S’Busiso Mseleku reminisces and shares some fond memories of his many interactions with Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga.
Many South Africans remember Chippa Masinga for the all-important goal he scored at a packed FNB Stadium against Congo Brazzaville in a World Cup qualifier in 1997.
It was that oft-called “freeze frame” or “I was there when” moment.
The goal took South Africa to its first World Cup, played in France, the following year.
Talk to anyone who was part of the near capacity crowd on that historic day and they will likely be able to describe, in very graphic detail, how Doctor Khumalo intercepted a pass next to the centre line and laid off his trademark defence-splitting pass for Masinga to crash the ball into the roof of the net.
They can even tell you how he celebrated with his finger pointing to the skies. How Clive “The Dog” Barker took off in what became known as his “Aeroplane” move.
Another “I was there” moment for me was on Sunday, September 4 1994, when Bafana Bafana played Madagascar in an Africa Cup of Nations Group 5 qualifier at the Mahamasina Municipal Stadium (which Barker referred to as a cabbage pitch) in Antananarivo.
GLORY DAYS Masinga endeared himself to Leeds United during his time there
Doctor Khumalo received the ball on the right flank, eliminated a defender through what in Kasitaal is known as a vula-vala, sent in a pin-point cross – and I’m sure you can guess who headed home in the 21st minute for a 1-0 victory.
Chippa was a giant, not only physically but as a footballer as well. He stood head and shoulders above many of his peers, literally and figuratively.
One of our early interactions came in 1991 when, as a gangly, shy 22-year-old youngster, Masinga was robbed of an award he should have won hands down.
This was after he had carried Jomo Cosmos to a cup final where he scored a hat-trick against Kaizer Chiefs.
The panel of judges, made up of journalists – of whom I was one – were shocked to the marrow when then Amakhosi striker Fani Madida was announced as the player of the series.
HERO Masinga and Innocent Buthelezi raise the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 1995
After an impromptu huddle where we found out that we had all voted for Masinga, we confronted the league officials and asked for all our ballot papers to be brought out and shown to us.
We were told that they had been destroyed.
I assured the broken and disappointed youngster that we would fight for justice for him.
After a long to-and-fro, with all of us who had been on the panel refusing to endorse the National Soccer League’s decision and have our names attached to it, the league backed down and gave Chippa the award and the prize money.
Because they could not take it back from Madida, the two players were declared joint winners.
Much as it was not as sweet as it would have been had he been hailed at the awards ceremony, I think it came as a small consolation. He thanked all of us profusely for “fighting” for him.
MEMORIES Shielding the ball in a match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Umtata Bucks.
Another memorable interaction came in the early 2000s, after Richard Maguire, who was the editor of Kick-Off magazine at the time, accepted my proposal to write a series on players who were not down and out after retirement.
This led to me visiting Masinga at his palatial home in Klerksdorp.
At the entrance visitors were welcomed by a sign reading “P and P”, which stood for Phil and Puleng, the latter being Masinga’s wife. They later divorced.
An small but interesting fact is that Puleng is also the name of Jomo Sono’s wife. Life does indeed have these little coincidences.
We had a good chat about his entire life: from when he started his career, his days at Cosmos, at Mamelodi Sundowns (for whom he scored 100 goals), and at Leeds United, St Gallen in Switzerland, Salernitana and Bari in Italy, and eventually Al-Wahda in the United Arab Emirates.
The tastefully furnished house bore all the signs of a well-to-do retired player. We exchanged a few shots (of the tennis ball kind) on his court and took a walk in his beautiful garden.
Scoring goals came naturally to him during his playing days. On January 18 1995 he wrote himself into Leeds United folklore with a nine-minute extra-time hat-trick against Walsall in a cup game.
My last interview with him appeared in City Press on October 11 2015.
In that interview, he told me he had received his certificate in sport management from the International Centre for Sport Studies based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
“Education is not only important for footballers but everybody, because it enables you to pursue any career of your choice. It gives you something to fall back on once your playing career is over. Football is a short-lived career, and you are lucky to play for 10 years. Your career can easily be curtailed by injury or other problems. So education matters,” he said.
He was thrilled with that achievement and the fact that he had been a 2010 Fifa World Cup ambassador.
He was also looking forward to furthering his studies and was considering enrolling for a masters degree. “It is done in three countries – England, Switzerland and Italy. You spend three months in each. Coincidentally, these are all countries I have played in.”
He was also part of the SAB Finding Tomorrow’s Stars programme.
He had earlier told me how close he was to the Tsichlas family (Anastasia and Angelo), not only as a player at Sundowns between 1991 and 1994, but throughout his football life.
Our last conversation was on December 14, when he called me from his sick bed to register some concerns about an article.
Little did I know then that that was to be the last time I would hear his voice.
Hamba kahle, qhawe lamaqhawe!