At the relatively young age of 49, Phil “Chippa” Masinga has joined the select group of all-time South African soccer greats who have passed away prematurely in the past two decades.
The like able, courteous former Bafana Bafana striker and lethal goal-scorer died at a Johannesburg hospital on Sunday after being diagnosed with cancer last month.
Like Ace Ntsoelengoe (54), John “Shoes” Moshoeu (49) and Sizwe Motaung (31), whose sudden deaths shocked and saddened the soccer firmament, the likeable and courteous Masinga was widely considered as talented and accomplished to warrant a place in a hypothetical best-ever line-up of South African footballers.
In all, he represented Bafana 58 times, including the 1996 African Nations Cup triumph, scored 18 international goals and found the net 154 times during a career of 328 matches that evolved with distinction in England with Leeds United.
His South African club exploits were most strikingly with Mamelodi Sundowns for whom he scored almost 100 goals at not far off a goal a game.
He also played in Italy notably with Bari and in Switzerland with St Gallen.
In an England FA Cup fixture, Masinga recorded a remarkable hat-trick within the space of nine minutes to secure an extra-time victory for Leeds over Walsall after coming on as a 91st minute substitute.
But for local fans the focal and indelible highlight of Masinga’s career remains the scorching 25-metre shot that secured Bafana a vital victory over Congo at FNB Stadium and a consequent place in the 1998 World Cup Finals in France – a feat that will probably be elevated to top of the list of the best goals scored by South Africans at international level.
However, the lanky striker was more than a goal-scorer, mastering the various talents required of his particular craft and regularly initiating scoring efforts for his team-mates through his positioning and passing.
And for all the impact he made on the field, the modest, and obliging impression he made off it, much like Ace Ntsoelengoe, “Shoes” Moshoeu and Sizwe Motaung, was what made him so respected – and his death so difficult to comprehend.
The outpouring of tributes, grief and sympathy from his former clubs, old team-mates and officials is evident enough of how highly he was regarded.