Tribute to Uncle Ray, 1929-2016

Back in the day, during the days of apartheid South West Africa (SWA), black and white athletes were denied the chance of pitting their skills against the best on offer as a result of segregation.

However, the beautiful game of football was to change that trend after authorities in the Advocate Louis Pienaar second-tier minority rule government resolved to sanction an exhibition match, albeit reluctantly, between the Black Invitational Eleven against their White counterparts in 1975.

That particular match attracted a record crowd at the Suid Wes Stadium, and was an eye opener as it doubtlessly convinced authorities that sports, football in particular, has the desired potential to unite people irrespective of gender, creed, religion or political differences.

However, one particular footballer denied an ideal opportunity to showcase his talent was Raymond Dodds, as the brother was getting a bit long in the tooth despite his amazing undisputed talent.

Uncle Ray, as the strongly built attacking midfielder was affectionately known in football circles, played rugby at school and in the army and for Wanderers’ ‘White Stallions’.

However, he switched allegiance to the beautiful game of football and hockey in the intervening years where he was to enjoy a successful career before falling in love with the swing, Carlos “CK” Kambaekwa reports.

Born in Otjiwarongo in 1929, the multi-talented sports-crazy Dodds was among four founder members of Ramblers FC in 1945.

And despite the advancing summers behind his back, Uncle Ray would oversee several generations at the Tunschell Street outfit until father time obliged him to take a bow from the game that had taken him beyond the borders of his native land representing SWA in the highly competitive South African Provincial Currie Cup.

The former Ramblers midfield kingpin was a perfect example of a complete athlete as he equally excelled in four different disciplines – rugby, football, hockey and golf.

Uncle Ray was, until the time of his untimely passing, actively involved in sports and was a regular face at the Windhoek Country Club Golf Course where he would be seen swinging golf clubs.

An 11 handicap, Uncle Ray was a keen golfer who liked to confront the greens and had a couple of golf tourneys.
“I only started playing football at the advanced age of 18, the same year we formed Ramblers alongside Walter Stern, Uwe Hoenck and Robbie Pieters.

“We entered the elite football league but had to endure a four-year dry spell as we went about the business without registering a single win in any competitive match,” recalled Uncle Ray in an exclusive interview with New Era Sports before he took a bow from the game of life.

Ramblers were to become the whipping boys in the whites-only National Football League (NFL). The league consisted of Fortuna, to be rechristened Sport Klub Windhoek (SKW) in later years, Railways, Swakopmund FC, Walvis Bay FC, Tsumeb FC, Otavi FC and Okahandja Manschaft.

As time wore on, Ramblers’ fortunes would change for the better when management resolved to rope in Jerry Joubert as head coach.

“Jerry changed the training methods, recruiting a decent number of youngsters that brought a new dimension to our game and as result, the squad got transformed into a winning unit.”

The playing squad consisted a mixture of Afrikaans, German and English-speaking footballers that enjoyed great camaraderie.

Uncle Ray was selected for the SWA Invitational side to represent the country at the annual Provincial Currie Cup in South Africa.

“I played for the Currie Cup team for about four years. It was during those games that I happened to meet the late Vic Lovell, who kept goal for Western Province.

“The competition was very tough and the closest we came within a victory was a narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of Western Province when we hosted the Provincial tourney at the Windhoek Show Grounds.”

In between, Uncle Ray would also turn out for the country’s only semi-professional team, Windhoek City where he rubbed shoulders with Steinie Steinfurth, Cocky Horstemke, Ernst Zapke, Hasso Ahrens, Wessie van der Westhuizen and Klaus von Buchelan, among others.

“In those days, there were only two lawn pitches across the entire country, the Windhoek Show Grounds and Talpark, the rest were all gravel fields. Sometimes we would travel for about two days for a league match in Tsumeb with 13 players cramped in a small pick-up.”

The team would spend a night in Otjiwarongo before continuing the long journey to Tsumeb. “Our favourite accommodation was the sample rooms in various hotels because it was more affordable.

As the old guard started to fade, it was left to the football genius of Uncle Ray to guide the new generation of footballers at Rammies – a task he managed to accomplish with a great measure of aplomb.

When the likes of Bobby Craddock, Werner Sasse, Bob Koudelka, Gunter Hellinghausen, Dougie Rilley, Ahrens, Steinfurth, Willy Roesner, Siggy Horstemke and Don Corbett aboard the smooth-sailing train at Tunchell Street – it was left to Uncle Ray to usher the new arrivals into the promised land of milk and honey.

Uncle Ray became the proud recipient of 13 gold medals as a solid midfielder with Ramblers, and such was his football virtuosity that his admirers and teammates saw it fit to have him knighted as “Sir Stanley Mathews”.

Though unofficially, Uncle Ray was nicknamed Sir Stanley Mathews, after the hero of England’s World Cup winning team in 1966.

“Whenever we travelled to Walvis Bay, all 15 players in the Ramblers squad would also represent the club in the National Hockey League playing in different positions.”

Uncle Ray was also a member of the SWA hockey team for an uninterrupted spell of 22 years until a fractured leg ended his flirtation with the stick-lashing game of hockey.

“I suffered a fractured leg while playing football for Ramblers against Cohen in a league match at the show grounds. That was probably the only time I’ve missed out on selection for the SWA Hockey side.”

In the meantime, Uncle Ray found time to try his hand at the golf course whenever Ramblers was not in action. “I started playing golf at the age of 32 as a 24 handicap and graduated to a two handicap in later years.”

His newly found love for the greens rubbed off on his two son Trevor, then 9 and little Andrew, as the youngsters took keen interest in swinging the clubs.

“Ag, the boys were just messing around and I really never thought they would be among the finest golfers to come out of our neck of the woods seriously.”

Young Trevor won his first major golf tournament aged 14. He has been playing professionally ever since. Having been playing competitive football over an astonishingly prolonged period, Uncle Ray had been and seen it all when multi-racial football was finally introduced in the domestic setup in 1977.

Aged 49, Uncle Ray was still playing competitive first league football. His final match was against Black Africa in the late 70s at the Windhoek Stadium, to be re-baptised Independence Stadium after apartheid was abolished in 1990.

“Football is in all honesty a damn beautiful game, we used to compete fiercely on the field but everything would be forgotten after the match with all the players mingling freely among each other. I will always cherish our countless battles with Fortuna, they were quite a hard nut to crack, ultimately leading to the rivalry that would persist between Ramblers and SKW up to this day.”

Uncle Ray rated his former teammate and midfield partner Robbie Pieters as the greatest footballer he has ever played with during a flourishing football career. Sadly, the likeable humorous Uncle Ray exited the game of life after losing a long battle with cancer, aged 87. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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