Football, or soccer as it more commonly known here, is the most popular sport in South Africa. Around the world football is so popular it can be easily politicised, and South Africa has been no exception. The troubled racial history of this land in modern times, from colonialism to apartheid, has never been completely separate from soccer.
In fact, the first time South Africa had a unified non-white-exclusive team was in 1991. However, the sport has been a mainstay of all sides of South African culture for over 100 years – and that is something that should be celebrated. It seems FIFA (the international football governing body) also agreed. In 2008 South Africa won their bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first African nation to receive that honour.
The National Team
The first South African national team games were played in 1901. An exclusively white team, many of whom were actually native English or Scottish, they toured South America and won 11 out of 12 games.
Thus, South Africa became a founding member of the Federation of African Football in 1956, along with Ethiopia Egypt and Sudan. However, global political pressure during the Apartheid era forced South Africa out of FIFA briefly in 1961, and then for a long 16 years after 1976. The next time they would play a national team game, under a new unified and mixed banner, would be in 1992 – marked with a 1-0 win over Cameroon.
Today, South Africa has one of the most developed football leagues on the continent. The Bafana, as they are nicknamed, have won the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and have had three top four finishes since then. They last qualified for the World Cup in 2010, where they were knocked out in the group stage – despite beating heavyweights France 2-1 in their final group match.
South Africa’s professional league has been in place since 1997, with three tiers. The South African Premier league is the number one destination for professional players in Africa, before usually heading out to European clubs if they are good enough.
The most successful team in the league’s history is the Mamelodi Sundowns. Nicknamed The Brazilians after their yellow and blue kit, they have won a record 8 league titles – most recently in the 2017/18 season. Some other successful teams include:
- Orlando Pirates
- Kaizer Chiefs
- Supersport United
The all-time top scorer in the South African Premier league is Siyabonga Nomvethe, with 111 goals over 14 seasons. Just behind him is Daniel Madau, with 110, who is the Mamelodi Sundowns’ all-time top scorer. However, Madau retired in 2003 so there is no chance of him overtaking Nomvethe anytime soon.
For the national team, the most capped player is Aaron Mokoena. The defensive midfielder spent much of his playing career in Holland, Belgium and the UK but made 107 appearances for the Bafana before his retirement in 2010.
The all-time top scorer for the South African National Team is striker Benny McCarthy, who scored 31 goals in 81 games. He is the only South African player to score a hattrick in an international game and the only Champions League winner, playing for Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2004.