Turning off the Joe Slovo off-ramp one cannot help but feel the sense of excitement and anticipation as you drive towards south-east Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium. Also known as Coca-Cola Park due to the stadium’s sponsorship deal with the giant Coca-Cola Company, Ellis Park holds approximately 60 000 people and is host to both football (soccer) and rugby events as well as large open-air concerts.
The creation of the home of rugby
The stadium takes its name from the 1927 Johannesburg city council’s Mr J.D. Ellis who originally provided the 53 000m2 of land, which was at the time a quarry and a garbage dump, for the stadium to be built. The final rental agreement between the Transvaal Rugby Football Union and the city was made on 10 October 1927 and the building of the stadium began. The grass was quoted at £600 and the construction was paid for through a £5 000loan from the city council. The stadium was built in just eight months and was officially opened in June 1928 with a test match between South Africa and the All Blacks.
The unification of a nation
Synonymous with rugby in South Africa, the stadium has had many large rugby games played at it including the historical World Cup final in 1995, the first Rugby World Cup held in South Africa and the first major sporting event to take place in the country after the official end of the Apartheid racial segregation regime.
The momentous impact of the entire World Cup and most notably the Final could not have been predicted, as the World Cup saw the unification of the nation as Joel Stransky scored the winning drop goal in extra time to crown South Africa as world champions. Iconic moments such as the drop goal and the handing over of the Webb Ellis Cup by Nelson Mandela to rugby Captain Francois Pienaar will forever be recorded in the annals of South African history.
Ellis Park today
Today Ellis Park is home to one of South Africa’s top premier football (soccer) league teams; the Orlando Pirates as well as the Lions Super Rugby team and the Golden Lions Currie Cup Rugby team. The park made history in 2005 by becoming the first black-owned stadium in South Africa when the Golden Lions Rugby Football Union passed the management of Ellis Park Precinct to a 51% black ownership company.