Glory Glory to South Sydney!
Glory Glory to South Sydney!
This coming weekend’s Rugby League Grand Final has already made history. The South Sydney Rabbitohs, a team that were on the chopping block just over a decade ago, are now in the big game – against the Canterbury Bulldogs – after 43 years of waiting. Their story has gained attention well beyond a little pocket of Sydney suburbia, with good reason.
The drama of the little team that could has been riveting – and it’s attracted actors, theatre-makers, and comedians keen to tell the story again and again.
Rugby League isn’t a game that obviously and overtly draws artistic types; but the South Sydney Rabbitohs are a different type of team. They are an inner city/south east Sydney team that attracts battlers and underdogs. And the team has been close to the brink many times.
In the late 1990s the Murdochs proposed a Super League competition and Souths, who were lingering at the bottom of the ladder, faced extinction. The fan community rallied and the team has survived – but the showdown with News Limited hasn’t been forgotten.
This week Fairfax newspapers revived the saga, arguing, “whenever you see a Murdoch newspaper claim ‘we’re for Souths’, remember the treachery and call it hypocrisy”.
The battle to save Souths wasn’t just about community versus corporations, but in this case, the media corporation, News Limited, and its desire to take the game to Pay TV. This was a “little Aussie battler” arguing over identity and types of belonging that were much bigger than simply a code.
In 1999, when the future of the team was in strife, tens of thousands of Sydneysiders took to the streets to try to turn the tide. As Rabbitohs fan Andrew Denton put it on the ABC’s Australian Story in 1999, it was a display of:
In Denton’s words from that time: “You don’t have to follow football or understand the game to follow [the] story. It’s that old classic David and Goliath”.
By 2001 the team’s fate looked stronger and Australian Story returned again to the Bunnies. Comedian and Rabbitohs supporter Mikey Robbins called the Souths:
more than a story about a football team, it’s about a small community that took on a multinational, multimedia organisation.
In 2004 the story of the Rabbitohs vs News Limited was developed for the stage by writer Alana Valentine and Kate Gaul and supported by Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre as Run Rabbit Run. The production broke stereotypes about rubgy league: the show was driven by women, “arty” types and Indigenous communities – not a club of beer-swigging boofy white blokes.
A key feature was the letters of support (and advice for the Murdochs) from people like the broadcaster Caroline Jones. Her letter, as reproduced in the teacher’s notes for the play, addressed Murdoch junior:
Dear Lachlan, it might help if I explain a few things about Australians … They say we’re still not sure what our identity is, but try taking it away from us and you’ll soon find out because suddenly it becomes very clear what it is to be unAustralian.
Delivered during the Howard years, when being called unAustralian was the ultimate insult, these were fighting words. It was as if an attack on the identity of a local, historical, social group such as South Sydney was an attack not just on football but on the nation.
Run Rabbit Run covered the drama of the game on its own terms and also dealt with the politics within the Rabbitohs’ traditional fan base, one that encompasses a spectrum of fans including working class, Indigenous and disadvantaged communities, as well as inner city and international superstar types.
The original fight to save Souths came via the former Chairman of South Sydney Leagues Club and former player George Piggins.
He was the man who took the NRL and New Limited to court. The 2001 Australian Story was really his, titled simply “In George We Trust”.
But once the battle to stay on the field was won, the battle to build a winning team was taken over by a much bigger player, or at least one with much deeper pockets – Russell Crowe.
Crowe purchased the team with Peter Holmes à Court in 2006. He has famously bankrolled Armani suits for players, poured rivers of cash into the team’s infrastructure, and made sure his Hollywood mates know what team to support when they’re visiting.
A photo gallery of Famous Rabbitohs Fans includes Oprah Winfrey, Snoop Dogg, Ben Affleck, Eva Mendes, Christian Bale and Pamela Anderson all in bunnies gear – none even necessarily even knowing what NRL is, but at least willing to fly the flag. Crowe and Holmes à Court have made the team financially viable and the code’s biggest brand – not bad for a team thought of a dispensable not so long ago.
As for the actual game this weekend, the team is as strong as it’s been in a long time. Whether Souths win or not – although, wouldn’t it be lovely! – the story of the Rabbitohs remains unique, unlikely and inspiring.
Let’s examine some recent evidence.
Manly centre Steve Matai leaps into the air to clothesline George Burgess with a violent swinging forearm and only gets a one week suspension with an early guilty plea.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey spits the dummy.
Manly fullback Brett Stewart drops his elbow into Andrew Everingham’s jaw, even though Andrew wasn’t even carrying the ball, and gets away with the offence through an early guilty plea.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey has a whinge.
Manly forward Richie Fa’aoso drops Greg Inglis on his head not once, but twice, in a blatant and dangerous spear tackle and only gets an eight week suspension. Bulldogs centre Krisnan Inu got five weeks for doing it only once to Greg Inglis. Based on the precedence Richie Fa’aoso should have got at least ten.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey sooks to the cameras.
Manly forward Jason King also hits Greg Inglis with a spear tackle and drops him on his head, resulting in six stitches for the South Sydney fullback. No penalty at the time. No charges laid.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey bitches about how unfairly his team are treated.
Anyone could easily think that this list of misdemeanours occurred throughout an entire season, but they didn’t. They happened in one spiteful 80 minutes of Rugby League when Manly coach Geoff Toovey’s team showed up to fight and the South Sydney Rabbitohs concentrated on playing football.
In the post match conference, after Souths had run out convincing winners, Manly coach Geoff Toovey complained that the elbow to the jaw and the swinging arm did not warrant penalties. Manly coach Geoff Toovey also suggested that Greg Inglis was taking dives and falling on his head on purpose.
WTF Manly coach Geoff Toovey! Are you serious?
Manly captain Jamie Lyon claimed Greg Inglis head butted the ground on purpose so he could get a quick play-the-ball.
Manly winger Jorge Taufua thought the illegal forearm by Manly centre Steve Matai, was “f. . .ng awesome, man, I love playing outside that guy. When he pulls it off, I just lose it.”
Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans thought the illegal forearm by Manly centre Steve Matai was “a cracker of a hit.”
I wonder if he would feel the same if it was his face that Manly centre Steve Matai sought to rearrange with his right forearm.
Sensibly Manly forward Richie Fa’aoso hasn’t commented yet. Don’t forget though that this is the same guy who hit Gold Coast forward Ashley Harrison with an illegal shoulder charge earlier in the season. Ashley was left concussed and had to be stretchered off the field. Manly coach Geoff Toovey lashed out at the judiciary via every media outlet he could find that would listen to his insane rantings and managed to have the charge downgraded. Richie Fa’aoso only got a one week ban.
Manly forwards Justin Horo and Brenton Lawrence were put on report for dropping West Tigers centre Blake Ayshford on his head in round 4. Nothing happened to them.
These are not simply heavy hits from hard men in a tough game of Rugby League. They are blatant, illegal practices from a coach with no other ideas.
Well congratulations Manly coach Geoff Toovey, you have once again galvanised the entire rugby league community into a hatred for your team, something previous Manly coach Des Hasler had worked so hard to change.
Perhaps, Manly coach Geoff Toovey, you should concentrate on actually coaching your players on how to play football? Thuggery and brutal stupidity might have you riding high on the competition ladder at the moment, but as your players build up an unsavoury reputation with the judiciary, and the suspensions become longer and longer, you will slide into oblivion.
Just a thought.
P.S: Yes I am a South Sydney supporter and no, I have never played Rugby League outside of high-school. So what makes me qualified to comment? Check out the video above and see for yourself.
Images from the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, and Fox Sports.
I wrote a book once. Took years to complete and its still not published – sigh. Actually, if the truth be told, Harper Collins told me it still requires a tiny bit of editing, but not much – I’m a great writer 😉
As my old school chum and critically acclaimed author Justin Sheedy can attest, getting your first book onto the shelves requires an infinite amount patience, gallons of perspiration and the perseverance of a marathon runner. Aside from that, whilst starving for your craft is a noble pursuit, the hungry whining of five children means that most of the waking day is spent in paid employment instead of stalking would be publishers.
With the prospect of becoming noticed in a sea of hopefuls being somewhat akin to that horrible old saying about needles and haystacks, I turned to my friend and Social Media expert, Heidi Allen for advice. After baffling me with blogs, flummoxing me with FaceBook, tormenting me with Twitter and stumping me with SEO, she came up with three pieces of advice to help me ‘get out there.’
1.) Use Facebook for something other than posting funny pictures and status updates of the Souths game.
2.) Twitter can convey a message, even if it is restricted to 140 characters.
3.) Weblogs are a great way to start writing and get noticed.
So, on the 10th July 2010 as I sat in the park and watched my son referee a few games of junior Rugby League, I wrote a little story about my experience. Booralee became my first foray into online publishing and although I only got four comments on the web site, many others mentioned how much they enjoyed the post to me verbally.
Family and friends had been engaged 😉
I received plenty of comments on my second post (although looking back I think some of them may have been spam), which lead me to become a little bit cocky. The next article I produced was a commentary on why people should embrace Social Media.
Me, the little upstart who had only just graduated from YouTube kindergarten, writing a blog about the importance of social media?!? What an ego! Hey, it was incredibly well-researched and all my conclusions could be verified. It even got re-tweeted six times! It was a great piece of journalism, but I wasn’t a journalist, and the old adage of writing what you know came crashing down upon me.
In August 2010 I invented iDad and for almost two years now his calamitous and cringe-worthy lessons in life have entertained a growing audience of followers. In November 2010, our hero was actually picked up and published in Bare Essentials magazine. Notoriety at last 🙂
Currently my website is interspersed with the misadventures of iDad,
teasers from my book – Pine Gap,
and drawings from my son the budding artist.
Today is the second anniversary of the birth of my blog and I can proudly say that in the last two years I have had almost 300,000 visitors from all over the globe. Check out the map below and the list on the side to see where all these wonderful people are coming from. I even made the top 1000 list on ClustrMaps, a site that tracks your daily visitors.
I have been criticized, lauded, tweeted, insulted and re-blogged countless times so far (that’s me under the nine-ways of hangman and above the exploding whale). And even though there have been plenty of peaks and troughs as I went through phases in my life where I just could not find the mental or emotional capacity to right I have, by and large, enjoyed my hobby.
So, in the words of the great Indian mystic Apu Nahasapeemapetilon,
“Thank-you. Come again.”