A legacy of champions

Neale Emslie

PORT Elizabeth hosted the first cricket and rugby Tests ever to be played by South Africa.

But Nelson Mandela Bay’s sporting heritage extends much further than that.

In the late 1800s, South Africa was a fledgling in international sport, but it all started in 1888-89 when CA Smith’s touring England cricket team took on South Africa at St George’s Park, which houses the PE Crusaders Sports Club, for the first ever cricket Test in South Africa.

Two years later, the venue scored another sporting first for the city when the first ever South African rugby Test was played against Bill Maclagan’s British Isles team.

Sporting activities in the city, however, started with PE Cricket Club, known as PECC, becoming the first cricket club to be formed in South Africa in 1843.

PECC was not the first sports club to be formed in the city.

That honour goes to the PE Quoit Club, which was formed in 1842, although PECC is still going strong 168 years later.

In 1966-67, St George’s park played host to South Africa’s first ever series win over Australia, while, 25 years later, Kepler Wessels’s new-look SA side won their first Test after the sport’s unification against India at the same stadium.

PE had a significant role in South Africa’s return from sporting isolation because the new unified body, the United Cricket Board of South Africa, was created after a meeting in the city in 1992.

At that stage, PE had Geoff Dakin as the first president of the UCB, Peter van der Merwe as the first convener of selectors following unification, and Wessels as the first Test captain.

Sporting firsts in PE came in other areas. Following the PE Quoit Club and PECC in the 1840s came the establishment of the Port Elizabeth Turf Club – the oldest in the country – in 1857.

In 1880, the Amateur Athletics and Cycling Club was formed and then South Africa’s first bowls club – Port Elizabeth Bowling Club – came into existence in 1882.

The first basketball Test was played in PE in 1959 and the next year, the first ever women’s cricket Test was staged in PE. In 1963, the first amateur wrestling Test was held here, with SA hosting Germany, and in 1969, the first competition of Bocce, an Italian form of bowls, was organised by PE’s Italian Club against East London.

 PE-produced Graeme Pollock, one of the greatest batsman ever from South Africa, was chosen as the country’s Cricketer of the Century in 2000.

A player who shared Pollock’s mantle of greatness was Springbok rugby centre Danie Gerber, who grew up in Despatch.

Cricket allrounder Khaya Majola was a colossus in his own right, even if his potential was severely stunted by the days of segregation. His younger brother, Gerald continues the Majola sporting tradition in his post as CEO for Cricket SA.

In soccer, PE’s Danny Jordaan was appointed World Cup supremo when the football extravaganza was awarded to South Africa and, despite the naysayers, he delivered a tournament which would go down as one of the country’s greatest success stories.

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