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on 12 October 2008
I met Tony Suze on a plane to Johannesburg. As fellow passengers we began to swap pleasantries. Trapped on a plane, away from the demands of work, we both had a few hours to while away the time. What followed was the most fascinating conversation I had ever experienced. Not only was Tony able to describe his feelings on being incarcerated on Robben Island for fifteen years of his youth but he also began to explain the workings of and rationale behind the Markana Football Association. As a football fan for many years I had never heard of this amazing league and, as the detail emerged, the level of organisation and passion with which every game was played was simply breath taking. Keeping to strict FIFA rules the prisoners were able to pass their time on the island not only playing the game that they loved but also developing vital skills needed for life after the apartheid regime would end.
`More Than Just A Game' is a beautifully written book which charts this incredible story with detail and feeling. Painstakingly researched from boxes of records from the Robben Island archives and interviews with ex-prisoners, and brought to life by empathetic writing, Professor Chuck Korr and co-author Marvin Close have produced a truly captivating written account of the story. The brutality of day to day life, the struggle for the right to play football (and other sports) and the challenge for prisoners from different political parties to work together against the authorities is extraordinary. With the 2010 Football World Cup just around the corner this book is a timely reminder of the role of sport in breaking down barriers as we all look forward to a successful tournament in the Rainbow Nation.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone.
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on 26 May 2017
Excellent read dramatic and positive.
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on 11 October 2008
Mention football to me a few months ago and my head would fill with visions of over-paid pouting prima-donnas, who spent their days in training, and their evenings at exclusive night-clubs!
Two* things have changed my opinion of late. This excellent book is one of them. As I read, I began to question my own attitudes and my opinion of the game.
'More Than Just A Game' traces the struggle faced by prisoners on Robben Island to achieve the right to exercise in the way they wanted - by playing football. Their courageous fight against the cruelty of discrimination and oppression, led the prisoners to organise games following the strict laws that govern football in the wider world.
The consequences were far-reaching with regard to the breaking down of apartheid.
I began to see the 'beautiful' game in a different light - a game which could bring friendship, co-operation, a sense of achievement, the building of relationships and the growth of self-esteem and above all, HOPE for the future.
I recommend this well-written book and urge others to read it.

* the second thing - just look at the huge effect the recent success of Hull City F.C. has had on the morale of a much maligned, but beautiful city!
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on 15 December 2009
I am a casual observer of sports in general, and am not sure I have ever watched an entire soccer/football match, although I understand the basics of the game. The story told here, however, is compelling in its history of a recent shame in the human narrative (apartheid) and the spirit of gamesmanship, competition, and camaraderie which brought together factions of men and thoughts.
I have already passed my UK copy on to my brother-in-law, who is more of a history and sports buff than myself.

When I read it again, I think I will start at the back with the background of how the book and story were put together and the interviews of the key characters. I believe this would have put the story in even better perspective for me.

Since I am not a soccer/football fan, I could have used some explanation of some key terms. I did (do) not know that there is a tackle permitted.
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on 9 December 2010
We were heading to Cape Town and I wanted to learn a little more about the life on Robben Island for the prisoners.

The book began by explaining why prisoners went there and how they were treated, and in most cases, they were treated really badly and life was awful

The book went on to explain how the prisoners worked together to persuade the authorities to allow them to set up football leagues, teams and regular matches. It was an education as well as fascinating.

Having just returned from Cape Town and a visit to Robben Island it gave me a much better insite and I was pleased that I had taken the time to read the book
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on 5 April 2010
This book is the result of 15 years research by an American professor and tells the story of the prisoners on Robben Island.The story of how they fought the authorities to set up a football league which was ultimately recognised by FIFA, the world governing body,is both heart-warming and inspiring.One of the prisoners who was also a very useful footballer was Jacob Zuma, now President of South Africa. It is one of the most compelling and moving stories I have ever read.If you have one iota of racism in you this will dispel it for ever.Everyone should read this wonderful,uplifting book.
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on 31 May 2015
this is a nice read quite comprehensive and interesting.fascinating how the teams formed there own leagues and how competitive they were,the clash of ideals between the younger prisoners anger and the older inmates was interesting
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2010
I need to declare an interest here. For a decade during the period covered by this book I was contributing to a couple of sports programmes emanating from the BBC's World Service studios. I felt strongly about South Africa's abominable apartheid regime and, within BBC editorial limits, spoke out against it when I could. I also withdrew from the opportunity to ghost a book for a South African golfer on the same grounds. So it won't seem surprising that I found inspirational the story of how football had a liberating effect on the inmates of Robben Island - liberating in spirit if not in terms of physical boundaries. For its political message, More than Just a Game deserves to be widely read.

That said, I hope I may be permitted a criticism or two. Chuck Korr, the prime mover of the book and the docudrama that preceded it, is an American professor who claims to be "familiar with the development of team sports in Britain." No doubt that is true but the Professor still writes like an observer of football from the outside rather than one who has the game in his blood. Crucially, he makes much of the assertion that the Makana Football Association organised the game in the prison "in strict accordance with FIFA rules." Had they done so The Atlantic Raiders Affair, which gets a 28-page chapter to itself, would never have escalated into a cause célèbre. With the underdogs leading in a Cup game, there was prolonged barracking and dissent over disputed decisions. Whereupon the referee "stormed off the pitch. A new match official was hastily brought on. In the chaos that ensued, it was never clear who had appointed the referee or even if he was qualified."

Professor Korr seems not to understand - or if he does, fails to mention it - that a travesty of football discipline had occurred. FIFA rules require games to be played under the Laws of Association Football. That would have resulted in the game being officially abandoned by the referee when he "stormed off the pitch". Subsequently, it would have been dealt with by the appropriate disciplinary body. Similarly, the author reports instances of spectators entering the pitch in an attempt to deal with a perceived error, of teams lodging complaints about refereeing decisions, and teams requesting changes to referees' appointments. At no point is it suggested that this was anything other than "in strict accordance with FIFA rules."

As a tribute to the triumph of the human spirit over vile oppression, this story needed to be told. It just seems a pity that, for the part played by the game of football, it has been told by an American professor who writes like a professor.
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on 31 December 2013
Enjoyed reading about history of South Africa through sporting eyes. Starts off very interesting but tails off a little bit.
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VINE VOICEon 4 April 2014
This is a fascinating and compelling story of football on South Africa's notorious Robben Island. It provides fascinating insights into politics, prison life, human dignity, protest and independence. Thanks to the existence of detailed paper records, Korr is able to present a detailed account of the prisoners' struggle to gain the right to play football, their meticulous organisation of a league competition following FIFA rules, the challenges they faced from the authorities and the sense of community and identity that it engendered. The title 'More than just a game' is very apt; the Makana Football Association was an opportunity for prisoners to work together across political divides, challenge authority, develop the arts of compromise, subtle persuasion and perseverance, and for some to hone their legal, administrative and negotiating skills. In focusing on football, Korr gives a vivid sense of everyday life at the prison; as much as politics dominates perceptions of race relations in South Africa, this shows that for many prisoners, the right to organise and enjoy sport was equally important as an expression of human dignity. This is essential reading for anyone interested in football history, or South African history more generally.
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