This article explores the complex relationship between football (soccer) and social change in late colonial Zambia (formerly known as Northern Rhodesia). Based on archival and oral sources collected over two years in Zambia, it argues that by the time the colonial state and mining authorities expanded access to the game through new postwar welfare schemes intended to “detribalize” Africans and control them more effectively, black miners on the Copperbelt, one of colonial Africa's richest industrial areas, had already found ways to make British football their own. Self-administered leagues of black workers and sport administrators entertained crowds and provided ethnically diverse Zambians with a valuable opportunity to create new urban social networks, communities, and identities. Ordinary fans founded organized supporters' clubs that attempted to make coaches, club directors, and mine management accountable to the public by demanding success on the pitch as well as greater access to facilities and equipment. Assertive managerial participation in the game enabled some men to gain leadership experience that indirectly helped fuel the growing struggle for political independence. This study demonstrates how and why the sociability of miners and other wage-earning Africans had important political and cultural implications for sport and society in colonial Zambia.

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