The club was founded in 1937 and was originally based in Orlando, Soweto. They are named 'Pirates' after the 1940 film The Sea Hawk starring Errol Flynn. Orlando Pirates are the first club since the inception of the Premier Soccer League in 1996 to have won three major trophies in a single season back to back, having won the domestic league, the Nedbank Cup and the MTN 8 during the 2010–11 season and domestic league, Telkom Knockout and the MTN 8 during the 2011–12 season. They are the only South African team to have won the CAF Champions League, which they did in 1995 and they were the runners up of 2013 CAF Champions League after they were defeated 3–1 on aggregate by Al Ahly of Egypt. Orlando Pirates remains the only team since the inception of the PSL in 1996 to have beeen always in the top eight bracket.
Orlando Pirates is one of South Africa’s oldest football clubs having been established in 1937 in Orlando East, Soweto. The club's performances over the years have served as an inspiration for young soccer players to strive to play the Beautiful Game at the highest level in the black and white colours of the ‘Buccaneers’.
The founders of Orlando Pirates included offspring of migrant workers who moved from rural areas to work in the gold mines of Gauteng. Boys in Orlando came together at every available opportunity in open spaces and in informal groupings to play soccer. That original club was called the Orlando Boys Club.
In 1940, Buthuel Mokgosinyane, the first president, bought the first team kit with his own funds. Orlando Boys participated in Johannesburg Bantu Association's Saturday League, where they won the Division Two title and gained promotion to Division One in 1944. Andrew Bassie, a key member of the team, suggested the new name 'Orlando Pirates'. The team composed the camp's war cry 'Ezimnyama Ngenkani'.
Over the years, Orlando Pirates – also known as ‘The Happy People’ – have accumulated a record of successes having won the National Professional Soccer League title in 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976, the National Soccer League title in 1994, and the Premier Soccer League title four times, in 2001, 2003, 2011 and 2012. Their first place finish in the 2010–11 domestic league campaigns has generated much excitement among the club’s vast fan-base.
In 2011, Orlando Pirates enjoyed tremendous success by winning the 2010–11 Premier Soccer League, The Nedbank Cup, The MTN 8 Cup and The Telkom Knockout. This year was dubbed as the "The Happy Year"
Many other cup triumphs in domestic soccer have also been recorded, including Vodacom Challenge title victories in the inaugural 1999 tournament and in 2005. But the African continent and other areas of the soccer world took notice of Orlando Pirates Football Club when they won the African Champions Cup (now known as the Champions League) in 1995 and the African Super Cup a year later. Pirates were and still are the only Southern Hemisphere club to have won the African Champions League. This achievement resulted in the club being honoured by the first State President of the new democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela – another first for a South African sporting team.
In 2005, Orlando Pirates achieved Superbrand status. Superbrands is an international company that identifies and rewards the leading brands around the world; Pirates are the only South African sports team next to the Springboks and Proteas to be given this status.
Club chairman, Irvin Khoza, who also served on the 2010 World Cup Bid Committee, must be credited with the club’s rise to fame over the past few years as the Orlando Pirates supporters – who are nicknamed ‘The Ghosts’ – have had much to cheer about.
Kaizer Chiefs chairman Kaizer Motaung and his Jomo Cosmos counterpart Jomo Sono were popular players of the highest calibre for the Buccaneers before starting their own clubs. Their playing history is deeply entrenched in the black and white colours of Orlando Pirates.
In 2005, the team, along with Interza Lesego and Ellis Park Stadium Ltd, announced its acquisition of a 51% share in Ellis Park Stadium, making it the first majority black owned stadium in South Africa.
The Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates is one of the most fiercely contested derbies in world soccer. And in contrast to most of the other games played in the Premier Soccer League in South Africa, matches between the two arch rivals attract a full house of supporters almost without fail.
In the South African PSL, only five non-South African nationals can be registered. Foreign players who have acquired permanent residency can be registered as locals. Namibians born before 1990 do not count as foreigners.