A guide to South Africa's football divisions

A guide to South Africa's football divisions

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There's probably no better way to 'integrate' into South African culture on the street than to demonstrate some knowledge of football in South Africa.

Soccer in South Africa has a huge following, and the quality of the local game keeps improving – as demonstrated by the increasing number of South African players in exile among the glamorous European clubs.

Local teams, organised in a national league plus a plethora of knock-out cups, are followed with passion by paint-daubed, costumed, whistling and cheering fans. Mercifully, the country has been spared the spectre of football hooliganism.

There's probably no quicker way to "break the ice" with the South African on the street than to demonstrate some knowledge of local soccer. To help you improve your conversational skills, here's a crash course on the country's most important teams and competitions.

Bafana Bafana

In 1992, two years before the country's first democratic election, the united South African team came into being, playing Cameroon in its first match in Durban on 9 July. It was a triumphant occasion for the side that came to be known as Bafana Bafana – "The Boys" – as they edged the West African powerhouse by a goal to nil. However, the win concealed the negative effect that apartheid-enforced isolation had had on local soccer.

When South Africa hosted the 1996 African Nations Cup, however, South Africa proved they belonged in the finals by defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. It was during the team's run to the title that its nickname, "Bafana Bafana", became known around the world.

Banyana Banyana

South Africa's senior women's team, Banyana Banyana – 'The Girls' – have traditionally been the strongest team in southern Africa and one of the best in Africa.

Banyana Banyana were crowned Cosafa (Confederation of Southern African Football Associations) champions in 2002 and 2006. In continental competition, the team finished runner-up to Nigeria at the CAF African Women's Championship in 2000, and second at the All Africa Games in 2003 and 2007.

AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER JOE South - Africa's football divisions
South Aafrica, Johannesburg : South African football fans celebrate their winning goal against Egypt during their Africa Cup of Nations 2012 qualifying football match in Johannesburg

Glamour clubs 

Kaizer Chiefs
South Africa's favourite soccer club never seems to play an away match. "The Amakhozi" often draw more supporters at away games than their opposition.

Orlando Pirates
Formed in 1937, Orlando Pirates has a support base extending across the country's borders. Two-time winners of South Africa's Premier Soccer League since its launch in 1997, "The Buccaneers" are the only South African team so far to have won Africa's premier club competition, the Champions League, a feat they achieved in 1995.

Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United
While Chiefs and Pirates have long battled for the title of South Africa's most popular club, other outfits have emerged to challenge for the position, among them two Tshwane/Pretoria-based clubs: Mamelodi Sundowns and
SuperSport United.

Backed by billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Mamelodi Sundowns have the finances to ensure a squad with depth and quality. The club is often compared to England's Chelsea, which rose to prominence partly through the backing of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Premier soccer league 

South Africa's top soccer league, featuring the country's best 16 clubs, came into being in 1997.

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) has helped raise the standard of club football in South Africa, providing the sport with better media coverage and much-improved revenue through strong sponsorship deals.
Sponsorship boom

In June 2007, the PSL pulled off an astounding coup when it signed a 1.6-billionZAR broadcast deal with SuperSport International.

And in August 2008, cellular giant MTN committed the same amount – 400-millionZAR over five years – to the local game, while taking over the title sponsorship of the Top 8 knockout tournament. These deals combined have made South Africa's Premier Soccer League the seventh biggest earner of sponsorship revenue among football leagues worldwide.

Knockout competitions 

A number of knockout competitions are played alongside the league fixtures in South African soccer.

Nedbank Cup
A knockout competition modeled on England's famous FA Cup, giving lower league teams the chance to do battle with premier league clubs, has been in existence since 1978, under various names: the Mainstay Cup (1978-1987), Bobsave Superbowl (1988-2002), Absa Cup (2003-07) and, from 2008, the Nedbank Cup.

MTN 8
The MTN 8 – formerly the Top 8 and Supa 8 – is contested at the beginning of each Premier Soccer League season by the top eight finishers of the previous season.
Now known as the MTN 8 Knockout, after cellular operator MTN took over the title sponsorship, the tournament boasts a R8-million winner-takes-all prize – while guaranteeing each team 800 000ZAR simply for participating.

Telkom Knockout
The Telkom Knockout competition, which features all 16 Premier Soccer League teams on a knockout basis, is African football's second most lucrative domestic competition after the Nedbank Cup.
The competition was first held in 1992 and has existed under a number of different names, including the Coca-Cola Cup and the Rothmans Cup.

First division

Below the Premier Soccer League, South African football's First Division is divided into two – the Inland Stream and the Coastal Stream – with each stream made up of eight clubs.

At the end of each season, the winners of the two streams meet in a final, with a place in the Premier Soccer League at stake (replacing the team that finished last in the PSL). The second-placed team, however, still has a shot at making it into the PSL.

That club takes on the two second-placed finishers from the First Division, as well as the team that finished second-last in the PSL, in a mini-tournament, with the winner earning a place in the top league.

Tyler Long / Articlesbase / Expatica

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