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Black History Month: A South African team with an Atlanta link

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The Kaizer Chiefs is a team with roots that begin in the old NASL.

FBL-RSA-PREMIER-KAIZER-CELTIC Photo by ANESH DEBIKY/AFP via Getty Images

When you head to Johannesburg, South Africa, you can stop by Soccer City to take in a match with one of the most popular teams in all of Africa: the Kaizer Chiefs. That particular team just happens to have an American link as well. The Kaizer Chiefs are a team that plays in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, the top division in the country.

It was founded in 1970 by Kaizer Motaung, a South African soccer player. The name evolves from his time in the North American Soccer League. He moved to the United States after starting out his career for the Orlando Pirates, a team that operates in another Soweto neighborhood and now also calls Soccer City home. When Motaung moved to America, he played as a striker for the Atlanta Chiefs. Motaung, who earned the nickname Chincha Guluva (“The man with the quick feet”), played for the Atlanta Chiefs for 3 seasons before he moved back to South Africa. There, he formed the Kaizer Chiefs, taking his first name and combining it with the nickname of the team he played for in Atlanta. He made the team’s headquarters in Nasrec, a section of Soweto in the Johannesburg metropolitan area.

The Kaizer Chiefs, also known as Amakhosi (“Lords” or “Chiefs” in Zulu), began its first year in 1971 by finishing 2nd in the league. In 1974, they won the league for the first time. Immediately, they became a success on the field and were immensely popular with soccer fans in the country. They quickly grew into one of the biggest clubs not just in South Africa, but on the entire continent. To date, they count over 16 million fans and their trademark yellow-and-black jerseys are renowned the world over. Kaizer Chiefs are a part of one of the biggest rivalries in the entire world, the Soweto Derby. That rivalry was formed early on with fellow Soweto neighbors Orlando Pirates, the team where Kaizer Motaung began his professional career.

And their success on the field authenticated their popularity. They’ve won 12 league titles, 57 domestic cup competitions, and one African confederation cup. They’ve never finished lower than 9th in the league in the 40 years of their existence. Their best team was the 2001-2002 team, which won the Vodacom Challenge, the BP Top Eight Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup, and the African Cup Winners Cup. They eventually played Al Ahly in the 2001 CAF Super Cup, and at the end of the season Kaizer Chiefs was named the CAF Club of the Year.

The club has run into some tougher times in the past few years, but that hasn’t diminished their popularity. Their jersey releases are highly anticipated around the world due to its yellow-and-black striped designs, and many of the continent’s best players have played for the Chiefs at one point. The Kaizer Chiefs will no doubt continue to be one of the most popular teams in all of Africa, and it all began with an American link.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.