The History of South African Football – Part 2

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 3rd Jul 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

The second part into a series covering the 156 years of South African football. In this part, we take focus at the first inter-racial tournament in South African football and the formation of one of the biggest clubs in South Africa.

The Suzman Cup and the rise of the Ghost.

Football in South Africa might’ve been introduced by colonial masters but it was kept alive by the oppressed lower class and in spite of everything going on at the time, football caught on like wildfire.

One could say that due to the complexity of the rules, cricket and rugby weren't as popular but some have argued that because of whom the games were associated with, people refused to take them up.

Whereas rugby was mostly taken up by white people and cricket was seen for the bourgeoisie, football was the game for the people.

In a time when people had moved from rural areas to find work within the city and there were no readily accessible alternatives, many people opted to go out and take part in the game or take in the spectacle and socialise as there was something for everyone.

Football didn't have laws of racial segregation nor did it require you to be of a certain color- all that was needed was a ball (not necessarily an actual football, so as long as it was round, light and could be kicked; it would work), an open field/area and some goalposts (or any object that could serve as posts) and while it had a couple of rules, only one truly mattered:


Competitiveness has always been at the center of football (after all, the goal of football is to win) and while league football was fine, it didn’t really have a sense of excitement.

Because of the enforced segregation and the fact that there were so few teams involved, there were no real stakes as there was no relegation system and a local team in one area could attract the best talent around and potentially dominate, which as it turns out; happened with Orlando Pirates.

Founded in the township of Soweto (specifically Orlando East) by Andries "Pele-Pele" Mkhwanazi, the club (then known as Orlando Boys Club) started as an opportunity for people around the area to come and play together. The club took part in the JBA (Johannesburg Bantu Association) Saturday League and in 1940; a local from the area named Bethuel Mokgosinyane became president of the club and (from his own pocket) paid for the clubs expenses which at the time was unheard of. At the time, football was played at an amateur to semi -professional level so there was very little money involved. What Mr. Mokgosinyane did (salaries, travel expenses etc.) gave Pirates the upper hand in the ability to attract the best players from the area and this allowed them to terrorize the league ( like a pirate would) and gain notoriety amongst black teams within the Transvaal (modern day Gauteng) as one of the best.

Of course, it was all well and good to be known as one of the best black teams in the province but if you think about it, it’s a useless title seeing that there were other black teams in other parts of the Transvaal that probably had the same moniker.

As it turns out, Transvaal footballing representatives of SAIFA and SACFA had the same issue within their league structures and in 1935, came to the decision to work together with Transvaal representatives of SABFA to form the Transvaal Inter-Race Soccer Board. Despite the segregation laws implemented, the TIRSB worked together (in any case, FASA and the Union of South Africa didn't really care) and founded the first official inter-racial tournament called the Suzman Cup which was recognized by all three bodies.

The Suzman Cup allowed teams to test themselves against other teams (regardless of race) within the Transvaal region and in that; the Suzman Cup became more than just a cup competition.

Every community wanted to say that they had the beat team in the Transvaal and winning it would’ve proved so. For the FAs, having a team from their association win it would’ve proved that their administration was the best and the need to win this cup forced clubs to up their competitiveness. Club participating in the Suzman Cup tried to attract the best talent from smaller teams in their region with the hope of giving themselves the best chance to win and this created a smaller version of the divide between big teams and smaller teams that we now see in modern football.

And who could blame them? After all, everybody loves a winner.

But with all the good the Suzman Cup brought, a bad thing accompanied it that would carry on well into our time.

Perhaps knowing just what was at stake, games were hotly contested. Players were desperate to win, supporters were anxious of losing and tasked with handling this melting pot was the referee. Fights would frequently break out between players or spectators and it was up to the referee and some Samaritans to bring order. In some cases, things went well, maybe the fans would calm down by themselves or the captain would speak to them and the fighting would peter out.

In other cases, it didn’t.

Many might grumble about how the game has lost its touch but modern football has certainly changed for the better, particularly when it comes to issues of safety. Back then, there were no fences to keep fans from invading the pitch and one bad call from a ref would light a fuse within fans.

With so much at stake, it can be a matter of life and death which (if you think about it logically) is crazy as football is just a game but fans (particularly football fans) have never been the most rational set of people. It takes a special kind of person to travel a good 500/600 kilometers on the hope that their team might win. It takes a special person to stand in the rain, soaking wet and yet singing at the top of their lungs while watching their team concede a fifth goal and it certainly takes a special type of person to ball their eyes out watching a team getting knocked out of a cup while the players themselves are indifferent about it.

It’s in the name itself.
Fan /fanatic: A person who is extremely enthusiastic about something.*

In 1940, a referee found out just how fanatical football fans can get when spectators invaded the field and wound up killing him. It was the first time in South African football that an incident such as that occurred but unfortunately, instead of being a one-time thing, fan violence would continue to plague local football.

Football in South Africa went along without too many hiccups up until 1948, when the Afrikaner ethnic Nationalist Party came into power and officially implemented Apartheid. The next 44 years would be spent using any and every possible means to fight for equality and a better South Africa for all.

Football would be one of them.

*The definition was derived from the Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary

In case you missed Part 1:

Sources include:



History, Soccer, South Africa

Meet the author

author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

For more content, head to:

Share this page

moderator Peter B. Giblett moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?