Oct 5, 2014

Family, community, culture: We are South Sydney – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

This Sunday I will take my 13-year-old son to see the pride of the league as South Sydney plays its first grand final since 1971.

Our attendance will complete the circle on an important and long-running chapter of my life: my mum took me to the SCG as an eight-year-old to watch Souths beat St George 16-10 in that epic match.

Seeing my heroes Sattler, McCarthy, Coote and Simms win Souths’ 20th premiership was inspirational.

That day is a treasured part of my memory of my late mother. She raised me with three great faiths – Souths, the Labor Party and the Catholic Church.

Support for football teams often goes well beyond what happens on the field.

If Sunday was just about footy, the followers of the men in cardinal and myrtle might have lost faith over 43 long years between drinks.

It’s much more.

People barrack for football teams because it gives them a sense of belonging and identity. It is a reference point for our family, our community and our culture.

For South Sydney that’s a culture that began in 1908 when they won the first premiership.

In a world where the digital age is making the globe smaller and smaller we need to remember that our strongest links remain human-to-human relationships.

This was not understood by the News Limited and NRL executives who in 1999 excluded Souths from the competition in the aftermath of the Super League debacle.

The Save our Souths campaign was extraordinary. Souths were joined by many supporters of other teams to declare that rugby league’s greatest shareholders were its fans – not corporate interests.

Enraged by the injustice of their arbitrary exclusion, they took to the streets, the airwaves and the courts to protect what they saw as the beating heart of their community.

No one thought they would win.

But when 100,000 marched from Redfern to the Sydney Town Hall on November 12, 2000, they were asserting their view that their community and its values mattered.

The Souths faithful refused to abandon their history, spirit and grassroots community involvement in rugby league.

As a director of the club, I was involved in organising this march to test community support after we lost the original court case on October 15.

We knew we had public figures George Piggins, Russell Crowe, Andrew Denton, Alan Jones and Ray Martin.

That day we showed we also had the mob.

People marched for the first time in their lives to assert the simple declaration that South Sydney was part of the community fabric and that no one had the right to tear that fabric apart.

Many had done it tough throughout their lives without complaint, but saw this issue as very personal – as nothing less than an attack on their very identity.

“Souths are all I’ve got”, they would tell us with despair.

The legal brilliance of Nick Pappas secured the victory in the courts, but it is the community mobilisation that people will be thinking of this week in the countdown to kick-off.

That day, as tens of thousands sang: “We’ll all stand together, so that Souths can stand alone” it was very clear that this community would never give up until it achieved victory.

We should celebrate this sense of belonging. It is one of the strands that holds communities together – through good times and bad.

If we could harness that community spirit and apply it to some of the big problems that face our broader lives, the world would be a better place.

The power of a tight community is an irresistible force.

This Sunday is a tribute to all those who donated money, rang radio stations, marched and campaigned against reducing these community relationships to a commodity that could be traded.

It is fitting that Souths are playing Canterbury, a club that supported the Rabbitohs during our time of need.

The Bulldogs, led by George Peponis, also understand community.

Their club is also community-based and its heritage is rich with the same values and sense of identity that make Souths fans so loyal.

However, on Sunday night, when the liberty bell is rung by Russell Crowe for the first time since 2002, all bets will be off.

It’s a chance for my son and other young fans to be inspired by Inglis, Sutton, Reynolds, McQueen and the Burgess brothers.

It’s an occasion they will remember their whole lives and recount to their own children.

As the Gladiator-inspired banner displayed in The Burrow last week explained to these new Souths heroes: What we do in life echoes in eternity. Your time is now. Become legends.

South Sydney Til I Die.

Anthony Albanese, MP, is a former board director and a life member of South Sydney.

This article appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald ON Saturday, October 5, 2014