Although the origins of soccer can be traced back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC during the Han Dynasty, it is still largely associated with Europe. However, it’s the most widely played and most celebrated sport in South Africa – as well as the greater African continent – making it seem almost unique to the country. And while South Africa may not lead when it comes to this ancient sport, we’re certainly home to some of the most colourful and passionate fans. Along with a walking tour of the Soweto Township and braaiing with a group of South Africans, a soccer match is arguably the ultimate display of South Africa’s undeniably colourful culture.
It all began in 1862, when a group of civil servants squared off against soldiers and played what is now documented as the first soccer match in South African history. It was only 17 years later that the first soccer club was established – the Pietermaritzburg County Football Club. Of course, things changed as the years wore on, and the country faced a number of challenges. But a cultural revolution had begun, and no amount of political turmoil and civil unrest could destroy the pride that had invaded our society.
By the time the 2000’s swung around, a number of soccer teams and leagues had found their place in the sporting world, and a distinctly African soccer culture had emerged. Crowds had now transformed from exclusively white members of the government to resplendent groups of Diski dancing revellers clad in their team’s colours, the South African flag and ‘traditional’ makarapas (decorated mining helmets), each blowing on a brightly coloured vuvuzela and singing their hearts out to Shosholoza. Just as your ears begin to adjust to the hubbub, there is an eruption of noise and “Laduuuuuma!” reverberates off the stadium walls – Katlego Mashego has just shot a bazooka into the back of the net!
With a history dating back over a century, it is no surprise that soccer is considered an important part of the country’s history. And after being the first African country to successfully host a FIFA World Cup, it has become more than a sport. It has changed the face of society by inspiring people in townships and other disadvantaged areas to follow their dreams and believe that no matter where you come from, you are capable of anything. The simple truth is that soccer is not going to transform South Africa into a place of unlimited wealth and prosperity, and it is not going to right all the wrongs, but it gives the people of this nation hope, and sometimes that is all it takes to change a country.
South Africa, “alive with possibility”, is arguably one of the world’s favourite tourist destinations. This is probably one of the main reasons it was selected to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup – an honour that excited the entire country. The gees was tangible, and the people of South Africa all united to form a welcoming atmosphere for the thousands of visitors who flocked to our shores for the event. As with any occasion of this magnitude, several revamps and renovations needed to be made. The bevy of stadiums across the country were first on this list, with the country’s biggest venues being upgrading to world-class, state-of-the-art settings. Have a look at some of South Africa’s biggest sporting stadiums, each of which encapsulates the spirit of the country’s people:
Soccer City, Johannesburg
With a seating capacity of 94 736, this stadium’s design was inspired by a traditional African pot known as a calabash. The upgrade included a larger upper tier, revamped changing rooms, brand new floodlights and an encircling roof, all of which transformed the FNB Stadium into Soccer City – one of the 20 biggest stadiums in the world. Naturally, this became the host venue for both the opening and closing matches, which saw Spain take home the golden trophy in 2010.
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Previously known as Green Point Stadium, Cape Town Stadium was renovated to include 68 000 seats. In just 33 short months, the stadium was completely transformed into the world class venue that it is today – at a cost of R4.4 billion, or roughly $600 million. Since the end of the World Cup, the City of Cape Town has put this architectural delight to good use, as it is now the go-to location for almost every international music concert, sporting event or party.
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
This stadium truly is one of a kind. With 54 000 seats, it formed the perfect space for soccer fans from around the world to embrace the beauty of the game. In the wonderfully warm climate of Durban, the Moses Mabhida Stadium offers visitors 360 degree ocean and city views. It is also the only stadium in the world that offers the Big Rush Big Swing – a swing from the spectacular arch above the arena.
Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
During the 2010 Soccer World Cup, Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium hosted four games. This stadium’s design elements are a tribute to Africa’s Big Five. At just 40 kilometres away from the famed Kruger National Park, the stadium’s design is reflective of the beautiful Mpumalanga Lowveld, and serves as a constant reminder of the African spirit.
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth, one of South Africa’s windiest cities, has a stadium that was specifically designed to protect soccer spectators from howling winds. With a capacity of 46 000, this stadium is positioned in the heart of the Eastern Cape, a region famed for its beauty and cultural awareness. Since the end of the World Cup, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is still used for soccer games, as well as rugby and cricket matches and a number of local and international concerts.
With the 2014 games kicking off, we can’t help reminiscing about South Africa’s 2010 FIFA glory and feeling that familiar thrill only ‘the beautiful game’ can elicit. An unmistakable sense of excitement has settled over the country, and despite not qualifying for this World Cup, South Africans are still ready to cheer on the other countries and celebrate the only way they know how – with wild exuberance and that old South African flair the rest of the world has grown to love.