Red and green fans stay true blue
Staunch … Nick Xanthis, who began following South Sydney in 1945, and his son, Con. Photo: James Alcock
Six fans. Six perspectives. One love. As the South Sydney Rabbitohs flirted with their first appearance in a grand final in 41 years last night, a range of emotions was stirred in their die-hard fans, stretching from dreamy nostalgia to pulsating expectation.
For Wayne Dolling, seeing the Rabbitohs bouncing around so late in the season was like being transported back to 1971, when Souths, featuring some of the iconic players of the era, beat St George 16-10 in the grand final.
''Dennis Pittard, Eric Simms … they were some great players,'' Mr Dolling, 57, said. ''And the team today is pretty good, too.''
Mr Dolling's love of the Rabbitohs goes back to age six when he would scoop up empty beer cans at the old Sydney Sports Ground after games and get threepence a piece from the recyclers.
He was devastated over the 32-8 loss to Canterbury, but has hopes for next season.
"After [halfback Adam] Reynolds left the field [through injury], the damage was done. They did what they could but it wasn’t enough against the dogs. South will come back even bigger and stronger next year. We have to look ahead to the next season now," he said.
They were golden days. But by the time Morgan Adams was that age, Souths were in peril, as harsh commercialism bit tradition, spelling two years in the wilderness.
''I cried when we got kicked out,'' Mr Adams, 18, said. ''It really hurt.''
Her first Rabbitohs connection had been a red and green knitted jumpsuit she wore as a baby. ''It's been hard to be a Souths fan sometimes,'' she said. ''But I'm so proud of how far they've come this year, how much they've improved. Their passion has been great all season.''
Chris Dounis, 29, agrees, declaring that last night's finals appearance was ''like a new chapter'' in the club's colourful history. The fitness instructor said it was ''unfashionable'' to support the Rabbitohs when he was younger. But to give up on them would have been like ''giving up your parents''.
''It's not just a team, it's an intrinsic part of your life,'' he said.
''There was always a lot of politics at the club. But when we got kicked out of the comp I just remember the whole supporter group coming together to fight for one common cause, to get the club back in. Having the club taken away from us made us all appreciate it more than ever. I think this season's been like a new chapter's been opened and we can say goodbye to those years. The days of the false dawns are over.''
If Con Xanthis has seen false dawns, it's been through ''one green eye and one red eye''. The wealth manager from Earlwood watched last night's match thankful that the Rabbitohs refused calls to merge during the upheaval of the late 1990s.
"You lose your identity, you lose your history and your colours," Mr Xanthis, 52, said.
Mr Xanthis has supported Souths since the mid-1960s, alongside his father Nick, who has "seldom" missed a match since 1945.
Nick Xanthis was there when the club won in 1971 and the 80-year-old has wondered how long it would take until the next premiership.
"It has been an extremely difficult wait from then till now," he said.
It was less of a wait for Ben Waters, born with his twin, Adam, in 1997. But last night's match meant no less.
''We've both been pretty hard-core followers,'' Ben, 15, said. ''We've been brainwashed from birth - definitely happily.''