History of Football in South Africa

You may not be aware of it, but football has a long and storied history in South Africa. From its humble beginnings to its current status as a major sport, football has been a part of South African life for over a century.

Symbolically, it has been a source of hope, a symbol of resistance, and a way of uniting people from all walks of life. It has been a driving force in anti-apartheid resistance, a way to combat isolation, and a major economic force in the country.

It has also seen great success on the international stage, with the national teams making their mark in the world.

Learn more about the history of football in South Africa and discover its importance in the modern world.

Popular Teams and Attendance

You've certainly heard of teams like Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows, which were hugely popular and drew large crowds to their matches. These teams were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the rise of football in South Africa and they were one of the soccer teams with most goals scored.

Attendance was particularly high for Black soccer matches in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Football was a powerful mobilizing force in South African communities, providing social visibility and status for Black South Africans. It also enabled adaptation to industrial conditions, as it was a predominantly male-dominated sport.

Football was an important part of daily life in squatter camps, and it still remains a powerful economic, cultural, and political force today.

Role in Resistance Politics

Building on this, football also became an important part of the resistance movement against apartheid.

In an effort to oppose the regime, the South African Soccer Federation was formed in the mid-1980s. This organization promoted racial integration in soccer, and encouraged the formation of anti-racist leagues.

Women played an active role in these Supporters Clubs, which formed around the country.

The football boycott movement was an important part of the international community's opposition to apartheid. Through this, football sanctions were among the first indictments issued against the regime.

Ultimately, football was an instrumental part of the movement that eventually led to the fall of apartheid.

Isolation and Commercial Boom

After its international isolation beginning in 1961, South African football began to experience a commercial boom due to television. The rise of sponsorships and wages enabled professional players to make a living from the sport.

The National Soccer League (NSL) was established with nonracial principles, and later the South African Football Association (SAFA) was formed in 1991 to oppose apartheid.

The commercialization of soccer in South Africa was primarily driven by the impact of television, as it allowed the game to become much more accessible. This led to the formation of popular teams like Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows, and rising attendance at Black soccer matches. Sponsorships increased, and football began to provide social visibility and status for Black South Africans.

Football in South Africa is now a powerful economic, cultural, and political force.

International Success

After its international exile ended in 1992, South Africa embarked on an exciting journey of international success. Bafana Bafana, the South African national football team, quickly became a force to be reckoned with. They participated in their first international match in three decades and soon after won the African Nations Cup in 1996.

Their best performance to date was their participation in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. This major success was followed by 1.8 million registered players and corporate sponsorships of over R640 million by 2003-04. Football had become a powerful economic, cultural, and political force in South Africa.

Economic Impact

The economic impact of football in South Africa has been profound. Football has contributed to the tourism industry and local economies in the country. It has become an integral part of South African culture, with large numbers of people attending matches and supporting their local teams.

Football has also had a positive economic impact in terms of corporate sponsorships, with the Premier Soccer League alone receiving over 640 million rand in 2003-04. This money has been used to develop infrastructure and facilities for football in South Africa, as well as providing a living wage for players.

Football has also had a positive impact on employment, giving many people the opportunity to make a living from playing and coaching the sport.


Football in South Africa has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the late 19th century. It has played a major role in anti-apartheid resistance and, today, remains an important part of South African culture and society.

With popular teams and international successes, football has had a major economic impact on South Africa.

As the sport continues to evolve, South Africans can look forward to a bright future for their beloved football.

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