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More Than Just a Game

Soccer vs. Apartheid: The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told

Chuck Korr and Marvin Close

St. Martin's Griffin

More Than Just a Game Download image

ISBN10: 0312607164
ISBN13: 9780312607166

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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In the hell that was Robben Island, inmates united courageously in an act of protest. Beginning in 1964, they requested the right to play soccer during their exercise periods. Denied repeatedly, they risked beatings and food deprivation by repeating their request for three years. Finally granted this right, the prisoners banded together to form a multi-tiered, pro-level league that ran for more than two decades and served as an impassioned symbol of resistance against apartheid. Former Robben Island inmate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela noted in the documentary FIFA: 90 Minutes for Mandela, "Soccer is more than just a game . . . The energy, passion, and dedication this game created made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in."


Praise for More Than Just a Game

"The story of an obscure soccer league that liberated a nation: the Makana Football Association played all its games behind closed—and locked—doors on South Africa's Robben Island. An incredible story that chronicles how soccer helped political prisoners in their triumph of the human spirit over the Apartheid system."—The New York Times

"A fascinating account of the immense importance of the sport."—The Guardian (UK)

"This story adds a compelling dimension to our understanding of the struggle against apartheid."—Desmond M. Tutu

"In Korr and Close's book, we see how a successful soccer league was a victory not just for prisoners, but for the whole of humanity."—Maclean's

"For the men of Robben Island prison, soccer was more than a game. This story of the victims of political oppression, and how they found dignity and hope through sport, stands as a remarkable testament to the human spirit."—Bob Costas

"In more than forty years of covering sports at The New York Times and for CBS and PBS, I have never seen a story that has so vividly brought together the nature of games, politics and the human spirit."—Robert Lipsyte

"Soccer is more than just a game. Soccer can create hope where there was once despair. I remember how we, the prisoners on Robben Island, played soccer to keep our spirits high during the dark days of this country. The energy, passion, and dedication this game created made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in."—Nelson Mandela, from the film FIFA: 90 Minutes for Mandela

"It is amazing to think that a game that people take for granted all around the world was the very same game that gave a group of prisoners sanity—and in a way, gave use the resolve to carry on the struggle."—Anthony Suze, former Robben Island prisoner

"More Than Just a Game wonderfully illuminates the role of soccer in the creation and building of modern South Africa."—Michael Apted, filmmaker

"The story of the political prisoners whose lives were enriched by soccer and whose sacrifices made possible the eventual creation of a free South Africa."—Sepp Blatter, FIFA President

"A truly inspiring story . . . Highly recommended for all readers, whether they are soccer fans or not."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Well worth reading, even by those who don't know a thing about soccer."—Booklist

"More Than Just a Game tells the little-known story of how soccer transformed the lives of political prisoners on Robben Island, an isolated hell-on-earth off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa that housed black inmates during the apartheid era. Beginning in 1964, prisoners subjected to routine beatings and starvation united in an extreme act of courage, demanding the right to play soccer during exercise periods. The prisoners were eventually allowed to form a multi-tiered, pro-level league that operated for more than two decades. Academic historian Korr and scriptwriter Close resurrect this overlooked history with a vivid narrative no doubt aided by the 2007 docudrama of the same name. Brutal depictions of prison life make for compelling, at times uncomfortable reading, and the challenges faced by the players' association are presented in great detail, thanks to meticulous records kept by prisoners."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Chuck Korr and Marvin Close

CHUCK KORR is professor emeritus of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of The End of Baseball As We Knew It and West Ham United. He has been published in the New York Times and has appeared on ESPN and CNN.

MARVIN CLOSE is a scriptwriter in the United Kingdom.

Chuck Korr