Football in South Africa can be traced back to the late 19 th century and the first recognised club was formed as early as 1879, under the title of Pietermaritzburg County. The team initially played matches against military selections from the occupying British troops, and came solely from the European immigrant population.
The Natal Football Association was formed in 1882 and with a league comprising four clubs - Pietermaritzburg County, Natal Wasps, Durban Alpha and Umgeni Stars. By the following year, the league had grown to the strength of ten clubs.
The game spread next to the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, where a Scotsman by the surname of Dickson, his first name having faded from the annals of history, attempted to establish a league, but with little success. Two Englishman founded a club called Pioneers FC in Cape Town in 1890, and they immediately challenged the dominance of the British military teams for competition honours.
In Johannesburg, the Transvaal FA had been formed in 1889 by the Dutch immigrants who settled in the area, and their main competition was the Transvaal Challenge Cup. The early winners were Wanderers Wasps in 1889, Rangers in 1890, 1892 to 1894 and 1896. The Rangers club existed for more than a hundred years, winning the First Division in 1986.
The South African Football Association, later to be known as the FA of South Africa, was set up in 1882, but after exactly 100 years it reconstituted under its first name to represent all of the country's diverse communities. A national team first represented South Africa when English club Corinthians toured in 1897, 1903 and 1907. England was, in fact, the setting for the first overseas tour by a South African team, Orange Free State Bantu Soccer making the trip there in 1898.
South Africa's second touring team visited South America. The team traveled across the Atlantic by boat, taking nine weeks on their journey, and stopped first in Brazil, where they cleaned up the local opposition.
In Uruguay and Argentina, South Africa played international matches against their respective hosts and also won handsomely. They beat the Argentinians 4-1 in Buenos Aires - a result that today would be almost unthinkable. The side continued to represent the country until 1963, playing against mostly European touring clubs or full internationals against the likes of Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Portugal and Northern Ireland. South Africa's last international match before their sporting isolation was against Israel in 1954.
Racial integration in football has always been a source of pride with the sport helping to break the apartheid barriers, albeit in a slow process. But the Inter Racial Soccer Board organised representative matches from 1946. In the Natal province, the Indian, African and Coloured FA's competed for the Singh Trophy. In the old Transvaal province, it was the Rev. Sigamoney Trophy.
The South African Soccer Federation, which led the campaign against segregated sport and received its first major boost in Paris in 1955 when the International Olympic Committee acknowledged and recorded that discrimination against "non-white" sportspeople in South Africa existed.
Professional soccer was introduced to South Africa in 1959 with the formation of the National Football League. There were 12 founding members, but none of the clubs are in existence today. In the first completed season, more than 500,000 spectators watched the 210 league and cup matches and huge crowds continued well in the 1970s.
In 1971, the National Professional Soccer League came into existence with Orlando Pirates crowned as the first national champions. Today the professional league has changed its name to the Premier Soccer League and there are still a sprinkling of clubs from the first league in 1971 playing in the top flight.
The South African Football Association was founded on 8 December 1991, the culmination of a long unity process that was to rid the sport in South Africa of all its past racial division. Four disparate units came together to form the organisation - the Football Association of South Africa, the South African Soccer Association, the South African Soccer Federation and the South African National Football Association.
A SAFA delegation received a standing ovation at the CAF Congress in Dakar, Senegal a month later, where South Africa were accorded observer status. South Africa's FIFA membership was confirmed at their congress in Zurich in June 1992. Membership of the CAF followed automatically and South Africa was back on the world stage.
Within a month, the country hosted their first international match as FIFA World Cup™ Italy 1990 quarter-finalists Cameroon went to play in three matches to celebrate the unity process. In September 1992, South Africa played their first junior international against Botswana at U-16 level in Lenasia, and to date the country has entered a team in each of FIFA's and the CAF's competitions, from U-17 to senior level and also for the women's team.
In the short space of six years, South Africa achieved remarkable success with qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals in France, the title of African champions at the 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, which the country hosted, and the runners-up berth in Burkina Faso two years later. They also qualifed to play at the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals.
At club level, Orlando Pirates won the prestigious CAF African Champions Cup (now the CAF Champions League) in 1995, the first club from the southern African region to take the title in more than 30 years of competition. Pirates were playing in the event for the first time and won the title away from home in the Cote d'Ivoire to further amplify the magnificence of their victory.