Review: More Than Just a Game: Soccer v. Apartheid

I am going to review some excellent soccer books in these pages. If you only read one of my suggestions make More Than Just a Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told it. There is no other greater example, which I have came across, that shows soccer giving people without hope something to looking forward to. The book does not sell itself short, the subtitle is: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told, and it does not fall short of that lofty claim.

For those unaware of the basics of the story it begins in the early 1960’s as political prisoners in opposition of the ruling Apartheid regime in South Africa are rounded up and imprisoned on Robben Island. What was apartheid? It was an entire political, social, and economic system in South Africa which created ‘apart-ness’ across the whole of its citizens. It restricted the movement of non-whites, forbade the mix of races through romantic relations and marriage, and created every kind of barrier between people you can think of: separate bathrooms, buses, beaches, neighbourhoods, taxis. Everything. The one that still hits home with me, a white man living with a black woman, is that it was illegal in her home of South Africa, during our short lifetimes, to be doing this. Illegal. To be in love.

Robben Island was a hellhole. In the beginning prisoners would be beaten, tortured, deprived food, and treated as less than humans. A subtle example is that the black prisoners were forced to wear shorts while the other races could wear pants. It’s a subtle touch, but one that really struck me as a petty example of how deep apartheid had set in. In this environment, with the constant work at the quarry, the prisoners needed something to make their lives seem more real. To make them feel like they had some small aspect of their real lives again. They chose soccer, and after 3 years of hunger strikes, protests, pleas, and beatings for the act of daring to even ask, they got their wish and began a 2 decade long tradition called the Makana Football Association.

When you think of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa you commonly think of the most visible member of the struggle, the first President of South Africa and decades long leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela. He barely gets a mention in here as he is not as involved in the Makana Football Association as he would have liked: the guards would not allow him to watch or participate once they found out how much he enjoyed it. So the leader of the movement plays a backseat role here as the supporting cast are deservedly featured.

Notable prisoners who participate include:

  • Current President of South Africa Jacob Zuma in his role as a referee.
  • Sedik Isaacs is frequently involved as the statistician. He kept vast records detailing every match.
  • Anthony Suze, who’s superior football skills lead to him having the confidence to speak his opinions fiercely.
  • Current Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa Dikgang Moseneke.
  • Current Minister of Human Settlements for South Africa Tokyo Sexwale.

These men, and many others with them, took the poorest of conditions and changed their world with perseverance and a love for soccer. It shows the character of each and every one in some way that you will not get from their political press releases or polished biographies. There are few better examples I can think of that show what soccer, the simple game played with a ball and little else, can do to better the lives of people in need of something more. Read More Than Just a Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told to discover this beauty of The Beautiful Game.


About matthewryeoman

Matthew Yeoman is a freelance writer currently living in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Simply Computing, and WSI Milton. He has long been interested in soccer and Africa and has combined these two passions into the work you are reading on this site. Read up on his other work at
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