23 November 2012

Namibia: Inside the Aged - George Hill - the Tartan Terrier of the Namib

It's a well-documented secret that a significant number of Namibians are very fond of the 'Haya Water of Moag' in the shape of Scottish Whisky, but the relationship with the Scots seemed to have been extended to the football field as well, with some of the country's finest footballers of years gone being Scottish descendants.

Talk about the lethal trio of former Windhoek City players Don Corbett, George Hill and Ian Wood and the picture becomes clearer about the ties between Namibia and Scotland. Apart from Corbett and Woody, who both made their name in the highly competitive National Football League (NFL) in South Africa's second tier semi-professional football league in the late sixties until the mid-seventies, George Hill was a crowd favourite with his incredible first touch, vision, passing, sweet left foot and above all, a genuine footballer, whose obvious lack of pace was underplayed by his passion and football intelligence.

George Hill was born on August 10, 1950 in Dundee, Scotland. Like many youngsters his age, he started out with the Dundee United youth teams from a very tender age and made his professional debut at the fairly young age of sixteen, while still a lad at school.

A keen golfer and gifted cricketer - young Georgie excelled in all three sporting disciplines and was virtually born with a silver spoon in his mouth sports-wise, but the football crazy boy resolved to give more attention to the beautiful game of football. After four years playing for the Dundee United first team in the Scottish Professional Football League - the highly skillful midfielder received a tempting offer from former Durban United chairman in South Africa, one Peter Becker, and he eventually ventured across the Atlantic to the African continent in 1972.

"Durban United use to compete in the strong top tier South African Provincial National Professional Football League (NFL) and we always pitted our strength against equally strong teams such as Durban City, Cape Town City, Highlands Park, Jewish Guild, Lusitano and Corinthians," recalls George. "I met lots of new friends on the football pitch and some of the blokes that I played against such as Vic Lovell, Johnny Hearns and Tony Colman became great pals of mine in the intervening years." It was not long before George developed itchy feet and crossed the floor to join forces with neighbours East London United FC after two years in the colours of Durban United.

"In those days, football was regarded as a black sport and whenever you bumped into a white guy in the streets and he asked you what you are doing in your pastime and the response was, 'I'm playing football' the immediate reaction would be that you must have taken leave of your senses."

In the meantime, Vic Lovell relocated across the Orange River to the then South West Africa where he joined Windhoek City in the NFL second tier league, after Vic Lovell persuaded his buddy to try his luck with the Windhoekers in the semi-professional football league after spending two solid years with East London United FC.

"In fact, I joined Windhoek City at the time when the club was abuzz with a bunch of great footballers in their armoury. Guys like Siggy Anderson, Ian Wood, Peter Rath, Kendall Carstens, Ian Buchanan, Gernot Ahrens and Ronny Hoole," reveals George whose advancing age of 62 belies his boyish looks.

During a three-year stint with City, the inspirational George was a vital cog in the team's machinery as he freely pulled the strings in the middle of the park to become a fan favourite, most notably with the black folks who were unfortunately prohibited by the racist South African apartheid laws from mingling, let alone play the beautiful game against their white counterparts.

However, the team's progress in the South African Professional (NFL) second tier league came to an abrupt end with the inevitable introduction of multi-racial football in South West Africa in 1977.

George and some of his celebrated teammates resolved to establish their own team, which they christened City United. The team recruited a number of players of colour, but they encountered considerable difficulties and truly struggled to gel and it was not long before the newly formed City United FC went the path of the dinosaurs - never to reappear again.

"What actually happened was simple - the majority of the players came from a professional set-up and could not easily adapt to the amateur status and shoddy manner in which the league was administered." In his own words, the standard and set-up was way below what they were used to and as a result, many of the old guard, including George, called it quits and resolved to venture into other sporting disciplines, with golf the ultimate destination.

"To be quite honest, there was a huge difference in techniques. Black players were naturally talented, but were somehow off the cuff or rather instinctive with no definite playing plan. But there were still some magnificent players in the mould of Oscar Mengo, Doc Hardley, Kaputji Kuhanga, Ambrossius Vyff and Doc Naobeb - those guys were extra-ordinary athletes and were doubtlessly in their own league."

Despite all the hiccups, George was among a few celebrated footballers to have represented South West Africa in the popular annual South African Provincial Currie Cup Tournament in 1979 - two years after the amalgamation of black, brown and white football leagues in 1977. He still cherishes great memories of his days on the football pitch, as well as the good old days of the fiercely contested derbies between Durban United and Cape Town City at the now demolished Hartleyvale Stadium in the Mother City. "There was great atmosphere at that stadium and the stands were always packed to the rafters," says the 62-year old George with a twinkle in his eyes.

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