Joel ‘Fire’ Masilela is fondly remembered by Mamelodi Sundowns faithful for his darting runs down the right, slicing past defenders like a knife through butter. He was recruited from amateur side African Brothers FC in 1991 and went on to win numerous trophies with the Brazilians. He called time on his career in 2004, having had a short stint with Hellenic. “I had to make way for the youngsters coming through. It was fun. It was so nice and I learnt so much from everything that happened in my career,” he enthuses.
Ah, the speedy Joel ‘Fire’ Masilela! Let us reflect on some memorable moments of your Mamelodi Sundowns career.
I received a warm welcome when I got to the club. It was a good, long journey. I won many trophies and created a name for myself at Sundowns. I am who I am because of this club. Back in those days, I used to share a room with Ernest Chirwali, Zane Moosa and the late Sam ‘Ewie’ Kambule. They were the senior guys and they accommodated me very well. We used to bring along our video machines and movies. I liked watching action movies a lot!
We also had two groups in camp - the Kalawa Jazmee and another one. The one group was that of the more serious guys who’d relax and play cards, and the other one was that of guys who liked to sneak out to watch movies. Our group was made up of guys like Eric Ramasike, Lovers Mohlala, the late Joas Magolego, Sizwe Motaung, Ernest and I. The club never gave us permission to go out, but we’d group ourselves and sneak out.
I remember one time Ewie, Zane, Ernest and I went to Ster Kinekor, which was situated next to where we were camping. We watched a movie and, on our way back, we left Zane behind because he was talking to other people. I told him, “Zane, you know what we did. We need to go back together so that we can go back to our rooms.” But he remained behind and then was caught.
Trott Moloto and Screamer Tshabalala weren’t happy with him. The three of us then said, “Guys, let’s be honest. Let’s go to the coaches and tell them Zane wasn’t alone. There were four of us and we only went for a movie.” All was forgiven after that and we went on to play the next day and win.
Who were the crazy characters in the group?
We had Cedric Nakhumwa. We used to call him ‘Mandela’ because he used to challenge people during conversations. He used to join in your conversation with someone else and start throwing in his opinion, without asking what you’re talking about. Chancy Gondwe was a funny guy, too, and liked to have fun. He frequented nightclubs. The one funny story I’ll never forget is about Mandela himself.
We played at HM Pitje Stadium against Bloemfontein Celtic. We were trailing 1-0 and he came on as a substitute. Screamer Tshabalala took Lovemore Chafunya off and introduced Cedric. It was a tough game, but after he came on, we started playing our normal game and he scored a hat-trick. That was a marvelous game for him! But the funny part is that, before he went in, he stood up and said, “But I can play better than Lovemore!” He went over to Screamer and said, “I want to go in, man.” Screamer said, “No, no, no, I am the coach and you must take instructions from me.” The even funnier thing is that the following week, he again started from the bench. He said, “You see how unfair football is? I score three goals and then the following week I’m back on the bench.” He stood up, warmed up by himself, went up to the coach and said, “I want to go in.” They had to take Lovemore off and nobody really said anything after that, even Screamer. He was a politician.
Your former teammates say you were also a funny guy.
Ja, I remember when we were supposed to travel to Kinshasa to play in the CAF Champions League. A day before that, Lovers Mohlala invited us to one of his friends’ party. He said, “No, guys, you can just come and stay for an hour or two.” I said to him, “Lovers, do you know that tomorrow we are travelling to Kinshasa and our flight is at 06h30, so we have to be at the airport at 05h00?” He said, “No, we’ll just stay for one hour and then go home.”
We went there and found that it was a big, big, big party! All the artists were there and it was the first time I saw Boom Shaka. Lebo Mathosa was there as well. It was packed! We drank some booze. I was the last Sundowns player to leave… at 04h00! I couldn’t make it on time, ha, ha, ha. When I arrived at the airport, I saw the flight taking off... and remember there was only one flight per week flying out to other African countries at that time. But you know what? God is so great! That flight had to turn back. They said it had over fuelled, so it had to come back to the airport and wait for an hour or so. I received a call from Screamer on my way home, telling me I had to come back. I couldn’t believe it. When I walked onto the flight, everybody was clapping for me, ha, ha, ha.
Tavern Talk Fun Facts
Best player I’ve ever faced: David Nyathi & Gardner Seale
Best player I’ve played with: Helman Mkhalele
Biggest pay cheque: R10 000
Smallest pay cheque: R250
Former team that used the most muti: Mamelodi Sundowns
Favourite current player: Siphiwe Tshabalala & Alje Schut
Current occupation: Mamelodi Sundowns U13 head coach
Former teams: Mamelodi Sundowns, Pietersburg Pillars, Hellenic
LOVERS MOHLALA ON MASILELA
“Fire was something else. He once bought a caravan and used to park it on the roadside and catch some sleep. He didn’t like girls… alcohol was his thing. He, Eric Ramasike and the late Joas Magolego used to call each other ‘Thaka’. They frequented a certain pub where they used to drink. Fire was just funny and talked too much. He used to tell Isaac Shai that I’m making him (Shai) work harder on that left wing. On the field he always had a plan.
Paul Dolezar used to tell him, ‘You Fire, you dribble a player and you dribble the referee.’ Whether you put him at right or left wing, he’d turn defenders inside out like nobody’s business. If you want to know about Fire, you must ask Edward Motale. When he meets Fire these days, he turns back and even starts developing cramps, ha, ha. At Joas’ funeral recently, Motale was seated far, far away from Fire. Fire had nine lives and even if you shoot at him now, he won’t die.”