With messages of condolences pouring in from across the city and country, even as far afield as Palestine and England, it’s obvious that Westridge soccer fundi, Jeff Isaacs, 66, who died at the weekend, was held in high regard by many in the football fraternity and beyond.
Born in District 6, the young Isaacs impressed many with his skills from an early age, starting out with Aerials FC and later Bloemhof Wanderers, who played their matches at the Metropolitan Sports Field, in Bonteheuwel. Spotting an emerging talent, the youngster was invited to join the all-conquering Sea Point Swift at age 17. And immediately made an impression, helping Swift to many trophies during their glory years in the 70s and 80s.
When talking to the Plainsman almost 10 months ago, Isaacs said he discovered a passion for coaching while at Swifts, who won back-to-back league titles in 1973 and 1974 as well as the Board competition (“Westridge soccer fundi has seen and done it all”, Plainsman, November 25, 2020).
Isaacs hung up his playing boots in 1983, then turned his attention to coaching, guiding the club to league honours and promotion to the super league in 1985. This, Isaacs said, was the highest level of grassroots football at the time.
Isaacs and his wife Patricia settled in Westridge in 1989 where he got involved with Parkhurst United’s junior coaching setup. He later had coaching stints with Bayhill United, Woodlands United and other clubs. He also served as director of coaching for the Mitchell’s Plain Local Football Association (LFA) and also took charge of various provincial sides.
With soccer running through his veins, it was almost inevitable that his children would follow in his footsteps.
Eldest son Dominic, 39, himself a well-travelled player with spells at Ajax Cape Town, Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic, also spent time at Swifts and Parkhurst and was part of various national sides during his career. Upon retiring a few years ago, the younger Isaacs, like his father before him, took over the coaching reins at various clubs.
“We’re still in shock,” he said, describing his father’s admission to hospital a week ago after experiencing breathing difficulties due to a heart condition.
“He was really a people’s person, someone who attracted people with his personality. He touched a lot of lives. I even got messages from people I last saw when I played with them in the under-8 side.
“It was his aim to educate people about coaching and encourage them to do better. He was fortunate enough to attend various coaching courses, including one presented in The Netherlands, along with national women’s coach Desiree Ellis,” he said.
Mitchell’s Plain LFA president, Wayne Carstens, also offered his condolences to the family. “When I became president of Mitchell’s Plain in 2009, Jeff was eager to make Mitchell’s Plain football the best in the Western Cape again. He was appointed as head of our technical department and we also interacted as administrator and coach at Woodlands United,” he said.
Despite occasional differences, Carstens said, he has much respect for Isaacs’ impact on soccer in Mitchell’s Plain and Cape Town at large.
“He had early success with young players in the colts league (under-19 division) making an impact on this league nationally. His aim was for young players to fully reach their potential. This will be revealed in the testimonials of many professional footballers as they give thanks to his legacy and love for the game,” Carstens said.
“Last but not least was his other passion for the Kaapse Klopse (Cape Minstrels). He lit up when this was a topic of discussion. May his legacy long live through his sons and grandchildren. May his departed soul rest in eternal peace.”
Mitchell’s Plain LFA vice president and Bayhill Premier Cup tournament director, PJ Williams, also reminisced about the impact Isaacs had on football development. “It is extremely hard to believe that coach Jeff is no longer with us. Even though we knew he was struggling with health issues, Jeff had a strong belief that he would get better.
“From a football point of view, the sport is mourning the loss of a stalwart, a superb football coach, a mentor and a lover of the game.
“Jeff played a big role at the LFA, presenting coaching courses, and at the Western Cape Department of Sport, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, as a coach. He also coached Mr Price Parkhurst’s Vodacom team and was a talent adjudicator at the Premier Cup.
“Many clubs benefited from him and I wish to extend my sincere condolences to his wife Patsy, his sons and their extended families.”
Boebie Cassiem, founder of the Sports Stepping Stones (SSS) programme, also paid homage to his friend, saying: “I’ve known Jeff for nearly 30 years, he was practically family. We travelled together, we worked together at the Department of Sport, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, we coached together and the biggest thing was when we started SSS together to support our vulnerable youth. More than just soccer, Jeff also played a big part in our food distribution programme.
“He was even part of our Palestine programme to bring a youth soccer squad to Cape Town. You won’t believe how many calls I got from Palestine, from England due to our involvement with the British charity Balls To Poverty, everyone asking ’Jeff, is it uncle Jeff?’
“No doubt, he was an icon for the youth, more so in football, but also through his charitable work. His aim in life was to give youngsters an opportunity in life, but also not forgetting our legends. In fact, he ran the SSS legends programme,” said Cassiem.
FC Tafelzucht chairman, Kenny Hendricks, who coached with Isaacs at Woodlands United, remembers a good friend who had a way of calling a spade a spade.
“Jeff Isaacs was one of a kind who would always say it like it is, in a manner you would understand.
“Whatever problem or issues I had, whether football related or personal, I knew that I’d get an honest opinion and answer from him.
“He was very fond of the Tafelsig community and would always jump at any opportunity to work with our youngsters, especially our current crop of under-16 and under-18 players.”
A memorial is being planned in honour of Jeff Isaacs. Details will be made available once finalised.