The Rabbitohs Grand Final is one for the artists and dreamers

An article originally published in The Conversation by Ms. Liz Giuffre, Lecturer of Media, Music and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, and someone I always respected.

IMG_1380This 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.

IMG_1401This 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:

IMG_1394an Australian community and team trying to keep its identity in the face of the corporate dollar and an attempt to squeeze a few more bucks out of Pay TV.

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.

The Rabbitohs on stage

IMG_1403In 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.

IMG_1413Delivered 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.

From Saint George to Superbacker Russell

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.

IMG_1410

An open letter to Manly coach Geoff Toovey.

Dear Sir,

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.

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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.

Yeah, right.

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.”

Oh dear!

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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.

Greg Inglis & Adam Reynolds from South Sydney

Greg Inglis (with stitches) and Adam Reynolds from South Sydney

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.

Souths Turn 105 Today

On the 17 January, way back in 1908, the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was founded at Redfern Town Hall and Rugby League was born. Nine teams comprised the competition that year. They were, in alphabetical order;

Souths won the inaugural game of Rugby League, held at Birchgrove Oval, by defeating North Sydney 11 points to 7. South Sydney finished as minor premiers that year and went on to win the very first Grand Final by beating Eastern Suburbs 14 points to 12.

Since their auspicious beginnings Souths have gone on to win 20 premierships in total, a Rugby League record in Australia. We have also produced 64 Australian internationals, another record.

In 1925 Souths went through the entire season undefeated. They were the first Rugby League team to do so and are still one of only six teams to have ever achieved that milestone.

In 1951 Souths defeated Manly-Warringah 42 points to 14 in the Grand Final to claim their 13th title. It still remains as the highest score by any team in a Grand Final and the third highest margin. Manly gained some credibility back when they belted the Melbourne Storm 40 points to nil in 2008 😉

The miracle of ’55 saw Souths will eleven straight sudden death games in a row to claim their sixteenth premiership trophy.

The ’60s and ’70s saw four more Grand Final successes for the Rabbitohs, but times have been very lean since. In 2012 Souths finished third, which is their best performance since taking out the minor premiership in 1989.

With the largest membership base of any Sydney team, effective recruitment strategies and strong ties to the indigenous community, the Souths are poised to bring home their 21st premiership trophy.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney and happy birthday to the mighty Rabbitohs.

Birthday

Matt’s Notes Second Anniversary

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,

comedic interludes,

poignant thoughts,

personal opinions

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.”

iDad the Eighth

Move over Maradona.

By the time I had become a proud father of five I was nearing my late thirties. Unfortunately I had gained weight with each and every child that came along and my physique was no longer the bronzed Adonis of my early adolescence. My body had matured, like a fine wine or mouldy cheese and had slowed down to the speed of a turtle wading through treacle. I was in shape though. ‘Round’ is a shape after all. However, at the insistence of my partner, I returned to the sporting arena.

Standing in the Colosseum as rambunctious Romans bayed for Christian blood, shortly before the lions were let loose, was an exhilarating experience.  A crisp breeze dispersing the scent of blood before fear and defiance set in. At least that’s how I imagined it. The indoor soccer grounds at the local gym smelled more like old sweat and dirty socks, and the kids had come along to laugh at poor iDad as he waddled around breathlessly trying to compete with men not much more than half his age.

I lasted twenty minutes that first day.

As I stopped and spun anti-clockwise so as to kick the ball back into the field of play I heard a muffled gunshot. A millisecond later and my left knee could no longer bear my weight. The referee’s whistle blew and the young official approached me.

“Are you ok mate?”

I had no idea. Pain hadn’t set in yet. Nausea on the other hand…. Something was wrong.

“I don’t know. What happened?”

“Your knee popped. I heard it from over there. You need to go put ice on it.”

As I hobbled off the pitch for my ignominious exit I saw the man from the food shop walk round from behind the counter. He was carrying a bag of frozen peas, which he threw towards me.

“Get this on your knee quick smart mate or it will blow up like a balloon.”

“Did you hear it pop too?”

He grimaced at me before replying.

“Everybody heard that mate.”

He was right. The entire gymnasium had gone silent, and I was off to hospital.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney

Being an armchair athlete and the son of a Rugby League referee helped instill a passion for sports, and my favourite team is the South Sydney Rabbitohs. To date I have never seen them play in a grand final, let alone win one, but with Russell Crowe on board as the owner, iDad is quietly confident.

Rugby League is the dominant winter sport played across the eastern seaboard of Australia with the local competition boasting clubs from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand. It is played in over thirty nations throughout the globe with annual Test Matches between international sides and a Rugby League World Cup competition, with fourteen representative nations, held every four years or so.

It is a full contact, tribal game with some teams (and their fans) harboring grudges that go back over one hundred years. The annual State of Origin series pits New South Welshmen against their Queensland rivals, many of whom play in the same local sides together. Friendships are forgotten once the athletes walk out into the cauldron and the punishment these men put their bodies through needs to be seen to be believed.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are the most historically successful Rugby League team of them all. Unfortunately our glory has been few and far between in recent decades and it has become a sad reality that our supporters seem to have a mortgage on disappointment. This is reflected in our club mottos including:

The very popular, ‘oh well, there’s always next week.’

The seasonal, ‘oh well, there’s always next year.’

And the most frequently used of them all – ‘bugger’.

The love we have for our team can never be questioned though and in the year 2000, a crowd of 80,000 people marched on Sydney Town Hall to protest the way News Limited were treating the game and to demand that our club be reinstated back into the national competition. No. 1 was there with me. God Sakes and Granny had stayed at home. Fans wearing club colours from new teams, old teams and extinct teams vented their frustrations to the media; and the Rabbitohs went to court with a fire in their belly. We have not enjoyed much success since winning our case and resuming our playing status in 2002, but a true supporter never gives up.

One day, after a particularly bad beating at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors, three sad little boys came to have a chat to me. No.1 was the spokesman,

“Dad, we love you.”

I could tell right away that this was not going to go anywhere good. God Sakes and Granny looked at their shoes as No.1 continued.

“But do we have to keep going for Souths?”

iDad was speechless.

“They never win dad.”

God Sakes was right.

“They suck dad.”

Granny was too. I nodded sagely.

“No boys, you don’t have to keep following Souths if you don’t want to.”

It hurt for me to say it, but I felt I had no choice. Then they delivered the coup de grace.

“We’re also going to start going for Queensland in the State of Origin. New South Wales never wins that either.”

As the terrible trio toddled off to cause chaos in the rumpus room I slumped back into my armchair and watched wistfully as another Warrior was congratulated for his part in decimating our once beloved red and green footy team. My knee throbbed from the recent reconstruction and I wondered how I would tell their grandfather of the betrayal.

Then a cunning plan formed in the grey matter of my cerebellum. Time for a Chinese meal.

Power to the People.

Stuff of legend...John Sattler, suffering a broken jaw, is chaired off by Bob McCarthy after Souths beat Manly in the 1970 grand final. Source: The Daily Telegraph

The South Sydney Rugby League Club in Redfern had arguably one of the best Chinese restaurants around. Nothing flash or fancy, just plenty of prawn cutlets, gow gee and fried rice. It was inexpensive, tasty and kid-friendly, which made it the perfect ‘westwomp’ as the boys had come to call it. Generally we would go as a family unit with uncles, aunties, cousins and grand-parents. Our table was large and round, and the Lazy Susan was kept incredibly busy.

Outside the restaurant, but still within the building, was the South Sydney Football Club Hall of Fame where photos of players that had gone on to represent their state or country, were hung with pride. The most memorable of all was the picture of John Sattler, South Sydney’s captain in the late sixties and early seventies, being carried off the field after wining the 1970 Grand Final against Manly-Warringah. Blood coursed down his chin from a badly broken jaw he received in the opening minutes of the game. In spite of his horrendous injury he not only played on, but captained his side to one of the most courageous Grand Final wins of all time. As I told the story to my boys their eyes widened.

“Souffs are cooool!”

Once again Granny was right.

One Little Girl hadn’t arrived yet and Mini Me was still bottle fed, so it was just the five us at the table this night. The staff were amazing in spite of the mess Granny made with the ‘chomp-stinks’. God Sakes had given up on them ages ago. He just couldn’t stuff the food in quick enough.

By the time dinner had ended there was a fine layer of rice coating the carpet like sago snow and no more talk about supporting rival teams. To this day my boys are all still members of the football club, waiting patiently for success.

As my boisterous boys embarked on another brouhaha in the brasserie, possibly high on monosodium glutamate, I noticed that there was a minor commotion in the kitchen. Curious onlookers peered from the double doorway as the head-waiter approached me with a purpose.

“Are these all your children?”

For one horrible second I thought we may have finally outstayed our welcome.

“Yes, they’re all mine.”

He turned to the scullery and nodded prompting ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and eyes widened with awe. Then I was posed another question.

“They are all boys?”

“Yes they are.”

More vigorous head bobbing evoked a round of applause from the chef and his crew.

“You must be a very powerful man.”

With that last comment he left to process my credit card. He was right you know, but he still got a big tip.