chapter  3
‘Missionaries of Empire’
The Corinthians on tour in South Africa
ByChris Bolsmann, Dilwyn Porter
Pages 18

The Corinthians’ first foreign tour was to South Africa in 1897. The discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa saw the migration of thousands of miners to the country. South Africa increasingly became an important part of the British Empire. British sports such as cricket, rugby and soccer were popular, and local sports associations maintained close ties with their British counterparts. Cricket and rugby tours proved popular during this period. The Corinthian tour to South Africa in 1897 was a success in that the visitors remained undefeated across the country, they attracted large crowds and they enjoyed the hospitality of local elites in the towns they visited during their three-month tour. Importantly, the visitors played against whites-only teams, and at certain grounds, black South Africans were permitted to watch the visitors. The South African War of 1899–1902 brought a halt to sports tours, and local sports associations suspended leagues and cup competitions. The influx of large numbers of British troops further popularized soccer. Soon after the end of the war, the Corinthians returned to South Africa in 1903, only their second visit abroad. Similarly to their first visit, the tourists proved popular on and off the field. They, however, did not go undefeated in 1903, suggesting that the standard of play across South Africa had improved. On their final visit to the country in 1907, the Corinthians were defeated on several occasions. Their standard of play was poorer than previous tours. Local soccer officials and spectators were unhappy with the visitors who refused to respect the decisions of local referees when penalties were awarded. After the South African Football Association intervened, the tourists changed their minds. Events off the field of play dominated the headlines. The Corinthians canvassed support for their struggles with the FA at home while on tour. South African officials were unwilling to side with the visitors and remained loyal to the FA. The three visits by the Corinthians between 1897 and 1907 to South Africa helped popularize the game and firmly established the country as an important touring destination for amateur and professional teams for the following fifty years.