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Football | South Africa

Walter da Silva © Gallo Images

Walter Da Silva passes on

Brazilian-born Walter da Silva, the most prolific goalscorer in South African soccer history and the coach at various times of Soweto's "Big Three", Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows, died on Thursday morning.

The 68 year-old lethal striker once scored 60 goals for Highlands Park in a single season and in a career smattered with glorious triumphs and excruciating pain cultivated a habit of cheating death with regular monotony.

This time, however, the brave warrior succumbed to a heart attack at the St Isabel Portuguese Home in Johannesburg after suffering from a near-fatal stroke nine months ago.

Thirty seven years ago, after suffering a previous heart attack immediately after playing and starring in a National Football League game for Powerlines against Durban City in Nigel, Da Silva was given a 25% chance of survival by the staff at the old Johannesburg General Hospital in Hillbrow.

The brilliant striker, only 27 at the time, made a near-miraculous recovery and continued playing for five years in defiance of stern medical advice - before turning to soccer management and coaching an assortment of local clubs during his 45 years in South Africa.

In 1975, Da Silva was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer, again receiving the stark news that his death was imminent.

A nine-hour operation at the Johannesburg General Hospital, now at new surroundings in Parktown, once again earned the inscrutable Da Silva a life-saving reprieve.

Then three year ago, while walking from the fast food outlet he ran with his wife in Turffontein to the nearby flat where he lived, Da Silva was accosted by three gun-toting gangsters, one of whom shot him in the temple from point-blank range - with a bullet lodged in his skull.

Had he not moved his head with the panther-like agility and intuitiveness that accounted for more than a few of his goals for first division Brazilian clubs Fluminense and America and later for Highlands Park, Powerlines and other South African teams, Da Silva would certainly have died on the spot.

Da Silva was never far from danger in an eventful career that took him to coaching positions in the Seychelles and Vietnam and resulted in his kidnapping by a group of fanatical Swallows supporters while he was coaching The Birds.

"The team was going through a bad patch," he recalled laconically, "and the supporters didn't like losing."

Although Da Silva emerged as a seasoned and knowledgeable coach in the firmament of South African soccer, playing a pivotal role in the revival of The Buccaneers in the late 1980s when they won the BobSave Super Bowl and emerged from a lengthy period in the doldrums.

It was as a goalscorer supreme that he truly earned his niche - and will be remembered for his uncanny ability in capitilisng on the slightest of opportunities.


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