Whilst growing up in Port Elizabeth, the Boet Erasmus Stadium was the epicentre of Eastern Province Rugby. During the early 1970’s I watched a match there. It was the one and only time that I ever went there. Now this icon is no more.
Main picture: A recent photograph of the decaying stadium, stripped bare of all its fittings, railings and miscellaneous steel.
EPRU Stadium, also known by its original name of Boet Erasmus Stadium, was a stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The letters “EPRU” in the name represent the Eastern Province Rugby Union, the company behind the stadium’s historic primary tenants, the Mighty Elephants. The original name Boet Erasmus Stadium was named after Boet Erasmus, a former mayor of Port Elizabeth. The stadium held a capacity of 33,852 people and served primarily as a venue for rugby union matches but also hosted a number of football fixtures.
The commentary that follows was obtained from the Weekend Post & Wikipedia
Port Elizabeth’s rugby stadium, for years fondly known as “The Boet” survived floods and an embarrassing blackout while the world watched, but it was the 2010 Soccer World Cup that brought it to the end of its 46-year lifespan. It was the third oldest stadium in the country, officially opened on April 30, 1960, when Scotland played against the Springboks.
It was originally called the Boet Erasmus Stadium after a former Mayor of Port Elizabeth, but the stadium’s name was changed to Telkom Park in 1997 and then to the Eastern Province Rugby Football Union Stadium six years later, when Telkom withdrew its sponsorship. Eventually it was renamed the EP Rugby Union Stadium when the governing body of rugby in the province, following the policy taken by the SA Rugby Union, decided to drop the “football” from its title.
On September 1, 1968, the stadium was struck by flash floods which uprooted trees and damaged buildings. After donations from other rugby unions around the country, the stadium was repaired. Various developers have warned over the years that although the land is situated in a prime position, it is vulnerable to flooding. The ground received a facelift in 1985 when executive suites were built and the main stand was revamped. A hotel group expressed interest in buying the site, but plans never materialised.
The stadium was a happy hunting ground for the Springboks over many years. They have lost only one Test there throughout its existence. The stadium is also infamous for the two historic battles that took place there. In 1974 there was the “Battle of the Boet”, one of the most violent in rugby history and a direct result of JPR Williams literally running from the other side of the pitch and launching himself into an unsuspecting Bok after a 99-Call. The 99 call, used by Willie John McBride and the 1974 British Lions, was a pre-arranged all-out attack on the South African team if one of the South African players was deemed to have committed a violent infraction that had gone unpunished by the home referees.
Upon hearing the call of “99”, each player would find the nearest opponent and attack him. This was based on the correct assumption that the referee would not dare to send off all the Lions if they all resorted simultaneously to violence. The Lions won that game, which decided the series. Another Battle of Boet Erasmus took place on 3 June 1995 during the 1995 World Cup fight between South Africa and Canada. This match will also be remembered as the one that featured a 45 minute power failure just before kick off.
Pieter Hendriks, Springbok understudy for Chester Williams on the wing and his opposite number, Winston Stanley, tussled their way into touch, the latter being shoved though the advertising hoardings. Referee David McHugh was on hand and that should have been that. But Canada’s fullback Scott Stewart charged in from some distance and struck Hendriks from behind. Then all hell broke loose. At the end of it all Dalton, Rees and Snow, seemingly being picked at random by the referee, were given their marching orders and 30 day suspensions. Hendriks, for kicking, and Stewart, as the originator of the brawl, were cited the following day and later suspended for 90 and 60 days respectively.
The Boet Erasmus surface had always been regarded as one of the best in the country. It could rain for up to an hour before the start of a game and it would still be fine. And rain it did on a wet and cold June day in 1980, when Naas Botha kicked a conversion which won the match for South Africa against the Lions 12-10, making the series safe. And who, fortunate enough to have been present at the stadium in 1970, could forget the two glorious tries scored by Springbok wing Gert Muller when the Boks downed the All Blacks at The Boet.
In 1991, several Kaizer Chiefs players narrowly escaped serious injury when retaining walls collapsed under the weight of fans leaning over the entrance of the stadium’s tunnel. The walls and the spectators fell on top of four Chiefs players who had been going onto the field for a match against Orlando Pirates. Players, including international star Doctor Khumalo, were pinned to the ground but did not suffer serious injury.
The stadium was also home to Eastern Province which at one time was among the top four or five provincial sides in the country. It was a particularly imposing venue for touring international sides which traditionally had to play EP first on their tour – a system some criticised as being designed to “soften up” the team prior to the big matches.
Here is final charming little vignette about the Boet Erasmus Stadium: “The Boet was built on a seasonal tributary of the normally insignificant Shark River.The water flowed through the field, causing extensive damage. It took months before the donga across the playing field was filled and the grass replanted, but the field was ready for the All Blacks tour of 1970. After the 1981 floods, EP rugby player Gavin Cowley and EP cyclist Martin Nefdt paid a visit to the field.There were amazed to find the field flooded to a depth of more than three metres and decided to swim across it as no one else would be able to make such a unique claim.They quickly returned home for their swimming trunks and flippers and set off from the open stand side across the field, their first objective to touch the crossbeam of the posts on the Humewood side of the field.Then they continued their swim across to the stadium side and back to the open stand“
The stadium has been abandoned and has been dismantled by vagrants and thieves. All that remains is the cast concrete structures.
The stadium was officially closed in July 2010. The Eastern Province Rugby Union has moved all games to the new world class Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The last match to be played at the stadium was a friendly against the Blue Bulls on 3 July 2010. The Boet hosted age-group, amateur and club rugby matches after being officially closed but has since been abandoned, with vagrants and thieves having slowly dismantled the stadium to such an extent that all that remains are the concrete structures. The local municipality, who own the property, has asked for proposals from the private sector for the redevelopment of the land.
Goodbye, ou boet.
The man after whom this Stadium was named: Boet Erasmus. At the time he was Chairman of the Board of PE Tramways.