Tribute to an unsung football hero, Manuel Neto Mendos 1960 – 2007
The year 1984 will go down in history as the time when unfashionable giant killers Katutura outfit Hungry Lions FC made their presence felt in domestic football with breathtaking displays.
The marauding Lions from the east boasted a mixture of highly gifted youngsters and sharpshooters, cousined by bone-crunching defenders.
The maroon and white strip outfit won their first silverware in topflight football by defeating the star-studded Celle Ochurub’s inspired Chief Santos in the annual Easter Cup final at the packed to rafters SKW stadium in Windhoek.
Justice Basson’s lone strike separated the two teams in a hotly contested clash of the titans but it was the rock-steady defensive display of a strongly built centre back, one Manuel Neto Mendos, aka ‘Pornjor’
that captured the imagination of spectators.
The latter contributed largely to the Lions’ historical triumph on that particular day. A one-team clubman, the muscular Angolan born athlete declined several tempting offers from the big four – African Stars, Black Africa, Tigers and Orlando Pirates – to jump out of the Lions’ den.
Born in the southern part of Angola on the 11th of July 1960, Manuel Neto Mandos, a huge-framed Shimbundu boy hardly out of his nappies, arrived in South West Africa (SWA) with his parents, aged three.
Suffice to confess that Namibian football is a great deal indebted to the unmatched visionary approach of the late Ben Uanivi, one of Namibia’s most accomplished referees, shrewd administrator and a phenomenal talent scout.
New recruits such as Bernard Newman, Five Kandingua, Kallie Bilhawer, Teenage Mwashekele, Jackson Meroro, Foresta Nicodemus, Basson siblings Lesley and Jannaman, Vemuna Hoveka, Kabasa Tjikusere, Ringo Skrywer, Veraa Katuuo, Kaume Katjipuka and Dorich Tjerivanga were amongst those discovered by the sharp-eyed Uanivi.
Up to this day, none of the playing personnel within the Lions’ den are able to explain from where Uanivi dug out the ebony-skinned no-nonsense fullback (Mendos).
His arrival at the unfashionable maroon and white strip Katutura outfit coincided with the inevitable departure of the Lions’ ageing guard.
The likes of bra Shakes Kandenge, John ‘Long Tom’ Kaahangoro, Shabby Rukero, Marongo Veii, Obed ‘Moripe’ Muundjua and Ben ‘Tier’ Nganjone were all getting a bit long in the tooth and had to make way for new blood.
Fluent in the Ovaherero vernacular, Mendos fitted like a hand in glove with the club’s culture and traditional style of play (long ball) with lots of emphasis on shooting from long range.
The Angolan import hit the ground running with breathtaking performance as the Lions started to dominate football in the highly competitive Central Football Association (CFA) second tier division.
Mendos was to play a pivotal role when the all-conquering Lions of the east won promotion to the elite Central Second Division League in 1982. The Lions of the east made a clean sweep – setting a new record across all forms of the domestic league.
The Foresta Nicodemus-inspired Lions of the east went the entire season unbeaten to claim the league title in a highly contested league that included Sorento Bucks, Golden Rivers, Groovy Lions, Eastern Jumpers and Benfica.
The latter boasted a squad of a good mixture of local footballers and highly skillful imports from across the Orange River, spearheaded by versatile lanky fullback Philemon Joodt, dribbling wizards Aaron Thebe and Jabu Brown, as well as the slippery midfield pair of Tugelo and Thami ‘the Horse’.
Mendos established himself as a pillar of strength in the heart of the fearless Lions defence where no quarter was asked or given in a defensive pairing with the following teammates: Sadrag Tjazerua, Kandjambi-Katjaeta Veseevete, Usiel Muinjoo Kotjipati, Steve Kavari, Shoeshine Kambanda and bone-crunching fullback Godwin “Tikkie” Muvangua, aka “Roasted Chicken” all formed the backbone of the Lions’ much-feared rearguard.
Strong in the tackle while possessing an unbelievable first touch and close ball control for a defender, Mendos was blessed with a decent shot in his right foot – scoring the odd goal from range.
The brother would occasionally venture forward whenever frustrations took the better of him, notably when he felt strikers were not clinical enough in front of goal.
Such was his bravery and confidence that whenever the team played out a draw in the popular knockout competitions with penalty shootouts required to settle the outcome, bro Mendos would always be amongst the volunteers to take one of the allocated five spot kicks.
Sadly, as a former teammate of bro Manny, the author cannot recall any single occasion where the brother hit the target.
As fate would dictate, Mendos took up employment with diamond giants CDM in Oranjemund in the late 80’s.
However, the gruelling long distance from the coastal mining town to the city of lights (Windhoek) restricted his game time at the Lions – obliging the tough-tacking defender to jump ship and join boyhood team Black Africa.
At the time, the financially muscled Gemengde outfit had a significant number of their playing personnel employed by the diamond mine on their books, which they would ship in at any time whenever the need arose.
Mendos saw this as an ideal opportunity to carry on playing competitive football and took the bold decision to join forces with BA – much to the chagrin of his teammates.
In the intervening years, the brother developed itchy feet and relocated to the copper town Tsumeb at the behest of former teammates Kallie Bilhawer and Billy Tuahepa.
He worked and settled in Tsumeb until he met his untimely death on the 15th of April in 2007. May his soul rest in eternal peace in one piece.