The great Stella Williams

Nobody else in Namibia can boast that they joined the national football team at the tender age of 14 – but Stella Williams can.

22 February 2021 | Sports

Stella Williams is probably the best female footballer in the history of Namibian football. Her story is one that gives every little girl hope, regardless of their background and societal challenges.

Williams was born in the dusty streets of Windhoek's Nama location in 1980. Little did she know that when she defied societal stereotypes of women playing football, that defiance would open doors for her to write her name in the history of Namibian football and subsequently thus earn her 52 national caps.



Breaking barriers

Her football journey started when she outshone the boys in a sport that is perceived to be 'for boys'.

Namibian Sun caught up with her as she narrated how she got into the beautiful game. She attended AI Steenkamp Primary School, where she participated in netball and athletics. Her athleticism eventually drove her to play football. “I would be at home doing nothing and I would see boys playing down in the street. These were my friends, so obviously I couldn't just sit and watch them play. Eventually I ended up joining them in the street.

“For these games, we used a lot of makeshift balls. We made them ourselves. If you could kick it, it was on. We would play from dusk to dawn with goalposts made from stones. I played with the likes of Rudy Louw, Riaan Cloete, Bradely 'Asprella' Werner, Jeffrey Roman and Ariel Ortega. I was the only girl in the location, dribbling through these boys. I'm not saying I was better than them, because they too were very talented and showed me a thing or two,” Williams recalls.

Her exploits in the location earned her spots at local clubs Civics and Okahandja Beauties, and later she played with Poly Babes. On the netball front she played for Orlando Pirates. Her skills were like no other – later on earning her a spot in the national team. Of course, her story is a little different from many other players because she didn't have the opportunities the current crop of players have, such as being in youth leagues and getting proper football guidance.

This is best explained by her former teammate, Jacky Gertze from the NFA Women's Department.

“Williams didn't have the opportunity of living in an elite football centre, having three meals a day or having free boots and training gear or flying in an aeroplane to other countries.

“There were no development programmes when we played in the national team. Meaning that she had to go shoulder to shoulder with the best players on the continent at the age of 14 during the rare international fixtures of Namibia, and no player has ever managed to break that record yet, to have joined the Brave Gladiators (BG) at that age,” said Gertze.

She added that Williams, who still plays for Khomas Nampol Football Club, will always make a plan to attend her club games.

“You don't need to go and get Williams at her house to play, unless she wasn't aware of a match taking place. She is always there to play. It's very rare that she misses a game, no matter how trivial it is.

“Her talent is very difficult to compare to any other player because of the combination of physical and mental qualities she had during her time with the national team and even at her prime on club level. She has a high level of competitive mindset and motivation. She has possibly the best predatory instinct and reaction in front of goal at any level of a competition at all times.

“Back then she was referred to by former BG coach Jacqui Shipanga as the 'best player coach on the field', the player who can direct and help other players when she transfers messages from the coach,” said Gertze.

In addition, Gertze said that the Women's Department has engaged Williams on several occasions to discuss plans to honour her career.

“She is aware of it. Last year, when we were planning to launch the League in March, she was on the programme to receive club honours since the national team honours can only be determined when she confirms retirement officially.”



Tributes

Stacy Naris, who also played with Williams on club and national level, said she is an extremely gifted player. “If Williams was on the pitch – you would feel it. She used to be an aggressive player but she definitely knows what to do with the ball. It truly was a pleasure having to play with her, she is also one to give the best advice and also a very straightforward person,” added Naris. Another former teammate on club level, Erica Ashipala, said that Williams has always been everyone's favourite star. “She is indeed still the only midfield maestro I know. She is quick on the ball and has beautiful ball control. When she gets a quick, responsive player to match her kind of play, then its showtime.

“I will never forget the day I managed to catch her penalty kick (I was the goalkeeper). She dribbled through some players and the next thing I see, she's on the floor in my box. I told myself, Williams is just a player like everyone else, so let her bring it on. I was so proud that I caught the penalty kick of the biggest star we had in those days.

“But you know, that didn't bring her down. She continued playing and scored. You could be her opponent, but once on the pitch, you would just be in awe, admiring her performance. Hence to date we call her 'Stella Stay Star',” Ashipala recalled.

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