South African clubs reflect the diverse cultural and ethnic background of the country, although the stark racial divide that once characterised its professional football is no longer evident.
When football went professional in South Africa in 1959, 12 clubs broke from the amateur ranks. However, in the strict days of Apartheid, these pioneers were whites-only organisations and are today, all but a few, defunct. One of the survivors is Arcadia from Tshwane/ Pretoria, an outfit that today compete in the amateur ranks and concentrate on junior football.
The landscape and profile of the clubs have changed drastically as the country has evolved from a pariah state into a fully fledged member of the world footballing family. Today, the majority of high profile and popular teams come originally from the ranks of the previously black National Professional Soccer League, which set up its rival structure in 1971.
Of the clubs to compete in the first season of black professional football more than three and a half decades ago, six still play in the top flight. Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows have perennially dominated the domestic scene since, and the likes of Bloemfontein Celtic, Mamelodi Sundowns and Lamontville Golden Arrows have also played their part. Bidvest Wits are the only side who remain from the days of whites-only football, while the Cape Town team Santos were regular champions in the semi-professional Federation League, which formed part of a rival body in the dark days of racial discrimination.
Unity in the running of South African soccer was realised in 1991 but at professional level, black and white clubs amalgamated their disparate league back in 1978, the first sport after boxing to cross the colour barrier. The white clubs were seduced by the massive crowds which their black counterparts attracted, and were quick to hitch their wagon to where the people were. But over the years the formerly whites-only teams faded away or sold their franchise, giving birth to several new identities, who remain part of the current Premier Soccer League structures.
From football stars to club owners
One of the country's most celebrated footballers, Kaizer Motaung led the way for former football stars in the country to club ownership when he formed a break-away club from Orlando Pirates and named it Kaizer Chiefs. Motaung had made a name for himself by playing in the United States and had become one of the household names in South Africa.
Another former superstar, Jomo Sono, who played with Pele and other galaxy of stars. Sono formed . When Jomo Sono returned home from playing for New York Cosmos and Toronto Blizzard in the early 1980s, he had enough money to buy the biggest white club of the day - Highlands Park of Johannesburg. It was a highly symbolic purchase in an era when blacks were subjugated by the Apartheid system and Sono has been a folk hero ever since, destroying a massive white institution with the flick of a cheque book.
Jomo Cosmos have competed in the top flight ever since, but have suffered two relegations to the lower ranks - both times managing to bounce back after only one season in the First Division.
New clubs have also emerged like Ajax Cape Town, who are half owned by their namesakes in the Netherlands. Ajax Amsterdam bought the franchise of two Cape Town clubs and merged them together as a potential source of talent for their own cause. It was the first franchising of a club name of its kind in world football history.
Orlando Pirates, who turned 70 in 2007, are the old surviving club, followed by Moroka Swallows, who are ten years younger. Kaizer Chiefs are the country's most popular team closely followed by Pirates.
Mamelodi Sundowns are the new glamour side of South African football, owned by mining magnate Patrick Motsepe. They won the last two Premier Soccer League titles and have high hopes of translating their domestic success into wins on the continental stage in the CAF Champions League.
Clubs from the Gauteng province, which takes in Johannesburg, Tshwane/ Pretoria and their satellite cities around the economic heartland of the country, are well represented in the top flight football. They include Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows, Mamelodi Sundowns, Jomo Cosmos and Wits University and SuperSport United.
From the other provinces, AmaZulu, Maritzburg United and Lamontville Golden Arrows are both based in Durban and Ajax Cape Town and Santos come from the 'Mother City', Cape Town. The Free State province provides Bloemfontein Celtic and Free State Stars, who have been promoted back to the Premier League ahead of the 2007/2008 season. Newly-promoted Mpumalanga Black Aces hail from the Mpumalanga Province.