at Windhoek's Independence Stadium in 1996.

This was followed by back-to-back appearances in the final of what would become Tigers' favourite knockout competition in subsequent years.

His promising football career saw him rub shoulders with the legendary Jomo "Troublemaker" Sono during the exhibition match between Katutura glamour football club African Stars featuring Jomo, Basil Hollister and Joel "Fire" Faya as guest players against a Central Invitation side.

He also turned out for the Central Invitation against the likes of Ace Ntsoelengoe, Aubrey Magkopela, Samuel "Happy Cow" Khomo, Ben Ntuli, Congo Malebane and Jan "Malombo" Lechaba, featuring for the visiting Ace Mates and the Birds respectively.

"Football was very competitive in those days and teams like African Stars, Chelsea, Hungry Lions, Young Ones and Black Africa used to give us a real headache in many of our countless duels. We were mentally strong with guys like Dale Stephanus, General Hangala, Brown Amwenye and Fernando Simao all in a class of their own. Those guys possessed that rare ability to win crucial matches with one moment of individual brilliance."

His favourite footballers from yesteryear were: Orlando Pirates' dribbling wizard Norries Goraseb, African Stars midfield maestro Oscar "Silver Fox" Mengo and the Chelsea striking pair of Eric Francis and Orlando Damaseb.

He retired from competitive football in 1993 but unlike many of his team mates - he did not entirely turn his back on the game that took him across the Orange River to represent his native land in the highly competitive Currie Cup competition.

Kumi resolved to plough back the experience gained throughout the years by becoming assistant coach at Tigers and currently serves on Tigers' management in an advisory capacity.

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