ONLY a handful of players can claim they have established themselves in the starting line-up of the star-studded Class of ’98 Brave Warriors team the way former Monaco and Liverpool left wingback Simon China Uutoni did.
The cool and collected footballer, who is from Tsumeb, first started his career as a central midfielder before a positional change turned him into one (if not the best) attacking and defensive wingers in the country.
Uutoni started kicking the soccer ball with his childhood friends Petrus ‘Judy-Boy’ Nakashole, Noel Hambabi and Robert Hailume at the Nomtsoub settlement before they formed a team called Witbank Black Aces.
“From Witbank Black Aces it was straight into the school team of Opawa Primary School under the watchful eye of our teacher and soccer coach, Hosea Nico Kaiyamo.
“Playing for the school team was exciting, because we played against other schools,” Uutoni says.
He attended Otjikoto Secondary School where he also turned out for the school’s first team.
It was during his days at Otjikoto that he joined Young Benfica, the feeder team of former Namibia Premier League giants Benfica.
His stay at Benfica was, however, short-lived after he and his two other teammates were overlooked during training game matches.
“Those were very hard days as a young footballer – especially if you were small physically. The people running teams those years believed in powerful players with big bodies. They didn’t care much about you if you were small in build, despite your skills.
“I decided to join my former teammates at newly-formed Monaco, which belonged to the late Chief Santos and pre-independence national team sharpshooter Sacharias Selle Augumeb. We had a formidable team which competed in major national tournaments,” he says.
Uutoni, who must have inherited his football prowess from his gifted uncle Ronny Matatias, who pulled the strings in Benfica’s midfield before he went into exile in the late 70s, caught the eyes of his coach at the Okakarara Technical Instutute, who recommended him to Liverpool.
One of Liverpool’s co-owners, Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo, who’s talent landed him onto the books of South African glamour boys Kaizer Chiefs in the mid-70s, only needed to see Uutoni in one match for his hostel team Crystal Palace in 1991, before he signed him up.
“It was during my time at Liverpool that I was nurtured into the left wingback position from central midfield. I was super fit and I had good control of the ball, so it was easy to adapt. My consistent performances for Liverpool earned me a national team call-up.
“I made my Brave Warriors debut during a World Cup qualifier against Tunisia in Windhoek. I played my best match for the national team. We may have lost 3-2, but even coach Rusten Mogane told me afterwards that I made the left wingback position my own,” he says.
The winger may not have scored on his debut for the national team like he did on club level for Liverpool, but he went on to open his international account against Egypt during the 4-2 home defeat in front of a partisan Independence Stadium crowd.
The retired star, who has travelled the length of the African continent with the Brave Warriors, also had admirers across the Orange River in the person of astoot PSL coach Gavin Hunt, who was coaching Black Leopards in 2001.
He was invited for trials by Hunt, together with his ultra-talented former Liverpool teammate Johannes ‘Congo’ Hindjou, but any ambitions he harboured of signing a professional contract with Leopards went up in smoke after Hindjou decided to join Bloemfontein Celtic.
“The thing is that Hunt wanted both of us to sign because of the telepathic understanding and deadly combination we showed both at the club as well as at national team levels. Everything was set for the two of us to sign together on the dotted line with the Limpopo outfit.
“But my friend Hindjou packed his bag and left for Bloemfontein Celtic instead,” he says.
Uutoni won the NFA Cup with Liverpool, while he tasted BP Top Eight Cup glory with the Beautiful Birds.
He was also part of the City team that finished the 2007 season second best to eventual winners Civics.
He rates his long-range consolation goal during the 4-1 thrashing by Bafana Bafana during the 98 African Cup of Nations finals in Burkina Faso as his most memorable goal ever.
The former Brave Warriors star has seven children and co-owns a construction company called WB Construction.
“I qualified as a welder at the Okakarara Technical Institute, but I was later on taught how to build houses by my business partner as well. Right now, I am a jack of all trades and definitely a master of all, because I am a perfectionist in whatever I do.
“So far, we have built five National Housing Enterprise houses at Ongwediva Extension 11, while we have also built another 12 at Extension 14. I must admit it is tough to get jobs now, because we have been relying heavily on government tenders,” Uutoni says.
“If you are not connected, you can forget ever getting a tender. In addition, this new procurement is more complicated, meaning that half of the time you don’t know what is going on.
“But it is also a matter of making the best of the opportunities you get.
“Do a perfect job and make sure your workers are paid on time. Some people don’t look after their workers once they get the money, which is inhuman,” he sayss.
Apart from building and welding, Uutoni, who is farming partly with cattle with his friend and former Tigers ace Crooks Andima at Tsumkwe, also does tiling and painting.
His advice to young footballers is to be disciplined if they want to have a football career.
“They must also set themselves goals like where they want to be after a certain period of time. Also, drugs and alcohol have never been kind to any sportsperson,” he says.