Visualizing African Soccerscapes

By | March 18, 2020

Next week our Soccer Politics class here at Duke University we are transitioning to a virtual classroom, and the first Zoom lecture/discussion will be about Peter Alegi’s excellent book African Soccerscapes. The book takes us on a journey through the history of football throughout the continent, exploring it’s spread during the colonial period, it’s role in anti-colonial movements, and the ways it has shaped the world’s game.

The Vice Sports episode below, about a contemporary rivalry in Algerian football, connects to one part of the story Alegi tells.


Students in the class: as you read, please offer some written comments below with reflections on some of the following questions:

Describe some of the contradictions and tensions surrounding the emergence of football in different colonial settings in Africa.

What roles did football play in anti-colonial movements and decolonization? Why was it able to play these roles?

Why did African styles of play and attitudes towards the game develop as they did? How has Africa impacted the global game?

This book was published in 2010. If you were to update it based on the last decade, what stories about African football would you include?


In addition, I encourage you to look for photographs or videos of some of the players and moments Alegi describes, and to share them either in the comments section below or, if you wish, in the form of your own longer blog posts.

We of course welcome comments from all others as well on these topics!



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About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

35 thoughts on “Visualizing African Soccerscapes

  1. Nima Mohammadi

    I appreciated the choice in African Soccerscapes to explore both individual and institutional roles in each of the theatres studied.

    Common in many examples throughout the African continent is the role of soccer teams and organized soccer in the de-colonization and anti-colonial processes. For example, in the Kenyan case, the author describes how in Mombasa (17, 61), teams became closely identified and categorized by “ethnicity,” “neighborhood,” and “territory.” As soccer entered the already pre-existing social norms and institutions of these countries, however in dynamic interplay with colonial powers, it adapted into their local customs. We see this in the author’s discussion of magic and its role in certain African soccerscape evolutions.

    I wanted to also make note on an approach that the author took in the contemporary discussions of post-neoliberalization and the current market between Europe and Africa. The author points origin not by nationality or by ethnicity as much as by origin of club. For example, in a comparative analysis, the author writes, “In the 2006 World Cup finals, only about in five… came from African clubs.” I wonder the effect this has on identity-placement for these players. I believe it also complicates the issue of how these players make decisions with faulty agents responsible for their transfers.

  2. Maya Iskandarani

    Le football était introduit à l’Afrique par des colonialistes qui voulait inculquer leurs principes européens aux sujets africains à travers le sport. Mais les colonialistes ont vite perdu le contrôle du sport et alors d’un outil coloniale efficace et pas cher.

    Le football a propagé vers l’intérieur du continent depuis les grandes villes des côtes suivant les chemins de fer. D’abord les administrateurs blancs des entreprises et gouvernements coloniales-africaines ont pu organiser les sujets en équipes selon leurs ethnicités, une façon de maintenir le contrôle social en divisant les sujets entre eux-mêmes. Mais cette stratégie de division n’a pas durée longtemps. Prof. Alegi nous fournit l’exemple d’une lige sud-africaine émergeante de la mine d’or Witwatersrand. Établie en 1917, la lige était d’abord divisée comme voulait les dirigeants ségrégationnistes. La life a failli en 1929, puis était rétablie en 1931 sans les divisions ethniques entre équipes. Prof. Alegi remarque aussi que les équipes multiethniques formées à Zanzibar ont même aidée à améliorer les tensions entre groupes ethniques.

    J’ai beaucoup appris du livre de Prof. Alegi mais j’aurais aimé lire plus du rôle féminin dans le football africain. Il a souligné dans notre discussion ce matin la croissance de l’étude historique du football féminin globalement au cours des 10 dernières années, alors peut-être s’il avait écrit le livre 10 ans plus tard j’aurais plus appris du rôle des femmes dans l’Afrique à propos du football.

  3. Nathan Luzum

    The reading calls into question some of our modern assumptions about the purpose of sports and recreation. Today, sports are often seen in terms of their entertainment value and business prospects, but at the heart of soccer’s emergence in Africa was a colonialist belief that it could serve ulterior purposes.

    I’d guess that most kids begin playing sports simply because they’re fun, providing a way to socialize and compete. Whether it’s a group of classmates gathering on your block to kick around a soccer ball or getting together with friends in an open field to hit baseballs as far you can, there’s no denying that sports have an intrinsic entertainment value for most people. Of course, today, one could argue that the paychecks and prestige that accompany playing at a professional level have trickled down to younger levels. Viewing sports through an economic lens, some young players (often at their parents’ urging) have begun to see the field as less of a place to freely frolic, and more of a means to a sound economic future.

    But the spread of soccer in Africa doesn’t seem traceable to an intrinsic joy derived from kicking a makeshift ball or to potential financial security. Rather, the notion of soccer as a tool of education seems to be the most important factor in driving the sport’s initial popularity. British schooling dictated that soccer was a crucial part of children’s education, one that instilled the crucial values of teamwork and camaraderie that would translate to a successful life in the real world. Sports were seen as a training ground to hone students’ virtues, not just as an afterthought or recess activity that gives the mind a break in between deluges of information in a schoolhouse. And that idea of soccer as a character development tool and method of indoctrination made it a perfect fit (in the minds of the British) to implement for colonists who were perceived as requiring a good bit of training and assimilation. However, once Africans began co-opt the sport and turn it into something of their own, the purpose again shifts from one of indoctrination to one of self-expression and intrinsic enjoyment.

    Exploring the nature of recreation and how it can be employed for good (and for evil) is fascinating, and African Soccerscapes provides an excellent study on the subject.

  4. Patrick Aoun

    Lo que me pareció más interesante de lo que nos cuenta Alegi es el hecho de que los países africanos adoptaron el fútbol rápidamente para tratar de rivalizar el colonialismo británico.
    Alegi explica cómo los europeos trajeron inicialmente el fútbol con el propósito de “prop up their self-proclaimed civilizing mission in Africa” pero resultó ser contraproducente ya que “they unwittingly created new opportunities for various forms of African resistance, not only against colonialism but also against social inequalities within African communities.” (p.22). Es ciertamente interesante ver la compleja relación que la colonización tuvo con la difusión del fútbol. Cosas como el desarrollo del sistema ferroviario sirvió una función de colonización, pero también sirvió como una forma crítica en la que el fútbol fue capaz de expandirse por todo el país. De una manera extraña, creo que la actual popularidad del fútbol en África es una ramificación directa del propio colonialismo. El colonialismo fragmentó las comunidades de manera racial y cultural. Para los africanos, el fútbol sirvió como una forma de conectarse con las comunidades y formar una identidad africana distintiva en lugar de una europea. Anécdotas como la de los miembros del equipo de los ‘Orlando Pirates’ llorando después de perder los partidos ciertamente pone en perspectiva el poder que el fútbol tuvo para unir -y eventualmente africanizar- el continente africano.

    Alegi afirma que “stadiums and clubhouses became arenas in which workers, intellectuals, business owners, and the unemployed challenged colonial power” (p. 36). Toda esta oposición proviene de un deporte que los británicos querían impulsar en los africanos para europeizarlos. Me hace preguntarme si este esfuerzo de descolonización habría sido tan fuerte independientemente del fútbol; si los africanos habrían encontrado otro lugar para desafiar al poder colonial, o si en realidad hay algo especial en el fútbol. Al principio pensé que esto habría sido el resultado de cualquier deporte, sin embargo, la mezcla de clases y diferentes tipos de personas que practican el deporte, junto con la facilidad de encontrar espacios para jugarlo, son cosas particulares del fútbol que seguro influenciaron la rápida popularización del deporte entre los africanos. La combinación de la popularidad, la aceptación de los colonizadores y la mezcla de diferentes grupos es crucial para el impacto político del deporte.

    Irónicamente, hoy en día, sobre todo en la última década, las potencias futbolísticas africanas como Argelia, Egipto, Nigeria, Camerún y Costa de Marfil han establecido un fuerte vínculo europeo. Sus mejores jugadores prosperan en las ligas europeas. Sin una base sólida de infraestructura futbolística en África, es una tarea imposible mantener a sus estrellas en suelo africano. Sin embargo, tiene sus beneficios, ya que clubes como los piratas de Orlando han creado sistemas y academias similares al sistema europeo, que espero que algún día prosperen. Ya muestran la pasión y el amor por este deporte. Ahora, solo necesitan crecer las ligas nacionales para terminar de desarrollarse como países potencia en el futbol. Además, con la gran cantidad de dinero que mueve el futbol, seguro que aportaría su granito de arena a los países más pobres a para desarrollarse económicamente.

  5. Camden Vassallo

    In his discussion of colonialism throughout the first few chapters, Alegi describes soccer first as the glue European countries used in the colonization of Africa, but then as a wedge used by Africa to resist the efforts of forced assimilation. For example, Great Britain imported soccer as a vehicle to introduce Africa to the “modern and civilized” European ideas of capitalism and Christianity. “Sport became a highly valued component of a broader program of rational recreation, and “muscular Christianity” aimed at producing disciplined, healthy, and moral citizens.” Europeans believed their sporting culture was much more refined than the dancing previously pervasive in Africa. However, Alegi goes on to discuss how Africans later responded by utilizing soccer as a means to assembling in urban spaces to better (re)define their own cultural identities. Africans repurposed the colonial efforts of soccer as now “[f]ootball in South Africa was the leviathan of black sport, while rugby and cricket were the main sports of the white minority.” In the video, they discussed that when a Muslim club plays against a colonial club in Algeria, it was practically war on the field, (as in a chance for the Algerians to fight for independence).

    In chapter 5, Alegi discusses African soccer in a post-colonial world. As African players broke on the global soccer scene, they were even more susceptible to racism. When playing in Europe, they were often faced with facing impersonating monkies waving bananas about. Furthermore, I was introduced to the idea of stacking, in which players were disproportionately assigned certain playing positions based on ascribed racial or ethnic characteristics. “Black footballers were perceived as fast, agile, and reactive, but lacking in leadership skills, tactical intelligence, and self-control,” resulting in an analysis of the data of African players in France in the 1950s and 60s showing 65% of them playing striker. This article was written 10 years ago, however. Therefore I think it should be updated on the recent strides made by African footballers. France won the 2018 World Cup, and the team was comprised of many cerebral African players. Likewise, in recent years, many black athletes have found success at the quarterback position in American football, including Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson winning the past two NFL AP Most Valuable Player awards. It appears that stacking is ending.

  6. Connor Ghazaleh

    Soccer was brought to Africa as a way of inserting European values into African culture. Included in these values was a desire for segregation, however the infectious nature of the sport proved too much to be contained within specific communities. The sport quickly spread throughout the continent becoming a part of its identity and a part of its people’s way of life.

    In integrating the sport into African culture and fostering such a strong sense of community behind it, two important patterns emerged. First, and most importantly, Africans found something to rally behind together, and soccer quickly became a tool for Africans to push for decolonization. Victories in soccer matches where African clubs defeated colonial clubs were celebrated as more than just league victories, but rather as victories in a greater battle for independence. Second, synonymously to how languages diversify into dialects when they spread, Africans made the game of soccer their own by developing a unique style of play. Their take on the sport was built upon rock-solid technical skill fostered by years of playing in close-quarters environments, that lead to a fast-paced but also flashy and entertaining game.

    In today’s game, the skill of African players is recognized around the globe and is highlighted by players such as Sadio Mané or Mohammed Salah who play in the English Premier League. These players, however, are part of a “muscle drain” that has happened in African soccer more recently. Because of the attraction of some larger clubs around the world, it’s fairly common for players with extraordinary talent to leave Africa in search of fame, fortune, and better competition. This trend currently shows no signs of slowing down, even after South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010. African nations are currently elite exporters of soccer talent, however that may be the downfall of professional soccer in Africa. Despite this recent change, the sport is still celebrated as a huge part of African culture, and acts as a unifying force between the peoples and nations of the continent. This I believe is important to note as an exodus of talent from a sports league can often lead to a loss of interest, however the commitment to the sport shows just how important the game itself is as a part of the African way of life. As one of the Algerians said in the video: “We are not fans of players, we are fans of the team, of the colors of the team. That’s it. You know the players come and go, but the team stays always here.”

  7. Will von Guionneau

    One interesting perspective that Alegi raises pertains to the notion that “precolonial athletic traditions” helped form the roots of European sports that emerged later on. While this does not raise a contradiction or tension surrounding the emergence of football in Africa, I found it intriguing that despite inherent prejudices towards african communities from the European colonisers, the way in which these communities interacted with football had a large impact on the game’s development back in Europe.

    The establishment of certain clubs in countries across Africa created a community through which natives could communally voice their discontent towards their colonisers. This is exemplified by the Egyptian club Al Ahly which in 1924 became a team comprised only of indigenous players, who subsequently used the club and its popularity as a platform through which they could voice anti-colonial sentiments. This is one such example of how football in Africa united some communities and provided a stage for Africans through which discontent could be manifested. Clubs and stadiums served as these aforementioned stages and in turn established a broader African community that eventually contributed to the expulsion of the colonists.

    In chapter 2 Alegi demonstrates how individuals and communities became entwined and “networks” were constantly being formed as a result of the Africanisation of football. While we learned in Chapter 2 that football served as a stage through which African communities contested colonial power, chapter 3 demonstrates how formative football was for nations across the continent. Alegi’s revelation of the extent to which football facilitated national movements and development across Africa is nothing short of astounding. That football exerted such an impact on the development of the vast majority of African countries is fascinating.

    The aforementioned points raised by Alegi concerning the way in which football united disparate African communities is echoed in the Vice documentary as well as in Professor Dubois’s work: The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer. In the book he recounts the story of how Mohamed Boumezrag instigated a nationwide revolution that greatly aided Algeria’s quest for independence from France (Chapter 5). While the Vice documentary delves into the importance of the annual rivalry that exists today in Algiera between two of the countries prominent teams, it does not necessarily demonstrate the significance of the role of football in the country’s formation and development. It does, however, demonstrate the central role football holds within Algeria and that Algerians are well aware of the significance the sport has had in the country’s history. A quote from the Vice clip that summarises this point well is: “to a derby defined not by hatred but by love”. This is a very foreign concept for any football fan as derby matches are never defined by respect for another team or an opposition’s fans.

  8. Barbara Lynn Weaver

    If the book were updated to include the last 10 years, I would love to see a followup on South Africa in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. It was a landmark event for the nation and the broader continent, and one of the first true memories I have of an international soccer event. For many of today’s high school and college students, South Africa 2010 was our introduction to the game on the African continent.

    Alegi describes the economic burden of building world-class stadiums and media facilities for tournaments as it relates to nationhood and big business (p. 130). I would love to see an updated breakdown of the economic impact of the world cup on South Africa and PSL, which acknowledges low attendances at professional games in large stadiums despite the soccer hype that preceded the tournament.


  9. Alex Paulenich

    Since African Soccerscapes was published in 2010, not only has African soccer has continued to rise in prominence, there has also been an increase in the number of gifted African players drawing attention for their play in some of the world’s most competitive leagues. Previously, players such as Yaya Toure stood out as a rare African talent, but that narrative has shifted as Africa continues to produce more and more gifted players. Although the outsourcing of top players from African leagues to more lucrative European leagues is a challenge, the fame that these players attract is still beneficial in bringing more attention to African soccer. Players such as Mo Salah of Egypt, Sadio Mane of Senegal, and Riyad Mahrez of Algeria have come to dominate the Premier League. In doing, they both attract more African fans to the Premier League, and encourage European fans to pay attention to tournaments such as the African Nations Championship. Previously neutral fans can now root for teams with players they have come to love, and previous fans who would not have watched can now tune in to see stars from Europe’s top leagues play for their countries. Although the continual integration of African players into European leagues helps bring a spotlight to African soccer, it comes with the challenges of racism towards these players, and talent being drawn away from these leagues. Stories about today’s best African players would be an enriching addition to the book, and could possibly showcase some of the challenging decisions that African players grapple with as they are often under immense scrutiny and the recipients of unwanted attention.
    Another valuable story to be included would be the racial composition of the World Cup winning 2018 French team. Comprised of many dual-nationals born in African countries but electing to play for France, many of those players represent another struggle of African soccer as it pushes for more international recognition – players feel as if they have a better chance at qualifying and winning international tournaments if they play for the European country they’re from, further outsourcing African talent. For members of that team, the chance to play in and win a World Cup does not come around very often, and it is hard for them to justify passing up on the chance to play for France and win when their other home country might not qualify.

  10. Becca Kuperschmid

    Over the course of the past ten years, we have seen the birth of countess of storylines regarding African soccer and the rise and fall of beloved players. The decade started out with a bang with South Africa hosting the Coupe du Monde. And of course, it was filled with great futbol and controversy alike (I’m looking at you, Suarez). A major trend to highlight has been the rise of amazing African players such as Sadio Mané, Pierre Aubameyang, Riyad Mahrez, and of course Mohammed Salah. They have made their presence known on some of the biggest stages in the world, in turn, proving to the world that Africa is home to some of the most established and promising talent in the game.
    Salah, Mané, and Aubameyang light up the pitch every-time they touch the ball, breaking records and winning games in the process. All of these players are currently in the Premier League, which is home to certain fanbases who are notoriously racist and xenophobic. However, these players are slowly but surely putting and to those chants. Mané is revered by fans all over for his ridiculous play making abilty and for his off the field heroics. He donated over 300 Liverpool jerseys back home as well as over 200,000 euros to construct hospitals, schools, and mosques. Salah’s goal scoring ability has lead fans to chant how much they want to be Muslim too. They are using their game and their platform as vehicles of social progress.

    On the women’s side, Zambia qualified for the Olympics for the first time ever (which is very cool).

  11. Daniel Castro

    Soccer in Africa began as a “civilizing mission,” utilizing the sport as a tool to teach European virtues of Christianity, capitalism, and Western cultural norms (Alegi 1). Despite European misconceptions, sport had always existed in Africa through dances and games, even in the form of major competitions. Such sport and traditions were attacked by Europeans such as John Arthur, who viewed soccer as a substitute for their “evil dances” (12). Soccer was also utilized as a tool for segregation through divided facilities in the Congo and the separation of teams based on race (4).

    Despite these negative connotations, Africans utilized soccer as a tool for decolonization and the development of a unique style. Matchups between colonial and African teams, such as in Algeria, acted as de-facto battlefields and African victories were celebrated as if a major battle was won (Vice Sports.) Western schooling was often used as a conduit for social and political change, as was the case at Gordon Memorial College, where former students went on to form governmental department teams and eventually controlled the Sudan Football Association (Alegi 11.) In the post-colonial era, national team competitions often coincided with national holidays, such as Togo’s game versus Nigeria taking place during independence celebrations in 1960 (54.) African stadiums were often seen as a source of national pride and a representation of the struggles and solidarity of an individual nation, featuring names with “Independence” and “Freedom” or marking a nation’s date of independence (55.) Soccer in Africa developed from a grassroots level, despite European efforts to spread the game themselves. Origins of the game, from using “mango seeds, limes or oranges or old tennis balls” as described by Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria to playing on narrow streets and utilizing every available space as described by Khamis Fereji in Zanzibar, saw the usage of varied environments (5-6.) These environments encouraged the development of different playing styles as a result of differing constraints throughout the continent. Such efforts throughout the history of African football have shaped not only social and political spheres, but also affected the game itself.

  12. Evan Neel

    Since the publication of Alegi’s book in 2010, African soccer has had an entire decade to evolve and expand. Although now, in the year 2020, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot has changed. In the later parts of African Soccerscapes, Alegi shows the reader some rather depressing facts about the development of young players, their unlikely professional success, and their key role in being one of Africa’s largest new exports. Yet, as South Africa hosted the world cup in 2010, once you could overcome the ring of vuvzuelas in their head, there was a strong feeling that a continent was making its introduction to the world stage. So after a huge event such as the world cup, are Africans still being preyed upon and exploited by the greater soccer world, or have they gained a strong footing capable of lifting them into a much deserved spotlight? A quick look at the 3 world cups of the decade (2010, 2014, 2018) might shed some light on the question of African soccer’s growth over the past 10 years.

    South Africa’s world cup in 2010 had an entire continent on its toes. There was an energetic excitement that this would propel Africa forward in the soccer world and serve as a powerful marketing tool. But as Alegi describes in his book, it was more geared toward attracting rich tourists to the beaches of the southern cape. In this year 6 African nations participated in the finals, yet only one made it out of the group stages, Ghana. After edging out the United States in overtime during the round of 16, Ghana came up against Uruguay in the quarterfinals. One of the world’s first soccer powerhouses against a young team on the rise. In the last minutes of extra time the score was tied one to one when Luis Suarez swatted the ball off the goal line with his hand. This anomaly kept Uruguay in the match at the cost of receiving a red card. In turn, the resulting penalty was missed and Uruguay went on to eliminate Ghana in a shootout. While it can be rationalized that Suarez was simply doing anything he could to help his team win, this deeply dramatic moment felt very metaphoric. It was as if the old guard of world soccer was protecting the status quo, preventing this new country from achieving world success by manipulating the rules.

    In the next two tournaments (2014 & 2018) no African teams made it past the round of sixteen, and no countries escaped their group in 2018. This is despite growing excitement around new African superstars such as Mane, Salah, and Koulibaly, who were all on showcase in 2018. This failure to perform in France goes to even further demonstrate the drain of soccer talent from African nations. It is a shame that a team’s strength is gauged by the skill of their well known European players. The fact that France won the world cup with a great number of players whose ancestry originated from African countries sums up this exportation of talent the best. In my opinion, it seems that African soccer is still in decline, despite the 2010 world cup publicity. It is tough to say what actions could shift this backwards momentum and incentivize the strengthening of African leagues, but continuing to drain African talent for the exclusive benefit of overseas leagues is probably not it.

  13. Eric Werbel

    The emergence of soccer in Africa is tightly coupled with European imperialism. The game was originally brought to the continent by colonists who wanted to impose their own culture on the locals. Soccer quickly grew in popularity and spread throughout the colonies. The original goal of assimilating European culture into African culture through soccer had been accomplished; however, the game soon took on a meaning of its own, becoming a symbol for national pride and independence. Africans used soccer as an outlet to show off their power and strength. It was almost as if they thought beating the Europeans at their own game would justify their claim for independence. I thought it was very interesting to see how politicized the game was in the colonies. This claim is also supported in the video included in the blog post above. Mohamed Saad, former editor and sports reporter of an Algerian newspaper, described games between Muslims and colonists as “practically war on the field.” I can’t think of any sporting event that would have this same atmosphere. In my opinion, there is a big difference between this kind of ideological rivalry and a rivalry born out of competition.

    The video above talks about a rivalry with political roots that has transitioned to one of competition. It was incredible to see the atmosphere in the stadium during the game and hear the roar of the crowd any time either team scored a goal. I really like how the video portrays the rivalry as a “spectacle that unites.” The impression I got from the video was that, during the game, the fans are enemies, but once the final whistle sounds, they are friends. I also liked what the video said about the winner of the derby not necessarily being the champion of Algeria, but they are the champion of Algerians. This stood out to me because the rivalry and spectacle are so large that winning the rivalry match is more important than winning the league. I can think of no other rivalry in any sport where this is the case.

    One thing I might add to Alegi’s book that happened since its publication would be a short acknowledgement of Zambia’s championship in the African Cup of Nations in 2012. This marked the first and only time (to this point) that Zambia had brought home the title. They were heavy underdogs and were not expected to win the tournament. However, they topped their group and won the championship in a 9 round penalty shootout. The victory was dedicated to the 1993 Zambian team that perished in a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean. Before the final, Zambia great Kalusha Bwalya said “It won’t be eleven against eleven out there. We’ll have eleven ghosts on our side as well.” I think it would be nice to acknowledge this moment. Although many of the Zambian players would not have personal interactions with those who passed away in the crash, they still felt a connection to them through their country and national pride.

  14. Rachel Simpson

    During the colonization period, football was used as a means to westernize African people. Through the introduction of football, we see how colonizers utilized the sport to introduce Western and Christian ideals to the African people. Football was also used as a means to control African populations through segregated teams with the hope of crippling any sense of pan-African identity and through the poor treatment of African players. Most often teams were segregated and despite African players’ talent they were still treated as second-class citizens on teams and more broadly in society. Although football was originally introduced to African colonies through European powers, the African people were still able to alter different aspects of the game to make it unique to their own culture. Whether it be through the practice of rituals before games, inclusion of magic, or through the style of play; the game gradually became Africanized in the colonies. The game began to include more individualized play and ball control due to the field conditions many young Africans played in as the Alegi described their learning grounds as “hard and dusty or impossibly muddy” (page 33). The African people also played with more instinctive moves as they often learned to play amongst other children in the streets and dirt roads as opposed to receiving training from coaches/teachers in schools or academies as European children often did.
    Football played a very pivotal role in anti-colonial movements and decolonization. Football fueled nationalism amongst different African groups as football was a very powerful tool to bring people together. Football unified communities easily as there was a sense of community pride when they played different ethnic groups, especially when that ethnic group was their colonizer. Moreover, football afforded the African people the opportunity to gather without raising suspicion, which Africans began to use as time to discuss grievances with colonization and action plans going forward. Quite often, they were able to take political stances against their colonizers without facing repercussions as some political statements were not as obvious. For instance, the Sudanese people named their team the “Forty Team” to break the European football rule in which each team can only have total of eleven players as Alegi mentioned on page 22. These actions were often able to go unpunished as they can be trivialized as just a simple football game or mere support for a club team with no particular political meaning which then further developed into more independence movements.

  15. Karsten Monteverde

    As many of my peers have stated in their comments, Alegi clearly and effectively uses his platform in order to speak about how soccer ultimately changed lots of the perceptions and opinions that both foreigners and Africans themselves had regarding soccer. It truly became much more than a sport, and something that held valuable political and historical significance.

    I believe that different African styles of play came to be for various reasons – the most important one being that they were doing their best to create unique styles that made the game feel more African. They used their rituals and the presence of magic and healers, in order to further “Africanize” the sport. Doing this led to much success, as the popularity and importance of soccer grew substantially throughout time. Fans and spectators learned that they could use the games and stadiums to challenge authorities, therefore they challenged colonial power and showed their full commitment to equality for all. Therefore, soccer became a platform in itself for the African people in order to try and get what they believed was much needed – a feeling of unity and equality.

    Africa has been able to see the effect that they have had on the global game of soccer. They have been able to add how many African teams are included in the World Cup, with their most significant success being the 2010 World Cup, which South Africa proudly held. It is events like these that have helped raise its popularity with its existing fans, as well as new fans who have become fanatics through the national teams or specific players. However, just like in the United States, Africa has struggled to keep their most talented players in Africa, since most of the best leagues are in Europe. Therefore, Africa has continued to try and develop their leagues and talent with the hopes of maybe one day being able to retain their home-grown players – a struggle that we all know a little too well.

  16. Suniel Veerakone

    As Alegi and a lot of my classmates have pointed out, football in Africa proved to be another example of the free form art that it is. While the colonizers tried to bring the sport for whites only, football broke free to all people. Azikiwe writes, “Any collection of boys would be divided into two sides and a spirited game would ensue. We made and altered our rules to suit each game and so we emerged to become self-made soccerists” (Alegi 6). The colonizers quickly learned that football wasn’t something they could contain. Even off the pitch, the African population was in love with soccer. “Europeans occupied the most expensive and comfortable grandstand seats, while ordinary Congolese paid to stand around the pitch…Despite these trying conditions, African fans enjoyed watching different styles of play on display. They even assigned top white players nicknames, tangible proof of Africans’ passion and active involvement in the sport through spectatorship” (Alegi 4). I think this passage perfectly sums up Africa’s view towards the beautiful game. Throughout the inequality that their people suffered, the love for the sport continued, and still does today. Whether it was Senegal in 2002, Nigeria in 2018, or any World Cup in between, there always seems to be an African nation that captures the hearts of the world. The pure love for the game that the players as well as fans exude, show a sense of unity no other continent can compete with. Top players such as Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane have helped bring African football to a global scale, but the fact remains that no African team has ever won the World Cup. I wonder then how important this is to the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and if we might see a shift in the style of play. Does the emphasis shift to a ‘must win’ mindset, or is the enjoyment of the game most important? In a world driven by money I fear the federation will pressure its nations to a results driven strategy, however I’d argue against it. While a World Cup might prove to bring success to a continent for a short period of time, the enjoyment-filled football played in Africa has united it’s people for hundreds of years.

  17. Juan Bermudez

    One idea mentioned early on in the book which I found interesting were the privileges granted to highly talented African players.The text reads, “Moreover, top-notch black players in South Africa could circumvent racist laws by securing passes (identity documents designed to control the movement of Africans) at a time when the government was tightening restrictions on black people’s freedom of movement through legislation such as the 1923 Natives (Urban Areas) Act, which sharply limited African migration into towns and laid the foundations for urban residential segregation” (21). I was surprised at first, but then I thought of the privileges modern elite players have. Many of these privileges are a result of being extremely wealthy, but nonetheless, they wield influence as stars of a game that is internationally adored. I am curious how these benefits might have looked across different colonies, and I didn’t catch a specific answer in the text. Athletes across time and geographies have always benefited from special privileges, be it wealth or access, but it is fascinating to see what they are for a given place and time.

    Another idea I found interesting was the quote from a former Zanzibari footballer, who reflected on soccer, “It helped a lot. Because now you would find a Comorian playing with an Arab together with an African in one club. . . . You can’t hate me while I’m playing with you in the same club. You love me because I’m playing with you. You learn to appreciate me like a brother” (22). This quote brought to light two things for me. The first was the more obvious one, which was that soccer was able to unite individuals whenever teams were heterogenous. The second, however, was more surprising, as the quote shows a glimpse of how many identities existed and competed on the pitch. It was not simply “Africans vs. colonizers,” but in fact a more nuanced struggle. Understanding specific characters helps to construct the historical narrative and the present picture.

  18. Jake Mann

    The introduction of football to a new group of African players allowed for the adaptation of the sport both on and off of the field to reflect the beliefs and culture of those who adopted the game. Though initially presented by Europeans with a relatively rigid form and shape, the African game quickly evolved, surely both out of rebellious desire and natural adaptation. Part of this adaptation could be attributed to the wide range of physical spaces that the game inhabited. Whether in narrow streets or muddy fields, abnormal playing conditions certainly had a role in creating players who prioritized “ball control and dexterity… over more systematic play.” (33) During official matches, individual showmanship and ability was at times valued over even a victory, a notable change in style from more ‘machine-like’ European peers. Even beyond this, rituals and other African traditions impacted the sport beyond the field. The use of pre-game magicians with hexes and charms is something entirely unfamiliar to me, but particularly in the interwar years, it was a critical part of the African game. The colonizers of Africa surely did not intend for these changes to take place, but native Africans took football and made it uniquely their own. When players began traveling abroad on account of their talents, they brought back newly learned styles that further diversified the African game. It is likely due to these changes that football became such a vehicle of culture and politics, as this new subset of the game was entirely African but could still be observed and appreciated on a global stage.

    Perhaps the best example of how the uniquely African game was presented on the international stage would be with Algeria. Most striking to me is how the Algerian ‘national team’ was created and also disbanded before the country officially came into existence. Soccer and politics had already been deeply linked in the Algerian struggle for independence, but the creation of a team of Algeria’s best demonstrated their commitment to freedom. Organizing a group departure from French teams nearly overnight, many players felt as if they were being “mobilized for their country’s revolution,” feeling a personal and patriotic duty to the team (47). On their various global tours, the team of eclectic and talented players demonstrated their attacking brilliance, drawing praise from the myriad world leaders that they came into contact with. In my opinion, football was the best possible vessel for this movement- when the national team toured, they were able to garner widespread attention while promoting a peaceful yet deeply impassioned cause.
    Moufdi Zakaria, writer of the Algerian National Anthem played during the world tours.

  19. David Frisch

    As some of the earlier commenters have discussed, soccer was both a means of social control imposed by imperialists and a venue for resistance by anti-colonial forces. Justin Wu does well to show the oppressive—though superficially “civilizing”—intentions of soccer-promoting colonizers. Tess and Brooke touch on two conflicting aspects of African resistance. Taken together, their analyses point to a tension between independence and inclusion in African resistance. Perspectives on liberation in Africa were and remain as diverse as the continent’s many countries, cultures, and peoples. These perspectives can nonetheless be sorted into two very large umbrellas.

    The first approach emphasizes independence. Brooke’s discussion of styles of play relatively unique to African nations points to this element, and Alegi explores it further. In a number of countries, soccer posed a venue for players and fans to create a sense of national identity. As Alegi explains at the start of chapter 4, “the game exposed newly enfranchised Africans to the gravitational pull of the idea of a nation.” The above Vice documentary highlights the stark nationalism and anti-colonialism which the Algerian Derby exemplifies. In some instances, African nations could gain a sense of independence and create a shared, national identity through soccer.

    The second perspective on African liberation expressed in soccer is one of inclusion. By emphasizing Alegi’s exploration of apartheid South Africa, Tess points to this category. Black people in South Africa and in countries across the continent fought to end the extreme form of segregation known as apartheid. Activists sought to exclude South Africa’s white elites from international play until South African rulers ceased to exclude their own black citizens from integrating. In critical ways, the core of Alegi’s book is devoted to this form of liberation. His work is the story of how Africa moved from the fringes of the soccer world, an afterthought at best for many Europeans, to a continent with such rich cultures of soccer that the World Cup would be played there. If we are to take it as significant for Africa’s inclusion on the world stage that one of its nations has now hosted a world cup, it should not be lost on us that it was the country with arguably the whitest, most European, and most formally racist recent history that played host. To some extent, activists and soccer players in Africa have sought liberation through full-access to organizations established and run by Europeans.

    To participate in international soccer and politics, varied tribes, regions and cultures had to accept their colonially imposed borders and reimagine themselves as modern nation-states. In a sense, forming independent nations meant agreeing to play by the political rules established by European states. The same was true of soccer. Participating in international play required following rules set out in England in the 19th century and acquiescing to international governing bodies of soccer dominated by Europeans. African teams were even formally banned from using “magic” and other “superstitions” in soccer by officials who did not believe in their powers.

    It seems as though inclusion has won out so dramatically that African identities have suffered. The best players from countries like Nigeria wind up playing in European leagues. This “brain and muscle drain” which Alegi discusses discourages the growth of co-equal leagues across continents. Alegi’s Chapter 6 section, “African Football: Global Business and Aftermath” shows how foreign corporations and a few select African elites have commodified and benefited from what might otherwise be a more robust set of leagues and play in African countries.

  20. TJ Ewool

    Football provided a space for Africans to gather and express opposition to colonial control and protest publicly with less chance of repercussions from Europeans. Using football associations as a means of voicing opposition to colonial authority allowed Africans to communicate these attitudes under the guise of simply supporting a club. Clubs further functioned as sources of mutual aid for members, providing services and funds to those in need. Africans were able to create a local culture out of reach of colonial supervision and in turn “appropriated” the game into something uniquely African, similar to the emergence of a distinctively Brazilian style of play in the midst of colonial occupation in South America. Football allowed fans to stand together and form a broader sense of identity during regional and international competitions; rival fans of Bacongo and Poto-Poto even banded together to support a Brazzaville team in the French and Belgian Congo during a match against Léopoldville (61). Prominent players with careers abroad additionally helped elevate the voices of African nations as part of anti-colonialist movements, including the ten Algerian players who left France to join the Algerian National Liberation Front’s “national” team during Algeria’s war for independence from France (61).

    Local circumstances shaped how Africans played football (48). Individuals had to find space wherever they could, as racism and segregationist policies ensured that Africans did not have access to adequate spaces and equipment. Settings such as streets and sandlots forced players to develop ball control, toughness, and quick thinking to evade their opponents. This style of creative play that celebrated individual craftiness also reflected a larger cultural importance of creativity, deception, and skill in navigating difficulties and dangerous situations in colonial societies (51). The incorporation of healers, magicians, and rituals performed by fans ensured that the game, despite being played according to European rules, maintained a distinct African identity that persisted even under strict colonial rule.

  21. Andrew Hua

    Due to the different colonial settings in Africa, football grew at different rates. One of the biggest barriers to growth was political tensions and time of independence. The nations that gained their independence quicker were able to establish a larger presence of football in their respective countries. I also found it striking that while football was perceived as a civilizing mission for the Europeans, they established white and black football clubs, which hindered assimilation. What I found most interesting was the growth and development of soccer in apartheid South Africa, which led to conflict both within and outside of the country, especially with FIFA.

    Football played a significant role in anti-colonial movements and decolonization, especially in the form of resistance towards the colonial powers. Alegi writes that soccer was introduced to Africa by colonial powers as part of their civilizing mission (Alegi 1). Part of this mission was to teach Africans the “correct” way to play the game, which illustrated the patriarchal nature the Europeans had on their African colonies. Ultimately, this failed because the Africans invented their own style of football, which served as a form of resistance towards the colonists and was a way in which football was used as an anti-colonial movement.

    While Africa has impacted the global game significantly, evident in the number of African players in the top five leagues and the success of African nations in the World Cup, a part of their style of play and attitudes towards the game was shaped and developed by European colonists. Even though there is a distinctly African style of play that was developed when African players were introduced into European leagues, they were put into a box, and a culture of stacking was implemented (Alegi 84). As a result, African players in bigger leagues were mainly played in wider positions and at striker to make use of their strengths. However, these strengths were contrived based on racist and preconceived notions of Africans, who were considered fast, athletic, and lacking in leadership skills. These perspectives prevented them from excelling in other positions.

    In my opinion, the most significant story of African football that should be included and further discussed in an updated version is the influence of African football in France’s national team, especially the World Cup-winning squad. The French 23-man squad consisted of 14 players with African roots and ancestry. Also, a discussion on the success of African players at European clubs should be included. While African soccer leagues may be declining due to European clubs taking these talented players away from Africa, the French team along with other European clubs illustrates how African soccer lives on and continues to grow.

  22. Ana Martinez

    Colonial powers began to organize football leagues in Africa with a few intentions, mostly revolving around the “civilizing mission” in Africa, to teach European values, and introduce European traditions to the colonies. Leagues began with whites only games, split into teams by community divisions such as colonial born or homeland born. As teams were founded where African players could also play, the teams formed were first through the education system and then expanded to those in the working class. I thought it was interesting to read particularly in chapter 2 where skilled players were often recruited for their soccer ability and given a job as well so they could play within the workers’ league (21). It is interesting to see how teams were first created based on ethnic differences, then community/neighborhood, then by school or occupation, and finally where there were too few Europeans to form “national teams” there were racially mixed teams (25).
    I particularly enjoyed reading how African players made the game their own with different terminology (eg. calling officials elders) and with the role that magic plays in games. Some examples of magic was its use to bless jerseys, by rubbing herbs on cleats to make players run faster, and also to curse the other team with bad luck. Alegi mentions the relatively recent incident in 2002 of the Cameroonian coach Thomas Nkono being arrested and suspended for one year by CAF for suspected use of magic. I found an article that mentions this incident-> and additionally mentions that there was a case of suspected magic in the 2000 African Nations Cup in the quarterfinal match between Nigeria and Senegal. An official of the Nigerian team removed an object that was on the Senegalese goal; while the official was then suspended by the CAF, in Nigeria he was lauded as a hero as Nigerians suspected the object was a totem that was prevented the Nigerian team from scoring. It’s interesting to have these public controversies of magic used in African football, and I’m curious what other magic practices may still occur today that the public is not aware of.

  23. Richard Huang

    The development of soccer in the African countries created some interesting contradictions. One of which is that soccer was initially imposed in British-controlled countries as a “core component of colonial education” (10). In this way, soccer was seen as a method to impose the values and beliefs of British society outside of a classic classroom curriculum and into daily life. However, outside of the forced participation within schools and such, soccer, in the hands of the colonized people, began to develop its own unique style, separate from what the British and other colonizing countries had hoped would happen. Indeed the European colonizers “created new opportunities for various forms of African resistance, not only against colonialism but also against social inequalities within African communities” (22). While teams were often delineated by different towns and groups, there were still opportunities for different types of people to form meaningful connections and develop mutual respect if they were on the same team. The “Afircanization” of soccer was created independent of the compulsory involvement by certain institutions imposed by the European colonizers. From playing using mango seeds or tennis balls in the streets of their own communities, various African styles of play began to emerge. A notable one of which was the tendency to develop outstanding individual ball skills, but lack the skills of set plays that often require a coach to teach tactics and have the resources of larger fields. Instead, without a coach, skills often developed organically and is reminiscent of how Brazilian soccer style grew in the narrow streets as well. The style of play was initially looked down upon by the European colonizers, as seen in how a French observer describes those players as “ball controllers, but that is not football” (33). However, that same French observer goes on to say that with formal coaching these “ball controllers” can have important roles in more formalized teams. This relates to discussions about the French national team at the last World Cup, which had many star players coming from African ancestry. It shows that these European ideas still prevail where larger and well established European clubs have plucked developing players from African countries to place them under “formal coaching” rather than building up soccer teams in African countries themselves.

  24. David Kohler

    Initially, football was brought to Africa as a way for the European colonizers to impose their beliefs and values on the local people. Alegi says, one of these main reasons stems from “the belief that sport forged physically strong, well-rounded men of sound moral character for imperial service” (9). The colonizers did not intend football to be some fun form of expression for the African people, as it is considered today, but rather it was a way for the colonizers to get the African people in line with the Europeans. In discussing the spread of football through railways, Alegi says, “Football was considered an essential ingredient for molding railway employees and helping them internalize the norms and values of the industry” (6). Football started out with the intention of making the locals “valuable employees”, but very quickly, the African people turned this narrative around and use the sport for decolonization and anti-colonial movements.

    While Europeans wanted football to make the Africans more like them, it actually helped the Africans to discover their own identity and nationhood: “Football constructed a fragile sense of nationhood in political entities arbitrarily created by colonial powers and fueled Africa’s broader quest for political liberation” (36). The African people began to use football as a way to come together and express their African identity and truly start to break away from the European mold that the colonizers tried to fit the locals into. Alegi says, “The game became part of the vernacular language of nationalism and provided a venue for the representation of a ‘Nigerian’ identity” (41). After decades of using football to make the African people fall in line with European ideals, the sport that the Europeans introduced actually ended up being one of the biggest and most powerful tools of the African people to rise up and out of their colonizers’ grasp. Alegi says, “Urban growth, access to Western education, mass media coverage, and passion for the game among cosmopolitan African nationalists strengthened the connections between football and mass politics. Football helped to propel and legitimize the activities of anticolonial movements” (53).

  25. Christopher Suh

    Many factors, such as the enforcement of playing without shoes, colonial imposition, magic, and spectator rituals have all influenced the African style of play, although to encapsulate an entire continent’s style of play as one distinctive and cohesive style may be misleading. However, some common threads throughout much of the development of soccer in Africa can be seen through different philosophies adapted from European styles such as the long-ball style from England, or Scotland’s short-passing game, as well as environmental factors such as those listed before. The lack of equipment and space that many soccer players grew up led to many street-style games in which improvisation and dribbling were highly valued, but these conditions also made it difficult for players to acquire fitness and tactical skills.

    Although I am not super familiar with African soccer in general, I would plan to update the book with major events in African soccer from the last decade, such as the increase in African superstar players, particularly Mohamed Salah and the almost godlike status he has achieved in Egypt in particular. I personally find it interesting that there seems to be more African forwards at top clubs who are doing very well (Salah, Mahrez, Aubameyang, and Mane come to mind) whereas previously there were many prototypical “African” box-to-box midfielders such as Yaya Toure, Michael Essien, and John Obi Mikel, but not many forwards (only Drogba comes to mind).

  26. Roberto Miselem

    I think that one of the unique ‘ironies’ found in how the game of football originally arrived in Africa is that the European colonizers were shocked at how much the African natives loved and embraced the game. This is clearly illustrated by the quote by a British Army instructor: “football creates great interest among the population and all matches are well attended. The spectators are sensibly critical and always show a knowledge of the game (Alegi 8).” I believe that this quote shows that there weren’t necessarily any natural tensions that occurred (at least based on chapter 1, which discussed the origins of football in Africa), but rather some sort of tension fabricated by the awe of European settlers at how “Africans were not simply duped into adopting Western sport: they enjoyed the game for their own reasons and on their own terms (Alegi 13).”

    The tensions came later, when the sport became more widespread, and topics like ethnicity and race became defining features, essentially determining who was eligible to join which team. This discrimination within and between teams/leagues led to tensions, such that “Local football clubs occasionally expressed opposition to colonial power and authority (Alegi 22).” Hence, in my view, a lot of the opposition faced by the European settlers as a result of their discrimination ended up being an avenue for African decolonization. This, combined with the “sense of communitas” (23) found in many of the well-structured clubs, opened the doors for African independence from the often segregationist European colonizers (Alegi 23-26).

    Finally, with regards to the ‘Africanization’ of the game, one could say that some part of it came from the role of superstitions –or as Alegi calls it, magic– in preparation for a game. For example, I found it interesting how some believed that applying Vaseline to their shoes would make them “run faster [and] kick great (Alegi 27).” It reminds me of how notable basketball players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James always throw talc in the air before tip-off, knowing that the effects of it (if any) will wear off the second they touch the ball. I must say, through, that the emphasis placed on other elements like sorcery, the hiring of magicians, or the placement of candles around a team’s jerseys is something that I wasn’t aware of in the world of sport. It is interesting to see how this appears to play –or at least, have played– a more significant, ritualistic role in the African continent.

  27. Justin Wu

    I feel like the main contradiction surrounding the emergence of football in colonial Africa is how the colonizers’ desire to act on their “white man’s burden” led them to introduce football as a means to “keep the devil at bay and to provide a healthy and moral outlet for Africans’ supposedly savage instincts” (Alegi 12). Even though colonizers had introduced football with the goal of ultimately teaching Africans about colonialism and the values that were brought with it, soon football became a distinctly African activity that allowed for various forms of African resistance. Apart from directly expressing opposition to colonialism and authority like Al Ahly of Cairo, football players began to find subtle ways to oppose the authorities. “In Namibia, Tigers FC…was forced to change its name in the 1920s because the authorities associated it with the name of a local resistance movement” (Alegi 22). As small protests like these began erupting over the continent, it was clear that involvement in football and resistance went hand in hand.

    As time went by, African clubs became more self-reliant, straying further away from the authority of their colonizers. This, together with a growing African enthusiasm for football, meant that the sport was garnering an interest so immense that formal clubs and competitions were being shaped by those who spectated them the most, and thus were being “politically, socially, and culturally Africanized” (Alegi 34). By introducing a sport that was supposedly going to favor colonialism and get rid of the cultural roots of Africa, colonizers were partly masters of their own demise. Through the introduction of football, Africans became more organized and more aware of the racial and social disparities that were very present not just in football but in their colonial society as well. This led them to act in an orderly and earnest manner, just like the colonizers had wished for, but against the colonizers themselves. No longer was football a colonizer’s sport in Africa, it had become a distinctly African activity that had African characteristics, and a result, a way for Africa to show itself to the world, like when Egypt participated in the 1934 World Cup, “the first time an African country played in the tournament” (Alegi 34-35).

  28. Brooke Erickson

    Football was an essential part of the anti-colonial movements and decolonization in Africa. This was possible because it allowed for the creation and development of multiple identities, many of which were associated with nations themselves and others of which were associated with cultures. Through participation in football, people were able to better connect with their racial/ethnic/cultural background all while representing their nation. Additionally, football allowed many of these same individuals to overcome the racial boundaries placed upon them by society due to the importance of skill necessary for football. There are stories of black football players who were able to overcome racism by showing strong skill and technique on the pitch. A particularly interesting setting in which football played an essential role in decolonization and combating racism was the apartheid in South Africa. FIFA, among other important organizations such as SASF, SASA, and CAF were able to assert their power by excluding South Africa from FIFA, CAF, and other important tournaments. This strength of the football organizations in political issues, from decolonization to racism. This has not stopped even after apartheid ended and is relevant both inside and outside of Africa.
    The African style of play developed as many individuals were forced to pick up very technical, small skills in the streets. Many rural and poor African-born people used soccer as an escape and leisure activity during the first years of colonization. These technical skills were the great contribution of African playing style on the world’s game of football. In later years, Africa’s contribution to the world scale became much greater as African players became a large part of the exportation and importation of players around the globe. African players were often understood to be cheap labor and opportunistic investments for the larger European clubs. The smaller European clubs bought younger African players with potential and then sold them to the larger European clubs for a profit. This migration of African players into European clubs has become a large portion of Africa’s contribution to the world’s game of football in more recent years.

    1. Laurent Dubois Post author

      Thanks for these thoughts, Brooke! I like how you emphasize the way that football enabled people to express “multiple identities,” something that I think was part of the key of how it enabled people also to express rebellious and anti-colonial identities through it. Peter Alegi’s first book was a history of soccer and apartheid (and anti-apartheid movements) in South Africa: I agree this is a particularly interesting section of the book as well.

  29. Emma Parker

    Peter Alegi, in his book African Soccerscapes, particularly focuses on the tension between soccer’s original purpose and its subsequent evolution across the continent. When the Europeans first arrived in Africa, they intended to use soccer as part of their “civilizing mission” to fulfill “the white man’s burden” (1). That is, they viewed soccer as an instrument that could impart Western values and culture upon those living in the new African colonies. Although Western technology, including railway lines and port infrastructure, enabled the spread the spread of soccer across the continent, Africans quickly “Africanized” this “Westernized” sport for themselves. For instance, in Cameroon “representative sides from Douala and Yaoundé played in two racially segregated contests” (23).

    The establishment of exclusively white and exclusively black soccer clubs became a common practice across African colonies and directly combatted the European’s initial “white man’s burden” philosophy. Instead of serving to assimilate, soccer perpetuated African claims to independence. For instance, Mohamed Saâd, an interviewee from the Vice Sports episode, asserts that when a Muslim club in Algeria played against a colonial club, “it was practically war on the field” (6:22). Alegi argues that the establishment of these black-controlled soccer teams was pivotal in Algeria’s fight for independence, particularly the Algerian national team, which was instituted by the National Liberation Front, the leaders of the anti-France movement.

    Alegi further examines how the formation of racialized soccer teams directly combatted its imperialist functions and politicized soccer across the continent. By the 1930s in South Africa, “national” tournaments for different racial groups had been established; whites played in the Currie Cup, Indians played in the Sam China Cup, Africans played in the Baloyi Cup, and Coloreds played in the Stuttaford Cup (42). Segregated soccer was also the norm in Zambia, where African players in the 1930s founded the Rhodesia Congo Border FA in response to the establishment of the white-only Broken Hill Amateur Football Association in 1929 (44). These racialized teams allowed Africans to celebrate themselves and their distinct identities, unburdened by colonialist expectations and demands.

    Although the era of colonialism has ended, the Vice Sports episode demonstrates that soccer continually produces anti-colonialist sentiment and nationalism amongst Algerians, who gained their independence from France fifty years ago. The Algiers Derby, a match between the two biggest clubs in Algeria, MC Alger and USM Alger, is the pinnacle of Algerian pride and exemplifies the politicization of soccer in Africa. Both MC Alger and USM Alger were established during colonialization, and the team songs are the most popular music in the country. Furthermore, the derby takes place on July 5, the anniversary of Algerian independence. Thus soccer has largely strayed from its imperialist functions and become something that Algerians, and others across the African continent, have reclaimed as an essential part of their identity and culture.

    1. Laurent Dubois Post author

      I really like how you connect Alegi’s book to the Vice episode, and notably that quote about soccer as a kind of “war” between different identities and communities. It’s interesting how the formation of racially segregated teams was both an expression of the colonial order and ultimately created opportunities for people to move and play both outside and against it at times.

  30. Max Labaton

    Alegi seeks to answer a question that gets at the central tension of African football: how could a sport that represented colonial oppression represent liberation? As he notes, the development of African football dovetails with European imperialism. Infrastructure, such as railways helped spread the game beyond coastal areas to towns and cities in the interior. European schools taught students football as a form of indoctrination. As Alegi writes, “For Europeans…who were dutifully carrying out the ‘white man’s burden,’ football was potent enough to keep the devil at bay and to provide a healthy and moral outlet for Africans’ supposedly savage instincts” (12).

    Football’s presence in Africa is less surprising than the fact that it became popular and eventually a symbol of nationalist pride. Teams representing workers from various government agencies and public departments helped localize the sport and aided the proliferation of urban leagues. Additionally, “the use of magic and religious specialists infused the game with distinctive African traits” (26). The emergence of distinctive styles helped characterize African football. Similar to how urban areas impacted Dutch total football, playing in streets with no referees or time limits shaped the emphasis on showmanship and entertainment.

    The emergence of more organized forms of African football occurred against the backdrop of independence movements. Leaders such as Nigeria’s Zik founded football clubs that were meant to be more inclusive and serve as an alternative to whites-only clubs. By engaging in “goodwill tours,” such teams showcased their talents against clubs composed of colonial administrators and highlighted how Africans could defeat Europeans at their own game. Other leaders such as Ben Bella of Algeria saw football as emblematic of the kind of meritocracy that contrasted with hierarchies imposed by imperialism. The FLN in Algeria used football as a tool of diplomacy to develop a sense of national identity and forge stronger ties with countries in Eastern Europe, as well as China and Vietnam. Football could also bring people together in colonies where Europeans artificially imposed borders. Sub-Saharan countries like Ghana showed how football could unify disparate ethnic and religious groups.

    Matches like the Algerian Derby show how football traditions can persist over time and in some ways preserve the revolutionary spirit. The conclusion of the video, that the tie was “a fitting end to a derby defined not by hatred, but by love,” shows how a game can mean more than simply the final score. The annual game and surrounding festivities reveal a practice that can bring Algerians together in support of common causes like sovereignty and self-determination.

  31. Laurent Dubois Post author

    I like how you capture this key paradox in the history of African soccer, Tess, how it has been a kind of double-edged sword, about how it was initially put in place for one purpose but then served so many others. Through a focus on Africa, Alegi’s book captures really well these broader themes about the sport we have been discussing throughout the semester: the way that it seems to always move beyond any confines and create new communities and meanings as it circulates. His depiction of how the stadia in Africa became venues for self and community expression are particularly valuable I think.

  32. Tess Boade

    An interesting paradox of the history of African soccer emerges very quickly into the book: the role that soccer played in imperialism and how it then became a tool for resisting the colonial power. Quickly, soccer spread throughout Africa due to the implementation of it from the colonial power. Soccer was even implemented in schools that were run by Westerners. Fairly quickly, this game that had been brought by the Europeans and was a tool of enforcing colonialism became an apparatus for Africa’s push for independence. Author Peter Alegi claims that Africa began to change the game and develop new playing styles under the same rules, but there wasn’t necessarily a continent-wide style of play but rather many different styles within countries. Alegi highlights a team from the 1940s that was from South Africa and stood as “a symbol for civic pride and social responsibility” (19). When white authorities were restricting playing grounds, the team refused to play until the white authorities would lay back. Alegi claims that all throughout the 1940s and 1950s soccer become an apparatus that reduced racial and ethnic tensions across the continent. Stadiums became a place where Africans could authentically express themselves and commit to promoting racially equality (36). Alegi runs through examples of specific nations and how they won their independence and moved forward in the international stage for soccer. He looked at how these countries eventually gained recognition from FIFA on the world stage, but that this acknowledgment took time. With the creation of national teams, they offered stability for the African governments. It is very interesting to see the progression of soccer initially being used as a tool of oppression but eventually turning into agency for the Africans to establish independence. Today, Africa produces some of the best players in the world and they compete on the world stage.


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