Former acrobatic goalkeeper now veteran bricklayer

Marcellus ‘The Cat’ Witbeen (kneeling, right) celebrates with his Chief Santos teammates after beating Life Fighters 4-2 in the final at the Mokati Stadium at Otjiwarongo to win the Windhoek Lager NFA Cup for the third consecutive time. Photo: Helge Schütz

It is hard to believe that despite Marcellus ‘The Cat’ Witbeen being Namibia’s first national team goalkeeper after independence, he only played for the Brave Warriors three times.

Of those three games, only one was an official international fixture during which Namibia was rudely introduced to continental football. This was in 1991, when a well-oiled Zambian side thumped four goals past a hapless Witbeen in the first half.

The other two matches were both friendly internationals away to Lesotho in Maseru, which saw the host winning the first match 1-0 on Saturday, before former Ramblers’ goalace Joseph ‘Draaitjies’ Martin scored Namibia’s first goal in the second match the next day. Witbeen’s cousin and Santos teammate, Gerros ‘The Bomber’ Witbeen, who would go on to become the national team’s top-scorer at one point, netted the second goal to earn Namibia a 2-all draw, thanks to a controversial last-minute penalty awarded to the host nation.

“I just feel I was never given a fair chance to prove myself with the national team. In fact, I feel like I was blamed for the four goals we conceded against Zambia, while the entire team was bamboozled by the ruthless attacking flair of the Zambians,” says the former Chief Santos long-standing goalkeeper.

“Where were my defenders when the Zambians were scoring at will and where were the midfielders when the Zambians were building from the back? The person that replaced me also conceded four goals in Burkina Faso and even seven in Egypt, but he was not replaced.”

However, the retired goalie says he never allowed his absence from the national team to affect his form with Santos, with which he went on to win four Namibia Football Association (NFA) Cups, two league titles and the Metropolitan Cup.

In fact, he went on to guard the Santos goal for 25 years, until his 42th birthday, in a glittering career that also saw him spending a season on loan to former Namibian cup kings, Black Africa, while he was a student at the Okakarara Technical School in 1988.

The nimble-footed goalie was just a tiny 16-year-old schoolboy when he made his debut for Santos during the Barcelona FC tournament, which Santos won in 1986.

Born and raised in the northern copper town of Tsumeb, Witbeen was a slow developer who only started to play competitive football when he went to Otjikoto Secondary School from St Francis Roman Catholic Primary School at Tsumeb.

“I was roped into the school’s first team by coach Adios Aochamub after my predecessor David Gariseb, who was also the first choice goalkeeper at Santos, left for the Okakarara Technical School. I also became the Santos first choice goalie.

“I vowed to myself to make both the Santos and Otjikoto goalkeeper jerseys my own. I consoled myself in the fact that we (Santos) became the first team to win the Windhoek Lager NFA Cup in three consecutive years to keep the original trophy,” he says.

Santos, who were a very dominant force in the country’s top league during the late 90s and mid-2000s, also added the Tafel Lager NFA Cup to their collection in 2003, when Witbeen was named the Rössing Premier League’s Goalkeeper of the Season.

Word has it Witbeen played one of his best matches ever in a Santos jersey during their 1997 NFA Cup final 1-0 victory over Tigers at Walvis Bay’s Kuisebmond Stadium, decided by pacy forward Ricardo Witbeen’s solitary strike.

He repeated his heroics against the Tigers as the Copper Town Boys defeated the Ingweinyama by an identical score, this time thanks to a lone goal by the legendary Mohammed ‘Slice’ Ouseb in the 1999 NFA Cup final.

The acrobatic goalie put in another good shift, although he conceded two goals, this time to help a Augustinus ‘Axaro’ Mukoya hat-trick inspired Santos see off Life Fighters 4-2 in their third straight NFA Cup final at the Mokati Stadium at Otjiwarongo in 2000.

Witbeen first played for Tsumeb First Division team Aston Hotspurs, the unofficial feeder team of Santos back in the days, from where he was pursued by the Santos’ former long-serving president, Petrus Shaanika, to join Tsumeb’s most successful football club.

The strongly built star also excelled in athletics and was prominent in long jump, high jump, shot put and discus while in high school, and he won in discus during the Suidwes Africa Swart Skole Atletiek Unie event in 1988.

Witbeen, who wants to be remembered as a competitive player who trained to give 120% to his team, says he always believed in his teammates, even when the team was trailing 2-0, he was confident that they would overturn that scoreline.

The 1999 Rössing Premier League Best Goalkeeper of the Season is back to living a single life after parting ways with his long-time partner and mother of his only child recently.

The experienced building contractor has over 25 years experience.

“The biggest project I have on so far was when I built a lodge at Maltahöhe last year. I have even built houses in and around Tsumeb and I am currently building workers’ quarters at Mushara Lodge near Mokuti Lodge. I do the bricklaying and plastering myself, and I can also build curbs, concrete walls, stormwater walls and lay interlocks,” Witbeen says.

The retired goalie says building contractors have mushroomed in recent years, although many jobs come from referrals.

“Sometimes you can even go for months without work, which is very scarce. What is very unfair is that most of the builders in Tsumeb come from outside. Our people are not making it any easier as they would rather pay good money to those builders.

“They would approach you and offer you peanuts for a big job just because they know you. If you insist on upping the money a little bit because you also have municipality bills and your own workers to pay, then they will just go to those colleagues from outside,” he says.

Looking back, however, Witbeen is happy with his achievements as a player. He thanks his late brother and former Santos team manager Corry Uri-khob for the influence he had on his career, and mentions former Civics and Tigers wingback Hokko Codesa Kasibu as his toughest opponent.

He admits that he misses his playing days, especially the trips with Santos to Botswana and Angola for their CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup engagements against Extension Gunners and Sagrada Esperanca, respectively.

Witbeen, who enjoys strumming his acoustic guitar in his free time, is not involved with football now, but advises that clubs, if they want to develop good goalies, should start coaching them at the age of 12.

“Because goalkeeping is a specialised position and that is even the player that plays the longest in a team,” he says.

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