Imvubu Newsletter

Soccer at Lovedale

© Victor, S. 2011. Imvubu 22: 2, 3,6.

With soccer fever running high, it is apt to investigate the beautiful game’s historic roots in our province. The Amathole Museum was therefore thrilled to find photographs of early 20th century soccer teams, associated with Lovedale Mission Station, in its collection.

The first documented games of football, a combination of present-day rugby and soccer, were played in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth (a ‘home-born’ (British) vs. a ‘colonial-born’ team) in 1862. That was one year before the rules of association football were codified in England in an attempt to bring uniformity to the emerging sport. In subsequent years soccer was popularised through schools, mission stations and the military.

Ifafa Mission Station near Durban, run by the American Mission Board, used the game to propagate the ideals of athleticism and ‘civilizing mission’. The missionaries accordingly introduced cricket, soccer and other games to the Christianized African elite ‘in the best English public school tradition’.

Prof. Z.K. Matthews, a Lovedale alma mater, stated that sport and especially football and cricket, was already very popular at Lovedale in the 1910s, but it is unclear exactly when sport was introduced as an extramural activity. ‘The students divided themselves into teams and ran competitions themselves, with a few staff members taking a friendly interest. The teams were usually formed along language divisions, the most famous being the Flying Stars [pictured herewith], consisting [chiefly] of Zulu [players] from Natal. The Lions were mostly Sotho-speaking students and the Juveniles mostly Xhosa players. Notable teams included the ‘Fight Forever’ team consisting chiefly of youths from the Free State, the Rangers, the Highlanders and the Primroses.

Shields were given as prizes in intramural tournaments such as the Hunter Shield (pictured herewith) and also the Silver Medal and the Junior Cup. The Tremeer Shield was competed for by Lovedale, St. Matthews, Healdtown and the University of Fort Hare and was associated with keen rivalry between the teams.

Little is known about the Flying Stars except that it is described as one of the oldest and most prestigious football clubs. In 1919 and again in 1924, 1926 and 1927 the team managed to win tournaments, reliving some of their erstwhile grandeur.

The game was occasionally challenged by a lack of funds and equipment, and a shortage of efficient, neutral referees, but soccer remained ‘perhaps the game of outstanding interest to most [Lovedale] boarders’, right up to the 1940s.

In 1929 Lovedale introduced a ‘House’ system, which divided students into six groups, practically on an alphabetical basis. Each ‘House’ provided one to three teams. Stewart, Henderson and Shaw houses were particularly successful. Inter-house soccer matches proved to be very popular, at least initially, with keen competition characterising the fixtures, but it did bring an end to the glory days of teams such as the Flying Stars.

In 1939, Lovedale’s first team went on tour and played against the Transvaal Indian Football Association and the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association. The Transvaal Indian Football Association was established by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, then a young South African lawyer, in 1896.

Gandhi was not the only future leader to be involved in sport. Schools such as Zonnebloem, Lovedale, Healdtown and St. Matthews were the seedbed for the emerging black bourgeoisie. Sport provided one of the few outlets for educated black men to practice their leadership skills. In the process, it became part of the aura of respectability for middleclass African identity.


Lovedale Annual Reports, 1920 – 1954

Hill, Lloyd (2010) “Football as Code: The Social Diffusion of ‘Soccer’ in South Africa” in Soccer and Society, 11: 1, 12 – 28.

Christopher Clarey ‘Soccer Returns to Its Roots in Africa’ in The New York Times (


Flying Stars Football Club, Lovedale. Winners of the Hunter Shield, 1919 includes: M. Mokwena, L. Ngcobo, P.B. Hlubi, S. Jikijela, C.D. Zulu, C. Bell, R. Radebe, H. Mtetwa (Captain), M. Radebe, J. G/Qoetham, M. Kabane.