She is probably the best female footballer in the history of South African football. Her story is one that gives every little girl hope that regardless of their background, religion and societal challenges in life if you believe in yourself you can be anything that you want to be.
Portia Modise was born in the dusty streets of Soweto in 1983 and little did she know that when she defied societal stereotypes on women playing football that defiance would open doors for her to write her name in the history of South African football.
Modise started her journey playing football with boys in Soweto and everyone started taking notice when she outshone the boys in a sport that is perceived to be ‘for boys’.
Her exploits in the township earned her a spot in the local club called Soweto Rangers where she started playing with their U-10 in the early 90s. While playing for Rangers, the attacking midfielder was recruited to join Jomo Cosmos Ladies.
After a few years going through the system at Cosmos, she moved to Soweto Ladies in 1996 which is where her career took off as a professional and where she started making a name for herself.
Comfortable in either a midfield or forward role, Modise was nicknamed ‘Bashin’ after the very skilled footballer Albert ‘Bashin’ Mahlangu. In the 2001/02 regular season, she scored 51 goals for Soweto Ladies and later added two more in a 4–0 National Championship final win over Cape Town Pirates which took her tally to 55 for that season – a record no one has broken until today.
In 2003, the midfielder had a great opportunity to play in England after she was invited to attend trials with Arsenal Ladies, but a dispute over sponsorship and funding left Modise, Toni Carelse and Veronica Phewa unable to sign for the English club despite impressing then Arsenal Ladies coach, Vicky Akers. This was a big blow for a player who was ready to hit the big time with her exceptional talent.
At international level, her exploits with Cosmos and later Soweto Ladies earned her a place in the national team from youth level up to the senior team, Banyana Banyana. The midfielder was appointed as the captain of South Africa’s women’s U-20 national team (Basetsana) and eventually, she was called into the senior squad (Banyana Banyana).
In the 2000 Women’s African Football Championship she featured in all South Africa’s games, scoring her first goal against rivals Zimbabwe. Her consistency with the squad convinced the national team selectors to include her in all the games in the tournament including the final as South Africa went on to lose to Nigeria.
It was in 2005 when Modise would be recognised worldwide after her nomination for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, the award was eventually won by German legend Birgit Prinz. Until today no South African has been able to be nominated for that award which goes to show how high the Soweto-born midfielder set the bar.
The Banyana legend showed her class in the 2006 Women’s African Football Championship where she won the Player of the Tournament award after her scintillating performances led South Africa to a third-place finish in the tournament.
In fact, Modise scored the winning goal in the third-fourth place playoff against Cameroon. In the same year, the midfielder was also voted in the top three for the 2006 CAF Women’s Footballer of the Year award and was selected to play for the All Stars squad in the match preceding the official draw for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
In November 2008 Modise announced she would no longer play for South Africa, after a breakdown in her working relationship with coach August Makalakalane which was a big blow for Banyana because by then she was not only the best player in the country, but she was also a leader guiding the younger players.
After four years in self-imposed exile, the midfielder was recalled in April 2012 by new national coach Joseph Mkhonza after Makalakalane had been sacked amidst allegations of sexual harassment and homophobia.
‘Bashin’ had 71 goals in 92 international games heading into the 2012 Olympic games in London which was Banyana’s first-ever participation in the tournament. In the first match at the games against a strong Sweden side, Modise scored a goal from the centre line. Her strike was so amazing that everyone in the stadium was up on their feet applauding the “stunning” goal. Banyana lost the match 4-1.
October 2012 saw a now veteran Modise named in the South African squad for the 2012 African Women’s Championship. It was reported that she could reach her milestone 100th appearance during the tournament.
The midfielder played a key role in South Africa’s run to the final, where they were beaten yet again in the final hurdle, this time by Equatorial Guinea.
Two years later in 2014, Modise became the first African player – male or female – to reach the elusive 100-goal barrier in international football, when she scored her 99th and 100th goal in South Africa’s 5-1 victory against Algeria at the CAF African Women’s Championship.
She holds the record for the most goals scored at international level by an African for both males and female teams. Modise scored a whopping 101 goals in just 124 appearances for South Africa, in fact, many feel the number would be higher had she not gone on the self-imposed four-year exile between 2008 and 2012.
On the 19th of May 2015, the midfielder announced her retirement from international football.
In club football, Modise was hired by Soweto giants Orlando Pirates as an academy coach in the 2005/06 season, but following a disagreement with then coach Augusto Palacios she left the ‘Buccaneers’.
The following season the midfielder was back playing again, this time joining Danish side Fortuna Hjorring. Modise was offered a two-year-deal by the Danish club after impressing during an initial one-month deal which was more like a trial.
After two years abroad with Hjorring, the midfielder came back home and joined Palace Super Falcons on a 6-month-deal.
A very funny story then hit the South African newspapers in 2014 when it was reported that Modise wasn’t part of the initial training camp for the 2014 African Women’s Championship squad because she was playing ‘undercover’ outside of South Africa.
Later it was discovered that indeed she was playing for a men’s team, but when the coach picked this up she switched clubs and came back home to play for Croesus Ladies.
In 2015 South African legend Portia Modise hanged up her boots from football and earned her place amongst South Africa’s all-time greats.
As FARPost we salute you ‘Bashin’ for your great contributions in the development of the game in the country, specifically women’s football.
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By Prince Sobayeni