30 November 2012

Namibia: Inside the Aged - Webster the No Nonsense All-Rounder

Salathiel Shafombabi, also known as Webster among his circle of friends, was one of the most underrated midfielders to emerge from South West Africa during the apartheid era.

The Walvis Bay-born hard-tackling midfielder started out as a striker and made a name for himself playing for Kuisebmond outfit Super Stars, providing a regular supply of goals for the Super Dunes, as the team was affectionately known amongst its ardent followers.

Word of his impressive performance in the middle of the park quickly reached the ears of talent scouts of coastal giants Blue Waters and his football career took a turn for the better.

The versatile youngster was invited to train with the Blue Waters first team and was eventually thrown into the mix of things as he walked straight into the star-studded Blue Waters starting eleven, and as they say, the rest is history.

Growing up in the windy streets of Kuisebmond, Walvis Bay, Webster announced his immerse talent as a gifted athlete at a fairly young age as he excelled in both the track and field events during his primary school days.

He was mean in the 100-m and 200- sprints and had very few peers, if any, in the high jump discipline, while he also showed his competitors a clean pair of heels in long-distance running.

"I'm not blowing my own horn but I was very good in athletics and could have easily represented my country of birth had it not been for the South African apartheid system that prevented many black people from realizing their full potential," says Webster with narrowed eyes.

He joined a team of railway workers that used to conduct their training sessions at the nearby dunes close to his parents' home. It was a very average team with few talented footballers. The highly gifted young Webster always found himself playing against much older guys, but somehow always managed to weather the storm. "Most of our matches were played in the dunes and as a result, I was very fit and could run the whole day without getting tired," reveals Webster.

It was not long before the often volatile Webster got fed up with playing his football in the not-so-pleasant comfort of the dunes and he resolved to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Webster was a founder member of Super Stars Football Club, a team consisting mainly of disgruntled youngsters who severed ties with the likes of Eleven Arrows, Blue Waters, Namib Woestyn and Explorer Eleven and were itching to play competitive football at the highest level.

The black and white stripped outfit joined forces with the Western League second tier division and immediately made their mark as one of the most feared football clubs in that particular division.

The all-rounder found himself in the company of other talented youngsters such as Giant Shekupe, Gregory Benson-Gawanab, Zebedeus Luanda, Peter Sello, Ben Bule, Merino Muvangua, Simon Uirab, Nicky Luanda and Eliah Imbile, amongst a horde of highly talented young footballers.

After two seasons in the lower division, Webster was persuaded to jump ship and join Blue Waters FC. He could not resist the temptation of plying his trade in the topflight league and eventually became a fully-fledged member of the Beautiful Birds. The no-nonsense all-rounder fitted like a hand in glove in the Blue Waters engine-room and formed a deadly combination alongside midfield maestro Koko Muatunga, amidst heavy protest from Super Stars.

Webster joined Blue Waters at a time when the team was in transformation mode with former Sparta FC hard-tackling centre back Uwe Bachmann having taken over the coaching reins. Bachmann was very impressed with what he had seen from his new recruit and had no hesitation in drafting the hard-working midfielder straight into his starting line-up.

Blue Waters FC had a galaxy of stars in their armoury, led by the legendary Ranga Lucas, Phello Muatunga, Aupapa Shipanga, Hendrik Dawids, Bonnetti Neilenge, Riva Jakonia Koko Muatunga, Collin Lackey, Donny Rentze, Cruyff Kudulu, Willy Prosser, Ivo De Gouveia, Britho Shipanga and Leo Koutondokwa.

"Obviously, it was not easy to adjust at first but I was very disciplined and committed but above all, I possessed the determination to succeed because I knew that if I worked hard and stayed focused, I would make it because I always believe in my ability and God-given talent."

After one season in the Western League division one, Blue Waters joined the breakaway Namibia National Soccer League (NNSL) - spearheaded by Oscar Mengo and Five Hochobeb in 1985. Neighbours Eleven Arrows followed suit and also threw their weight behind the mooted idea to move domestic football towards semi- professionalism in the inaugural eight team topflight league that also had the Katutura big four - African Stars, Black Africa, Orlando Pirates and Tigers - with Benfica and Chelsea completing the line-up of the rebel league.

Webster's near faultless showing for the coastal side caught the eye of regional selectors and the hard galloping midfielder was duly rewarded for his efforts with a call-up to the Western Invitation XI that locked horns with the visiting Spartak Moscow FC during Namibia's inaugural independence celebrations at the Swakopmund Football Club Stadium in 1990.

The coastal invitation eleven lost the tie by 3 goals to 2, but the short-fused Webster did enough and was among the top performers against one of the top football clubs in European football.

Despite his immense talent and great performance for the coastal outfit, Webster always found himself on the losing end and was made to play second fiddle in many knockout cup competitions, with Blue Waters having to be satisfied with the runner-up place.

"We reached a few important cup finals but Lady Luck would turn her back on us most of the time," remembers Webster ruefully. The team was twice the favourites to clinch the much sought-after Mainstay Cup in 1984 and the lucrative JPS Cup in 1988, but narrowly lost on both occasions against African Stars and local rivals Eleven Arrows.

As the years wore on, Webster left his beloved Blue Waters to join Maritimo FC in the Amateur Soccer League (ASA) where he enjoyed a successful stint with the coastal Portuguese outfit. He received a tempting employment job offer from the South African Navy and immediately accepted. He was selected to represent the South West Africa Navy team at the annual South Africa Navy Games in Cape Town.

Although the team failed to lay their hands on any silverware during the Navy Games - Webster was rewarded for his excellent performance when he was chosen the best player of the tournament. He was subsequently transferred to the Mother City and decided to hang up his togs while still at the pinnacle of his flourishing football career.

Upon his return in 2002 the volatile midfielder, who used to be embroiled in sporadic clashes with referees, did the unthinkable as he joined the Namibian Referees Association and became a well-respected match official with his good understanding and excellent interpretation of the rules governing the game of football.

As he puts it: "That was simply because of my undying love for the game of football." He rates former Black Africa midfield kingpin, Lucky Boostander, as the most challenging opponent during his generation.

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