On October 5th, 2014, the Gods of footy, smiled upon the red and green faithful of Redfern. After 43 years of heartbreak, blood, toil, sweat and tears, the South Sydney Rabbitohs won their first Grand Final since 1971.
For those lucky to be one of the 83,833 in attendance at ANZ Stadium at Olympic Park, you were there to witness history in person; a game that was characterized by a battered Burgess brother who was singing his swan-song in front of the roaring crowd as he left on a high note. But for those who could not be part of The Burrow inside ANZ Stadium, there was but one excited fan who was 16,000 km (10,000 miles) away in New York City who would not let distance deter him from seeing his beloved Bunnies. That fan, was me, Jared Schnabl.
Long before dawn, at precisely 3:45 am, New York time, I suited up in my red and green gear – a cape, hat, scarf, flag, jersey and a few tattoos on my face and arms completed the ensemble. I bunny-hopped (that’s right!) out of my hotel humming Glory Glory to South Sydney, heading towards The Australian NYC on 38th street in Manhattan. This bar and restaurant in New York City – open since 2007 – is a little slice of the land down under in downtown, serving up the best in Aussie tucker from meat pies, to grilled kangaroo, and even Tim Tams with ice cream!
“Over the past year, the South Sydney Rabbitohs have had an amazing season and have had one of the best teams in recent history, so there was no doubt this was going to be a big event,” said owner Matty Astill – an Aussie ex-pat and former lower grade player for the Manly Sea Eagles.
“We attracted both traveling Aussies as well as ex-pats living in New York for the big game. I had no, idea, however, we’d have such a big turnout, especially at 4 a.m.”
“The toughest thing, for me, was opening the bar at that hour. Normally, we usually throw open the doors for live matches at around 6 a.m. for State of Origins and playoffs. This time around, we had around 250 fans pack the place; more than I expected for a game at that hour.
“The Rabbitohs making the Grand Final definitely re-energized the Australian sports fans in New York which, in my opinion, has been the most important thing. Even those who aren’t Rabbitohs fans, let alone footy fans, just had to see the game. Even the replay at noon had the same volume of fans as before. The 2014 Grand Final has been the biggest sports crowd we ever had.”
After Advance Australia Fair echoed through the stadium, the opening kick sailed through the air. But the first tackle, in which Sam Burgess fractured his cheek-bone and eye-socket, made my jaw drop. My reaction, however, was trumped only by the worried look on Julie Burgess’ face. It was like 1970 was repeating.
At halftime, the Rabbitohs led by an unconverted try and a penalty goal to nil. Even with less than 10 minutes to go in the second half and Souths leading 14-6, it wasn’t enough to subdue the anxiety building up inside me. But then, the Rabbitohs went on a rampage that I can only imagine was years in the making! There was Auva’a’s narrow try where he pounced on the ball in the corner after a kick by Greg Inglis that allowed me to breathe a much needed sigh of relief! Then, after Reynolds’ try and conversion, I saw a tearful Sam Burgess sum up 43 years of waiting as he knelt down and wept tears of joy! Speaking of emotions, I broke out into Botany Road where I led half the bar in a chorus that the entire red and green ex-pat army sang so loud, their happiness could be heard all the way to Chalmers Street in Redfern! I watched in awe as the Rabbitohs raised the trophy into the Southern sky. Sam Burgess’ Clive Churchill medal seemed fitting for a bloke who managed to walk in the shoes of John Sattler the whole match.
I had seen many amazing championship sports games in the USA, but very few have matched the caliber of grit, fortitude, emotion and love that could only be harnessed by the most endearing sports fans that I refer to as ‘my Australian Bunny Family’. I may not have been there in person to see it, but being in the American version of The Burrow called, The Australian NYC, provided me with the same magnitude of footy fanaticism that I have fallen in love with as a Member of the Rabbitohs! As the sun came up as I left the bar, all I could say was “Thank You, Reggie!”
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