Soccer historian tells of South African soccer's origins among political prisoners

Historians in the News

Sedick Isaacs approached the infamous and windswept prison here, now closed, and pounded the door knock. His first trip here, on Dec. 1, 1964, had not been so voluntary or droll. He was bound in chains at the time and dumped out of the back of a truck, not to leave for 13 years.

“When you got here, you were no longer a person, you were a thing,” Isaacs said.

One way that political prisoners maintained their humanity during the apartheid years in this notorious place was to form a soccer league, called the Makana Football Association, which operated from 1969 until 1991 and has received international attention in retrospect during the World Cup....

“These men believed that there would be a free South Africa while they were still alive,” said Chuck Korr, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and the author of a book about the soccer league called “More Than Just a Game.”

“They had every reason to believe that if it wasn’t them, it would be people like them who would have to provide the administrative backbone,” Korr said. “The cliché that sport trains you for life — no it doesn’t, but in this case it did.”...
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