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What’s in a name?

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Countries such as India, China and lately the United States of America, are presently investing hugely in their dream of becoming a Fifa World Cup champion

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Philemon “Chippa” Masinga’s death at the relatively young age of 49 has cast a pall over the football fraternity; The South African Football Association, the Premier Soccer League as well as the several clubs whose jersey he donned in their service. This column is dedicated to his memory.

The travel diaries of South African football teams after this weekend are full of pain and hardship as they narrate the tale of their pursuit of glory in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) competitions.

In some ways, they have the now deceased footballer Philemon “Chippa” Masinga to thank for their appearances at these competitions.

Masinga may not have solely held the keys to South Africa’s readmission to the international football fraternity, but he was in many ways a pathfinder, a pioneer of the country’s place in the international football annals.

A snippet aired by the national broadcaster of a goal that he scored is widely claimed as the crucial one that got us onto France 1998 where we played in Group C. There we featured alongside the hosts France, Saudi Arabia and Denmark. The result from that group might best be forgotten by football loving fans down south but for Chippa it was the cherry on top of a career spent in pursuit of a dream.

What he and his then teammates in Bafana Bafana brought us was an immense sense of pride especially now that we had gone so far in football and achieved that which was, and still is, practically the stuff that most countries dream about. This is very significant.

For instance countries such as India, China and lately the United States of America, are presently investing hugely in their dream of becoming a Fifa World Cup champion.

We in Mzansi still have not paid the “right fees” for our rather inconsistent qualification to several World Cup jamborees up to this day. We got our first ticket basically on the back of sheer courage displayed by the likes of Masinga.

South Africa qualified for the follow up 2002 World Cup which was jointly hosted by Korea and Japan. We missed the boat for the 2006 event. In 2010 we lost in the group stages here at home and have gone downhill since.

It must have been to Chippa’s disdain and utter bewilderment, we still have to build the grand stadia and football infrastructure that we were promised by the disgraced Sepp Blatter’s Fifa. The money did eventually come afterwards but very little of it landed on the places where it was needed. That story however, we will tell on another day.

In football Masinga was a giant. He had obviously modelled himself on the likes of other greats before him as his nickname attests. The origins of the nickname “Chippa” like its companion nicknames “Ace” and “Wire” are as yet not rendered on Google but I have seen it being used with some of the often unheralded greatest players in the game.

Anyway, some evidence of the use of the nickname Chippa is found among some of the earliest known players who plied their trade in then exclusive local football associations of the time in the predominantly African neighbourhoods.

By the time the old National Professional Soccer League came around in the early 1970s every other player worth his soccer boots was either known as Chippa or wanted to be known as such.

But while Ace is maybe self explanatory, the name Chippa is not that helpful.

The name is probably a mispronunciation of the word “Chipper”.

The dictionary definition of Chipper refers to someone who plugs away at something until he/she succeeds. Well, as testament to this Chippa Masinga was still involved with football along with Doctor Khumalo and Brian Baloyi long after his professional career had ended.

Be that as it may, Masinga earned the much loved nickname Chippa because of his exploits with the ball at his feet. He was equal to the best and as such was deserving of a befitting name in football.

The tradition of giving nicknames to the best of players has waned in the age of social media and the Internet but the stories about the likes of Chippa Masinga will be told many times over.