Former defence stalwart tries his luck at farming

Puli Subeb in action for Chief Santos against Sputla Masite of Civics during an NPL match in 1992. Photos: Conrad Angula

Former Chief Santos, Benfica, Chelsea and Brave Warriors sweeper Immanuel Puli Subeb was one of the finest central defenders of his generation.

Born and bred at Tsumeb, he was what they call in football terms, a late developer, who never played football at school level.

“I never played at school. I was never interested in football maybe because I was not as good as the other boys of my age. I only kept myself busy with my tennis ball which I kicked against the walls, leaving dirty marks on them,” Subeb says.

“I moved to Kombat with my family and it was then, after I was drafted into the mine’s team, that I started playing football seriously. We played against the TCL team, Highland Bucks, APT FC, Black Tigers and Royals who were all attached to TCL Mine.”

It was during this time that the towering footballer with tremendous ball control for his height was recruited by Royals, a team made up of apprentices employed by TCL, together with his cousin Wells and the late Jan Xamiseb who attended Otjikoto Secondary School.

It was at Royals that he was signed by exciting Grootfontein outfit Chelsea in 1984, with whom he won the breakaway Namibian National Soccer League (NNSL) in 1986 before he joined Benfica in 1987, with whom he won the Metropolitan Cup in 1988.

“It was a very proud moment for me winning the league with Chelsea. I played alongside the Damaseb cousins – Orlando and Pieces and Eric ‘Richo’ Francis and his cousin Tiger. I played as a striker when I first joined them before I became a sweeper,” says Subeb.

“I added the Metropolitan Cup when I joined Benfica, who became the first team from outside Windhoek to win a major cup after we downed Namibian cup kings Black Africa (BA) against all odds, But it was with my childhood team Chief Santos that I enjoyed the most success.”

The retired libero played for Santos during a trophy-laden period between 1990 up to his retirement in 2002 that saw them win four NFA Cups, a Metropolitan Champion of Champions Cup, a Castle Classic Cup and two Namibian Premier League titles.

“We won our first NFA Cup in the most fashionable way against Blue Waters who were the firm favourites to walk away with the trophy. We finished the first half 1-all before Blue Waters took a 3-1 lead in the second half but they were up against Santos,” Subeb enthuses.

Puli Subeb with the Castle Classic trophy.

“We staged one of the biggest comebacks in a local cup final by forcing the match into a 4-4 draw with our striker Gerros Witbeen scoring the equaliser in the dying minutes of the match. The NFA ordered a reply which also finished 1-all before we prevailed on penalties.”

Subeb, who played a humdinger during the final, was named man of the match, and he was presented with his trophy by president Hage Geingob.

“That match, together with the Metropolitan final against BA with Benfica in 1988, which saw us playing out an exciting goalless draw before we won on penalties, will go down as the two most memorable matches of my football career,” he says.

Subeb won four NFA Cups with Santos in 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2000, meaning they held onto the cup for three successive wins, while the Metropolitan Cup was won in 1999 and the leagues’ titles in the 1993 and 2002-03 seasons.

Santos added the final Castle Classic Cup trophy to their trophy cabinet.

Subeb enjoyed a very successful stint with the Copper Town Boys, as Santos are affectionately known by their scores of fans around the country.

“After enjoying success in Namibia, we decided to test ourselves in continental competitions against the best in Africa. I must admit that we didn’t enjoy the best of the journey. It is a little rough there in Africa. We are still lacking experience wise,” Subeb notes.

“We went down 2-0 in the away leg of the preliminary round to Lobatse CS Gunners of Botswana in the CAF Cup in 1994, but drew 3-all at home to bow out 5-3 on aggregate. We suffered another preliminary round defeat in 2000 to Sagrada Esperanca who beat us 3-7 on aggregate in the CAF Confederations Cup.”

The Copper Town Boys were beaten 1-3 at home and went down 2-4 in the away leg.

Subeb’s superb performances in the famous orange and green jersey of Santos would, however, not go unnoticed.

He was part of the first post-independence national team squad that was assembled by Zimbabwean-born coach Shepherd Murape to play two international friendlies against Lesotho in Maseru in 1992.

However, Subeb’s real baptism of fire in continental football came in 1994 when the Brave Warriors were taught a free football lesson by a powerful Zambia in what was construed as an absolute mismatch against a star-studded Chipolopolo outfit.

Namibia were outplayed 4-0 in Windhoek and they were beaten with an identical score in the away leg in Lusaka, Zambia, during the World Cup qualifying tournament.

The retired footballer, who is living separately from his wife who is also the mother of his three children, is currently farming cattle, chicken and goats in the Tsintsabis area after he took early retirement from the oil company he worked for for 16 years in 2011.

“I am really enjoying farming and I just love the quiet and peaceful life here away from noise and crime that has become the norm in our once peaceful and safe Nomtsoub location. Water is not a problem, we received very good rains in December,” Subeb says. 

“There is enough water as a result and the animals have enough grass to graze. Our main concern here is cattle theft. The boys will never stop stealing, but as long as you have someone that looks well after your animals, you will be fine.”

Puli Subeb in action for Chief Santos flanked by teammate Jan Xamiseb and Smithley Engelbrecht of Black Africa.

The former Santos skipper does not only rely on farming to make a living but his jack of all trades nature also turned him into one of the most sought-after builders and painters both at Tsumeb and Tsintsabis.

Subeb, who mentions his former coach at Chief Santos Max ‘Zoda 5’ Johnson as the person who had the biggest influence on his football career, has also devoted his life to coaching young players, especially those under 20 years of age, during his free time.

The former star characterises his playing style on stamina and skill because fitness was his first priority due to his style of play, having enjoyed attacks from the back and never being shy of popping up with an odd goal either from set pieces or open play.

Although he appeared very calm and fearless on the pitch, Subeb says he was always a little nervous when he had to square up against ex-BA maestro Lolo Goraseb and the two Benfica Uushona brothers – midfield star Ndapewa and striker Daddy – who were very competitive.

Subeb decries the dwindling crowds at football stadiums and advises young players to be always disciplined and respectful towards their opponents, “because a disciplined player will always be loved by the people. I don’t have enemies today because of my respectful nature”.

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