Tales of the Legend – First Touch Maestro – Engel ‘Zero My Hero’ Johnson

Tsumeb-based outfit Chief Santos is arguably the most successful football club in the history of topflight football following Namibia’s independence in 1990.

The Copper Town lads, as Santos is generally known among its ardent followers clinched almost everything there was to win, courtesy of an unprecedented string of triumphs in the country’s most prestigious knockout tournament, the Namibia Football Association (NFA) Cup, including two Premier league titles. Santos won the second edition of the annual tourney by dispatching Blue Waters in a replayed match after the first match ended in a six-goal thriller with sharpshooter Gerros Uri-Khob announcing his arrival in Namibian football in 1990, with a well-taken hat trick to force a replay. Seven years later in 1997, Santos reclaimed the coveted trophy and went on to defend the title successfully in subsequent editions in 1998 and 1999. By this time, another gem was unearthed in the person of a young lethal goal poacher going by the name of Engel Johnson. New Era Sports caught up with the shy former Santos target man and he related his experience and how he graduated to the Santos first team after a brief spell with Aston Hotspurs Football Club.

TSUMEB – Out of sight, out of mind. On hindsight, former Chief Santos diminutive striker, Engel Johnson, never really looked like someone who could harm a fly, but the speedy goal poacher was lethal in front of goal. He was one of very few strikers in the game who possessed that rare killer instinct complemented by a brilliant first touch and could score goals from tight angles. Engel arrived in Tsumeb in 1972 via his hometown Omaruru at the tender age of seven and immediately settled down to some serious business after he joined a small football team comprising of talented young footballers from the neigbourhood.

Like any other young boy his age at the time, Engel was football crazy and was a founding member of Aston Hotspurs Football Club alongside Simon Kakuva and the dribbling wizard Martin ‘Voete’ Witbeen. A highly gifted versatile athlete, Engel was equally at home in the high jump discipline in track and field athletics and a formidable sprinter in the 100 metres dash. At the relative young age of 20, Engel made his eagerly awaited debut for Chief Santos in 1985 and found himself playing alongside experienced campaigners, who included former Black Africa fullback Corrie Uri-Khob, the late Black Beauty Chiefs centre back Chris Amakali, Pele Ouseb, Conrad ‘Safari’ Angula, Martin ‘Voete’ Uri-Khob and Petrus Dacosta. The quicksilver striker quickly established himself as a valuable squad member in the Chief Santos starting line-up under the stewardship of wily mentor Max Johnson. He was on hand when the Copper Town lads swept aside a star-studded Blue Waters outfit to claim their first major post-independence cup victory in 1991. He went on to form a deadly telepathic partnership with Gerros ‘The Bomber’ Uri-Khob in the Santos firing line and while his celebrated striking partner Gerros was the envy of football fans, Engel went about his business inconspicuously as he rattled the opposition’s net at will steering Santos to two league titles.

Santos represented Namibia in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Club Champions League, but ended on the losing side as Santos lost both legs against Botswana’s Tafic FC 2-1 and 3-2 in Lobatse and Tsumeb respectively. Engel might not have featured for the Brave Warriors, but his near faultless display in the number 9 position contributed immensely to the unsurpassed success of Chiefs Santos that saw the club win the much sought after Premiership title twice. A persistent knee injury put paid to his flourishing football career and football followers were robbed of an opportunity to witness the goal scoring prowess of this prolific goal poacher as he called it quits, while still at the pinnacle of his blossoming football career. Those with intimate knowledge of the inner doings at Santos gly believe his inevitable retirement from the game has contributed to the demise of this once mighty football club, Chief Santos. “He had a lot to offer because he could create vital goals out of nothing. To me, Engel was perhaps the most underrated striker in domestic football , maybe because many defenders concentrated mainly on marking Gerros, allowing the dangerous Engel to cause havoc in the opposing defense line-ups,” former team mate Billy Tuahepa reckons.

Engel just possessed that rare knack of scoring vital goals from half-baked goal scoring opportunities and awkward positions. Testament to this proposition is no doubt the high number of goals the slippery striker netted during a somewhat abbreviated stint with the Copper Town lads. His departure certainly left a void in the Santos firing line with his replacement Ricardo Witbeen failing to match his exploits in the penalty box. Engel was your typical old-fashioned striker in the mould of former African Stars toe-poking striker Ace Tjirera and would chase every stray ball, while harassing defenders at will and allowing them nospace for a breather.

In the past, Santos produced great strikers such as Celle Auchumeb, Pele Damaseb, Barnabas Ouseb, Crooks Casper and Gerros Uri-Khob. The above quartet developed an arrogant habit of stinging the palms of many top shot-stoppers and although Engel lacked the shooting prowess of his predecessors, he made up for it through his amazing speed, excellent first touch, great vision and ability to get himself out of tight situations while his composure in the penalty box was second to none. Most defenders including former Ramblers skilful centre back Tollie van Wyk, African Stars cool as a cucumber defender Nico Hindjou, even the fearless late robust Orlando Pirates fullback Salathiel Ndjao, dreaded coming face to face with the Copper Town lads’ slippery fox during their countless duels. At the aanced age of 48, Engel might have retired from the game but his name will be deservedly engraved in the rich history of Santos in the same fashion as Celle Auchumeb, Steps Nickel, Mohammed Ouseb, Gerros Uri-Khob, Engelhard Gariseb, Hannes Louw, Benzil Gotiseb, Pele Damaseb, Absalom ‘Shakes’ Khomob, Crooks Casper, Lucky Kakuva, Marcellus Witbeen, Puli Subeb, Kapapi Ochurub, Barnabas Ouseb, Archie Ochurub, Max Johnson, Martin ‘Voete’ Uri-Khob and many other greats that donned the orange and green strip of this great football entity.

Source : New Era