With Following the Ball, Todd Cleveland incorporates labor, sport, diasporic, and imperial history to examine the extraordinary experiences of African football players from Portugal’s African colonies as they relocated to the metropole from 1949 until the conclusion of the colonial era in 1975. The backdrop was Portugal’s increasingly embattled Estado Novo regime, and its attendant use of the players as propaganda to communicate the supposed unity of the metropole and the colonies.
In articles for the newspaper O Brado Africano in the mid-1950s, poet and journalist José Craveirinha described the ways in which the Mozambican football players in the suburbs of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) adapted the European sport to their own expressive ends. Through gesture, footwork, and patois, they used what Craveirinha termed “malice”—or cunning—to negotiate their places in the colonial state.
From Accra and Algiers to Zanzibar and Zululand, Africans have wrested control of soccer from the hands of Europeans, and through the rise of different playing styles, the rituals of spectatorship, and the presence of magicians and healers, have turned soccer into a distinctively African activity. African Soccerscapes explores how Africans adopted soccer for their own reasons and on their own terms.