One of the many great things about sport is its ability to produce fairy tale endings. It’s fair to say that this weekend’s victory by South Sydney over the Bulldogs in the NRL Grand Final fitted very comfortably into this category. 43 years of wishing and waiting finally came good for the Rabbitoh faithful as the cardinal and myrtle ran over the top of the plucky but never-quite-up- to-it Bulldogs.
The day before the Grand Final, Danny Allen gave us his fantastic reflection on what his team, South Sydney, means to him. I’ve known Dan for nearly twenty years, and it was on a whim that I asked if he’d like to write something about the Grand Final for that ‘other code’ for the site. His life-long love for the club suggested that there was probably a hell of a story in there somewhere – and of course there was.
When Dan emailed his his piece last Friday from a tour bus somewhere on the West Coast of the USA, I was curious (and excited) about putting something up on the site that had nothing to do with Aussie Rules. I had no idea of how it would go. The answer was, it went like the clappers. The response was overwhelming – fast, furious and unbelievably positive. People loved what was written because it was done with feeling, heart and emotion. Dan put all of his thoughts about his own personal history with Souths down on the page as an act of friendship and of loyalty to an old musical team-mate, and I’m very grateful he did. In doing so he gave last nights’ game a whole new dimension for me beyond it being just a group of massive blokes running into each other at full pelt for 80 minutes (which don’t get me wrong, was hugely enjoyable in itself). What he wrote gave the contest a back story and personality that magnified the enormity of the Bunnies win in a way that went beyond the already well-known trials and tribulations of the team that had been covered so comprehensively in the mainstream press.
It got me thinking about Swans premiership player Luke Ablett who wrote a fantastic piece in The Guardian last week about the power of friendship in football. In it he said that the thing he missed the most about playing in with the Bloods was the people. It really struck a chord. Very few of us get the chance to play sport at it’s highest level like Luke, or to play in bands who tour the world like Danny, but as enthusiasts and supporters, our devotion leads us to form our own teams. We form friendships that give greater meaning to the larger teams or bands we follow and the events that define them – premierships, losses, great gigs, disastrous shows, the lot. On either side of the ledger – success, failure – it’s pretty lonely without those team-mates, your friends by your side. With them out of the picture, the heroic deeds and failures count for nothing.
The thing that makes music great, footy great, any kind of endeavor really, is friendship. It’s the sharing of experiences that make them matter. It’s impossible to enjoy any kind of success alone. Maybe there are exceptions to that, but I don’t what they are. Any kind of creative undertaking we can do well alone, we can do better with a group. As I get older I think about that more and more. It’s the chemistry between the wildly differing personalities who make up a great band that make it better than the solo projects that almost inevitably follow. Champions can only reach their absolute peak when they have a great team around them. Someone has to honour their leads. Great solo artists have a backing band. In that most solitary of sporting pursuits, tennis, the individual practitioners still have coaches and friends, and if they’re really lucky, Redfoo or Brooke Shields sitting in their box cheering them on.
We make friends through our common interests, our shared loves: following the same club (or code); watching the same bands; reading the same books; and so on. For twenty years or so I’ve been making friends through music, an aspect of the whole caper that as the years roll on has become just as satisfying – and sometimes more so – than working with the actual music itself. My peripheral role in rock (rock n role?) has granted me opportunities to travel the world making friends for life through shared experiences – the great, the awful, the challenging, the frequently hilarious – and form the kind of bonds that glue you together forever. If you get lucky, you end up being part of several championship teams, if only in your own minds.
As an irregular follower of rugby league, I watched last night’s NRL Grand Final completely absorbed, partly because of the ferocity of the contest, but also largely because I wanted Souths to win for Danny. I wanted HIM to win. I attached all our years of friendship to the result, genuinely worried about what a loss would do to my old mucker in his hotel room in LA. I thought about all the times we’d talked about the bunnies with me not knowing enough to really contribute, but getting swept up in Dan’s passion and love for his team regardless. I thought about all the gigs I’d seen him play, from lonely Tuesday nights in front of 25 people to arenas supporting the likes of Coldplay and Kings of Leon. I thought about his personal ups and his downs, of his old EJ station wagon, of all the times he got home from gigs at 3.00am then got up at 5.30am to go to his job as a sparky. I laughed at his talent as a raconteur and teller of hilarious tales about his old workmates complete with individual quirks, accents and catchphrases to the point where I felt I knew them.
I thought about the shy kid I first met so many years ago in the take away shop next to the Sandringham Hotel in Sydney before a gig. I was struck then by how he had something about him that just made you want be in his company, impressed by a genuine goodness that I sensed from one meeting. I thought about the guy with one tattoo and one tattoo only, the Rabbitoh inked on his bicep, playing a show in San Francisco with The Drums then trying to sleep as the tour bus rolled down the I5 to LA. The West Coast sunshine that greeted his arrival would signal the start of a day of nerves fluttering all the way across the Pacific ocean from a little flat in Maroubra where his love for his team first bloomed.
Whenever I think of Souths, I think of Danny. In my understanding of last night’s result, it’s his passion that defines who they are and what they mean to people. It gives the win context and a way for an interloper like me to understand it. We all have our own Danny. People like him make the winning even better, and the losing bearable. Without the friendships and the stories and the shared histories, our teams, our bands, our books, our lives mean nothing. With them, they mean everything – and that’s the fairy tale.