Ellis Park Stadium: Steeped in history

Ellis Park Stadium
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Ellis Park Stadium, now known as Emirates Airline Park, has a rich history. The crown jewel of events held at the stadium has to be the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final.

Ryan Jordan digs into the history of Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) as a follow-up article to his piece to the grand old lady of South African Rugby, Newlands.

Ellis Park Stadium

The early years

The Transvaal Rugby Football Union (TRFU) was formed in 1889. They shared facilities with Wanderers Cricket Club in the area that has become inner-city Johannesburg. The sharing of facilities eventually became problematic and TRFU  had to search for an alternative venue.

The new venue

In 1927, a suitable site was found. Ellis Park was literally built on top of what was a rubbish dump. The TRFU negotiated the rental agreement for their new site with a Johannesburg City Councillor, Mr. J.D. Ellis. It was this Mr. Ellis that the stadium was named after.

The original stadium was built in eight months and in June 1928 the first Test was played against the All Blacks.

Embed from Getty ImagesNotable games

Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) has played host to very many notable games, from Currie Cup Finals to Super Rugby Finals. One of the most iconic pictures taken at this stadium was taken during the Springboks versus British Lions in 1955. Jack van der Schyff missed the place kick that would have won the game for the Springboks.

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The most iconic game

The most iconic game ever played at Ellis Park (Emirates Airline Park) has to be the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final. Aside from the fact that it was a home win for the Springboks, it was an incredible game. The scores were locked at 9-9 at full time. Extra time was played, which the Springboks had to win in order to take the William Webb Ellis Cup. This was due to the fact that the prevailing ruling was that the team with the better disciplinary record during the tournament won the game in case of a draw after extra time. If this happened, James Dalton’s red card against Canada in Port Elizabeth would decide the winners of RWC95.

This was not to be though. Andrew Mehrtens kicked a penalty for the All Blacks in the first half of extra time, taking the score to 12-9. In the second half, Joel Stransky succeeded with a penalty of his own to equal the scores. Stransky then made the play of the game and his career. From around 28 meters out on the right-hand side of the field he lined up one of the most famous drop kicks of all time. He slotted the kick and the Springboks won the final 15 – 12, sending the South African population into raptures.

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Ellis Park Stadium

Ellis Park is regarded as a fortress of Springbok rugby. They have played 52 Tests at this venue, winning 36, losing 13 and drawing 2.

The rugby history that has played itself out at this stadium can rival the history of any other stadium around the world. The stadium is not only known for rugby though. It has played host to other sports and events as well.

Other sports


Football regularly uses Emirates Airline Park. SAFA has used the Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) for local Premier Division games. It was also used for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup. 

A sad part of Ellis Park Stadium’s history is the death of 42 spectators due to a spectator stampede in 2001 during a game between the two giants of the South African football scene, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.


Between 1945 and 1954, Emirates Airline Park (Ellis Park) returned the favour to cricket, hosting first-class and Test cricket after the original Wanderers was decommissioned to accommodate a railway line. Some trivia regarding Test cricket being played at Ellis Park is:

Highest Test score of 195 by Cyril Washbrook for England vs South Africa in 1948.

Best bowling of 6 wickets for 13 by Hugh Tayfield against New Zealand in 1954.

Other events

Music concerts

Music artists such as Whitney Houston, Roxette, Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson and Eminem have been hosted at Ellis Park (Emirates Airline Park)

Ellis Park Stadium will always be in the hearts of South African rugby fans. Don’t let its humble surroundings fool you. Fans will always turn up to watch their beloved Springboks and Emirates Lions in action.

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