George Hummel – A globetrotter with go, go, go
Namibia international George Hummel has often turned up the heat in the past. Now he finally wants to turn the heat up on football in his homeland.
The nickname “Roadblock” hits the nail on the head. Weighing 76kg and standing 1.80m tall, George Hummel has a very powerful physique. As a defender for the Swallows in Johannesburg in South Africa, he is a formidable obstacle in the tackle – even more so when wearing the colours of his country. The 31-year-old has been a regular for Namibia for years, with 49 caps to his name since his debut in a 2-1 win against Cote d’lvoire back in 1996.
Hailing from a footballing family, Hummel was predestined for a life in the game. “My father always encouraged my two brothers, my sister and me because he used to play football himself,” explains Hummel. One day, everything just fell into place. When he started playing in the domestic league, he caught the eye of a South African scout, who offered him a professional contract. “I didn’t hesitate for a minute. The move to Hellenics in Cape Town was a golden opportunity,” he adds. “My dreams came true. My hobby became my profession while so many of my compatriots were still waiting to be discovered and leave the country.”
In Namibia, everyone jumps at the opportunity to move away because football and rugby, although popular, are still only played at amateur level. The domestic Premier League’s twelve teams, seven of which are based in the capital, Windhoek, draw respectable attendances of 5,000 and even as many as 10,000 or 15,000 fans to some derbies, but are far removed from the professional set-up. “Most footballers have other jobs and can only play in their free time. But that is slowly changing. There are one or two players who are already working only part-time,” Hummel points out.
FOREIGNER IN VLADIVOSTOK
So Hummel took to his heels as soon as the opportunity knocked, heading for Cape Town, where he soon found his feet. The next step in his career, which called for a healthy dose of courage, came four years later. It took him from the southernmost point of Africa practically to the other end of the world – to Vladivostok in the far eastern reaches of Russia. As a black person playing for Energia Vladivostok, Hummel certainly cut a dash but no-one seemed to mind. “There was practically no racism and most people were very pleasant and friendly. It was a very special year but traveling enormous distances was arduous. It’s not easy to get over a nine-hour flight for an away game in Moscow. Even our nearest opponents were a two-and-half hour flight away,” comments Hummel.
That year in Russia left a deep impression and even today he sometimes speaks Russian to Japhet Zwane, who used to play for Rostov and is now Hummel’s team-mate at Swallows. And he still spurs his team-mates on with the words “pashli, pashli, pashli”, meaning “go, go, go!”.
“Go, go, go” is what Hummel is now demanding of the Namibia Football Association, which he claims is not doing enough to promote professional football. The 31-year-old would also like to see more commitment from the players themselves. “They will have to take on more responsibility and realise that what goes up can also come down,” he muses. He has detected a mine of potential talent, especially amongst the young. “There are countless numbers of young boys and girls playing football. They would have a future, if only they were trained properly,” emphasises Hummel.
What is missing is initiative although some people have already taken the lead, such as Civics FC, who have become the top club in Namibia in the space of a few years thanks to help from Germany. This is an amazing feat for a club founded by students in a township to the north of Windhoek back in 1983. Although conditions remain disorganised seventeen years after Namibia was granted independence in 1990, there is a ray of light on the horizon — thanks to street football.
Sociologist Helmut Scharnowski has been the somewhat controversial chairman and head coach of Civics FC for six years. He is accused of being too rigid in his principles, but his success speaks for itself. He recently won his third consecutive league title on the strength of a modern club set-up, professional team management, ambition and, above all, discipline.
Scharnowski meant business when he set about professionalising football. His players are semi-professional and earn an average of 80 to 180 euros a month — the equivalent of a local worker’s wages. The club can afford it as it has strong foundations, boosted by a few spectacular transfers, such as Colin Benjamin’s move to Hamburg in the German league or the loan of the promising Heinrich Isaack to Danish second division side Sonderjyske.
Namibian football is gradually moving forward but if George Hummel had his way, it would have much more go, go, go.