The Transvaal Rugby Union was founded in 1889, which makes it the 4th oldest rugby union in South Africa, with only Western Province (1883), Griqualand West (1886) and Eastern Province (1888) older.
When the union was formed in 1889, it was named Transvaal, based on the name of the province that the union was in at the time.
The first rugby match by Transvaal was played on Saturday, 31 August 1889 against Griquas in Kimberley.
Transvaal played all their home fixtures at the Wanderers until 1928, when Ellis Park was used for the first time. Later in the 1980's, Ellis Park was converted into a modern stadium, a process that took about 2 years (1980 and 1981), and once again, during these two seasons, the Lions played their home fixtures at the Wanderers. South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup in 2010, and for the tournament some of the rugby stadiums, including Ellis Park, were used to host matches, and once again this required a minor upgrade to Ellis Park, but this time the work did not require that home fixtures had to be moved elsewhere.
On the left you can see a photo of the Transvaal side that played a match against Griquas in 1907.
A little bit more about the history of Ellis Park: The area where Ellis Park is situated today, was identified in 1927, and the TRFU (Transvaal Rugby Football Union) negotiated with Mr. JD Ellis (after whom Ellis Park was named) from the Johannesburg City Council, who made 13 acres of land available, and building of the new stadium commenced.
The stadium was built in 8 months, and was used for the first time in 1928.
Ellis Park was upgraded to a modern stadium during 1980 and 1981, when matches were played at the Wanderers again, and currently has a capacity of 62500.
The name of the union was changed from Transvaal to the Lions in 1993 and to the Golden Lions in 1998. The very last team that played as Transvaal was the team that played against an Italian XV on a tour match on 25 November 1992.
17 May 2006 - Eugene Eloff appointed as coach of the Lions, replacing Frans Ludeke, who moved to the Bulls.
15 January 2007 - Andy Turner resigns as Lions CEO.
3 September 2007 - Manie Reyneke appointed as Lions CEO.
4 Fabruary 2008 - Auto & General announced a three year sponsorship deal worth R30m with the Lions.
3 July 2008 - Coca-Cola came on board as the naming rights sponsor for Ellis Park, a 4.5 year deal believed to be worth R45m.
25 March 2009 - Forwards coach Leon Boshoff was accused of making racial remarks but found not guilty in a hearing. He still ended up getting relieved from his contract with the Lions.
27 May 2009 - Eugene Eloff was asked to step down as coach and Hans Coetzee was appointed as caretaker coach in his place.
10 June 2009 - Lions President Jannie Ferreira and Vice-President Manie Reyneke stepped down after facing a pressure group consisting of former players and all 21 clubs. Reyneke did stay on as CEO of the Lions.
31 October 2009 - Kevin de Klerk elected as President of the Lions, and Dick Muir appointed as coach on a 3-year contract.
26 April 2010 - A sad day for LionsWorld, we heard through the grapevine that then Lions CEO, Manie Reyneke, revoked our media accreditation at the Lions. This was in a season where the Lions lost all 13 their Super Rugby matches, and obviously we were questioning the capabilities of Management.
17 May 2010 - Just 2 days after losing 59-10 against the Cheetahs, and the 13th loss in a row for the Lions in Super Rugby, Dick Muir was axed as Lions coach. This was just 7 months into a 3-year contract and resulted in legal proceedings between the coach and the Lions. At the same time John Mitchell was named as the new Lions coach. This was a controversial appointment, as he was sacked at his previous role at the Force with rumours that he didn't always get along with the players.
20 January 2011 - MTN was named as new sponsor for the Lions for the 2011 to 2013 seasons.
29 October 2011 - The Lions won the Currie Cup for the first time since 1999 when they beat the Sharks 42-16 at Ellis Park. The CEO, Manie Reyneke also left the union at the end of October 2011 to join Stadium Management SA, the company that manages the FNB stadium.
10 February 2012 - Redefine Properties came on board as a sponsor for the 2012 to 2014 seasons.
22 June 2012 - Coach John Mitchell was suspended after player complaints, and he was temporarily replaced by Johan Ackermann.
16 August 2012 - The general council of Saru voted the Lions out of Super Rugby with a majority of 23-6. It later transpired that the only two unions that supported the Lions were the Bulls and the Sharks. Unfortunately this came after several bad years for the Lions in Super Rugby, and the decision was probably justified, even though it was hard to swallow for a Lions supporter.
31 August 2012 - I had several meetings with President Kevin de Klerk after LionsWorld lost our media accreditation, and eventually we received our media accreditation back and I think this match against Griquas on 31 August 2012 was the first match we attended again after an absence of just over 2 years since April 2010.
23 November 2012 - John Mitchell's job was changed to a consultancy role and Johan Ackermann named new head coach. Just a week later, on 28 November 2012, Mitchell quit his job at the Lions.
5 December 2012 - Manie Booysen was named as new Lions CEO, effective from January 2013.
26 July 2013 - The Lions played the Kings in a promotion relegation match for Super Rugby in Port Elizabeth and won 26-19.
3 August 2013 - The 2nd promotion relegation match against the Kings, this time at a full Ellis Park. The Lions lost 18-23, but with the +2 points difference was promoted to play Super Rugby again in 2014. This was a hugely important day for the Lions, as a loss would probably have meant the end of the team as a professional entity.
1 June 2014 - Rudolf Straeuli took over as the new Lions CEO.
11 December 2014 - Emirates Airlines was named as the new title sponsor for 5 years, from 2015 to 2019, a deal believed to be worth just over R150m, and Ellis Park was also renamed to Emirates Airline Park.
In the 2015 Currie Cup season the Lions was unbeaten and also won the final, the 1st time since 1996 that this was done.
In the 2016 Super Rugby season the Lions won 11 games in the regular season and then the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final for 13 wins in the season, a new record for the Franchise, and also played in their 1st ever Super Rugby Final but lost 3-20 to the Hurricanes in Wellington, New Zealand.
In the 2017 Super Rugby season the Lions won 14 games in the regular season and then the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final for 16 wins in the season, a new record for the Franchise, and then played in their 2nd ever Super Rugby Final but lost 17-25 to the Crusaders at Ellis Park.
Johan Ackermann resigned as Lions coach at the end of the 2017 Super Rugby season to join Gloucester Rugby in England. His deputy, Swys de Bruin, was appointed as the new Head coach of the Lions for Currie Cup and Super Rugby.
In the 2018 Super Rugby season the Lions won 9 games in the regular season, but still ended top of the South African Franchises and seeded 2nd overall. They won their Quarter-Final and Semi-Final to qualify for the 3rd Final in a row, but lost the in the Final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
On 17 August 2018 Ivan van Rooyen was announced as head coach for the Currie Cup competition, replacing Swys de Bruin, who would be involved with the Springboks as an attack consultant for the Rugby championship.
On 29 August 2018 Lions President Kevin de Klerk announced that he has decided to step down as President, after being in the position just 2 months short of 9 years.
On 17 September 2018 Neville Jardine was elected as the new President of the Lions.
The Lions finished 9th on the Super Rugby log in 2019, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the 1st time in four years. Ivan van Rooyen was named to coach the Currie Cup side for the second season running.
On 23 July 2019 it was announced that Emirates Airlines renewed their sponsorship with the Lions for a further 5 years, from 2020 to 2024. The deal was similar in value to the previous five year deal, namely about R150m.
On 15 September 2019 it was reported in the press that the Lions decided not to renew the contracts of Joey Mongalo and Bart Schoeman. Joey was the head coach of the Lions under 19 side that won titles in 2016 and 2017, as well as being involved as defense coach from 2011 to 2019 from junior to senior rugby. Unfortunately he was found guilty of indecent assault by an Australian court from an incident in April 2018 while the Lions Super Rugby side was touring in Australia, and this seemed to count against his contract being renewed. Bart Schoeman joined the Lions in March 2013 as Recruitment and Contracting Manager and many people credit him with luring great players to the union, players that perhaps were no-names at their unions and then became stars when they got the opportunity at the Lions. In June 2014 he was promoted to the position of High Performance Manager. It was unclear what the Lions reason was for not renewing Bart's contract.
On 11 October 2019 it was announced that the Lions and Super Rugby coach Swys de Bruin would part ways, even though Swys still had 2 years left on his contract.
On 30 October 2019 Ivan van Rooyen was announced as the new Super Rugby coach of the Lions, this after coaching the Lions in the Currie Cup in 2018 and 2019.
On 8 May 2020 it was announced that Edgar Rathbone, the Managing Director of Ellis Park Stadium, would depart the Lions and join the Blue Bulls as their new CEO. About a month later, on 17 June 2020, Pieter Burger, CEO of the Pumas, was announced as the new Managing Director of Ellis Park Stadium.
Super 10: 1993
Currie Cup (11): 1922, 1939, 1950, 1952, 1971 (shared), 1972, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2011, 2015.
Lion Cup (5): 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994
Vodacom Cup (5): 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2013