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A fish out of Redfern

Date

Phil Lutton on being a Rabbitohs fan north of the border.

South Sydney Rabbitohs fans cherish their glory days.

South Sydney Rabbitohs fans cherish their glory days. Photo: Getty Images

I know what you're thinking. Here's another feelgood piece about why it's so special to support South Sydney, why we're all deserving of a Cinderella story and why anyone without a team in the final four should adopt us like a little lost puppy that managed to find its way home after being caught in a storm.

You're only half right. I wouldn't say I'm special because of my team. More like desperate, irrational and, for the most part in Brisbane, relatively isolated in my cursed and largely mysterious attachment to one of Australian sport's favourite lost causes.

But I do think you should consider adopting the Rabbitohs from this point onwards if you're bereft of any emotional involvement in the NRL finals. It's a good bet I've wished your team well in September at some point over the past 34 years, unless you are my dad, who has a sad infatuation with Manly and firmly believes Cliff Lyons should be the next Immortal.

Phil Blake was instrumental in leading South Sydney to the minor premiership in 1989.

Phil Blake was instrumental in leading South Sydney to the minor premiership in 1989. Photo: Greg White

Being this deep into the finals is a whole new experience. I still can't tell whether my biggest fear is losing or watching my side get hijacked by inner-Sydney hipsters if we somehow beat the Bulldogs to make the grand final (Pre-emptive note: getting kicked out of the game wasn't ironically cool. It just sucked).

Since I was born in 1978, Souths have made the finals seven times; 1980, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 2007 and now. The first four are beyond recall but 1989 is burned into my funny little red-and-green brain, as it is to any Rabbitohs fan not around for the days when they plundered premierships like they were nicking down to the shops for a loaf of bread.

I was 11 years old. I rated shoes on how well they gripped and wore fluoro Catchit singlets in summer. I had recently come into possession of a tape deck with soft eject and high-speed dubbing, which I used to record music off the TV and make Rage mix-tapes.

Just when I thought life could scarcely get better, Souths won the minor premiership and launched into the finals like the Lamborghini Countach from the poster on my mate's wall, having lost just three games for the season. Three I tell you! We were plain stacked.

Between Phil Blake, easily my favourite player of the era, Craig Coleman, Mario Fenech and his quick taps, Steve Mavin, Jim Serdaris and even Bronko Djura (All-Name Team captain), it was difficult to find a weak link.

The Smith's Crisps jumpers were already classics. The Rabbitohs looked good and played even better. This was going to be a good Spring until they met Balmain in the major semi-final and the Raiders in the prelim. Out they went in straight sets like Bernard Tomic on valium.

Things only went downhill from there. We 'won' the wooden spoon the following season (hooray!), spent most of the 90s trying to stay solvent and at the end of 1999, were booted out of the competition, sacrificed to the scorched earth of the Super League war.

For me, all of this was observed from afar; the highs of pre-finals 1989, the lows that followed, the lows that followed that, the other lows, that really low part and of course, the unforgettable low where things were so low Souths ceased to exist. I'd be remiss not to mention a few lows after that which were also memorable, in comparison to the other lows.

In that way, I'm not unique as a Souths fan but part of a wider collective of supporters who for one reason or other, find themselves hopelessly romancing teams that may be thousands of miles away. Many can't even remember the catalyst for their affections.

In my case, I think I simply fell into the Rabbitohs because my mum was and remains a supporter. My brother ended up with the Eels and my dad, who I correspond with in between football seasons, Manly. There's no reasonable explanation. That was just that.

I'm not alone as an estranged fan in Queensland, although I'm not blessed with many (any) friend who also share a love of the cardinal and myrtle. There are thousands of us north of the Tweed who came to love the greatest game of all before the Broncos existed and didn't transfer our allegiance when they did spring into action.

For me, shifting camps was never an option. If anything, it just made me cling to my football identity even tighter. I grew up two hours away from Brisbane and we only took the Commodore down the highway once or twice a year to visit rellies or if we were lucky, truck right on down to Dreamworld.

I had about as much geographical connection to Redfern as I did Red Hill. As a result, I became a football orphan, embracing from the club I'd grown to love via a long-distance relationships and never once considering breaking off.

People didn't think it was strange that I supported a club in Sydney. They just thought it was strange I'd picked such a crap one.

Sure, I've endured the taunts. And I've gladly welcomed your sympathy at times. I've never been very good at tipping because picking Souths each week tended to leave you playing catch-up from round five.

I've even learned to see the positives of supporting a team that almost never played a game after August. I've never really had to worry about the stress of having a side close enough to taste a premiership, let alone in a grand final.

Things had to change eventually. In 2007, a ray of light. And now in 2012, South Sydney find themselves one game away from the decider, needing to beat a very good team that's also managed to recruit a large number of Queensland football orphans to its cause.

I won't be in the stands for the game, but crucially I won't be working either. I'll be on my couch, peering through my hands and freaking out from afar, in much the same way I've done since I was about five.

I'd love to say I'm just happy to be here, or be happy for Souths to go back to being an "aw, shucks" team that was a weekly speedbump on the fixture list.

But I'm not.

Where there is Greg, there is hope. Get in there, you Rabbitohs.

18 comments

  • I listened to the wireless when Balmain did the deed against us, and listened when we won in '71.

    I was a train driver in Sydney, when i unexpectedly found myself carrying a train load of Souths supporters to the march. I even had some in the cab of my tangara, I had a whole train all singing, "Glory Glory to South Sydney" at the top of our voices. A pure fluke of rostering, but a day i will never forget and easily the happiest shift i ever did for Cityrail.

    In '89 I was at Brookvale oval on the northern end under the score board as i watched with adoration as one by one souths players bent over the bonnet of my XC panelvan and started to do push-ups as warm ups for the game against manly (we won and i didnt wash my car for 2 months) I still tell that story whenever i can get away with it.

    As this year went on, a sort of little panic started to set in. As each week went by and we got higher and higher on the ladder, I just whispered to myself, "Is this the year?".

    I'll be listening to the wireless via the internet this time. I'll remember every detail as best i can, because i know i cant wait another 41 years for this. This is the closest to the top for many many years and i'll be listening and hoping for the miracle that i've dreamed of since i was a 9 year old. The bunnies can do it. This is OUR time, my last chance in this mortal guise to see my beloved Bunnies come home.

    GO THE BUNNIES

    Commenter
    Auslander
    Location
    Laidley Heights, QLD
    Date and time
    September 19, 2012, 5:20AM
    • I'm another another long-suffering, Brisbane-based Souths fan (albeit from Sydney originally). In my lifetime, except for their ill-fated 2007 finals campaign, I've never seen Souths make the finals, let alone win a match in September, so it's a strange feeling to be one win away from the final. I imagine this is how a Brisbane or Melbourne supporter feels most years!

      I know it's almost a cliche, but it would be fantastic result for rugby league if Souths won the title this year and it's a safe bet that most RL fans in Sydney (Manly silvertails and Bullldog arny notwithstanding) will be behind us.

      Come on Bunnies! Bring home number 21!

      Commenter
      James
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      September 19, 2012, 6:32AM
      • Apart from the bits about Souths, this story is faintly touching ... ;+P
        Just kidding, Phil ... been there, done that. I was lucky enough to be around when Souths WERE nicking premierships at will (although Balmain STILL have something to answer for!) - so at least I have fond memories - and NO Smith's Crisps jumpers, but Eric Simms running straight in to pot them from the sidelines, 3 points for a try, and 2 for a field goal, REAL scrums and all!
        If you liked Mario and Phil, you would have loved Satts, Bobby McCarthy and Dennis Pittard - no lairs back then ...
        Maybe this year, huh? I've always had Souths to follow, but to be brutally honest, I have more emotional investment (care factor) in the Broncos, plus an outsider thing for the Storm. There have been weekends when ALL 3 have lost ... AND the Swans ... AND the Lions ... dark days indeed!
        Carn the Rabbitohs!

        Commenter
        manystrings
        Location
        SEQLd
        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 6:47AM
        • Oh, c'mon manystrings, Pittard WAS a lair ....... but he was our lair! In 1971 there was no such thing as reserved seats, I slept outside the SCG gates with all the other diehard Souths and Saints supporters.

          Commenter
          jj
          Location
          sydney
          Date and time
          September 20, 2012, 12:42PM
      • Sorry to be blunt but Souths shouldn't have been allowed back in the comp - (my dads Jets and uncles Bears jumpers are somewhat faded these days) though I must admit that Rustys private ownership is at least a good template for the NRLs future.

        and, as a Dogs supporter I must say we walk in different circles in Brisbane. Anytime i wear my blue V people either ask me if I am an Islamic Terrorist or have been to Coffs lately, its enough to make me cry into my Kebab.

        So good luck on the weekend - but not too much

        ps - As for Phil Blake being gyour favourite - he used to train with our athletics club in teh off season and you may be glad to hear taht it would be hard to find a nicer person than him. even at the height of his fame he always found time to help those around him and never ever pulled any sotry of big-headedness you see off someone who plays even semi-pro these days.

        Commenter
        null
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        September 19, 2012, 8:24AM
        • Phil, you are part of something that is much, much bigger than just being a footy team supporter. For Souths fans (like myself), it's a way of life. Supporting the greatest club in the land! The only club that has never lost it's soul or forgotten it's roots!
          Rabbits til I die!!!

          Commenter
          Maroon Rabbit
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          September 19, 2012, 9:00AM
          • We were very excited as our Uncle had come round with a portable B/W television, one of those new appliances we didn't have. It was 1967. I was 8 years old. My uncle proceeded to to tell us about this great game called Rugby League and the team he supported was the Rabbitohs. I was mesmerised and have backed the Bunnies eversince, battling my younger brother who was a Magpie (that where we lived). I gained an ally when my sister announced she was now a Souths supporter through her ex-husband's introduction. Its been decades, we are now both living in Brisbane for a long time. She has GF tickets, such is her "faith". Even one for me. And now the wife has given blessing for my first roadtrip with this sister.
            I am on bended knee, "Dear Lord, please bless the coachwood and myrtle this year, for this is the season that joy would spread amongst the commonwealth in unbound booty!"

            Commenter
            Burrow buddy
            Location
            Bris Nth
            Date and time
            September 19, 2012, 9:05AM
            • Souths fans would have to be the most hypocritical of all fans in Australia. Nice to see they are all on the bandwagon now, but where were they during the 90's when they were losing, and then booted out of the comp? The only faithful were the ones actively supporting them through these years.
              Sure, every team has fans that jump on the wagon only when they are winning, but to say you have been a supporter your whole life but never mention that you never went to a game during those losing years is just so hypocritical (I am not specifically referring to the writer of this article considering he lives in Brisbane and understandably cannot attend most games).

              I too know what it is like to support a team from Sydney. But loyalty is loyalty. The Broncs only came into the competition in 1988 - I already had my team even though I was only 8.

              Commenter
              Souths fans are hypocritical
              Location
              Brisbane
              Date and time
              September 19, 2012, 9:44AM
              • Thanks for bringing the tone down. Some people are hypocrites, not all Souths fans. Leave the the stereotyping for the LNP.

                Commenter
                Slogans for Bogans
                Location
                Qld
                Date and time
                September 19, 2012, 10:13AM
              • To answer your question, Souths fans were going to the football. They were leading the attendance figures for any Sydney team during the period you mention, particularly in 1999 the year that people started coming back to footy after the horror of super league and of course the year they were punted. Anyway, it's a bit of a nonsense discussion, because frankly you couldn't be expected to even get close to understanding what it means to follow the red and green, but thank you for your comments anyway.

                Commenter
                Otwen
                Location
                Laughing at boneheads who just don't get it
                Date and time
                September 19, 2012, 12:22PM

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