By Elvis the Barman.
*NOTE: Names of individuals and establishments have been changed for privacy reasons.
I grew up on the North Shore watching every Manly game at Brookvale Oval. Randall, Fulton, Eadie and Krilich were my heroes. In my early 20s I had the Elvis hair and sideburns and was infatuated with Elvis' music. Then got a job as a waiter at one of the local watering holes in Waterloo.
I was so terrible and kept messing up all the orders so much that the manager said: "You're really barman aren't you?" and put me in the bar. The Saloon bar was full of local characters along with plenty of Souths legends and Souths Players.
There were also a lot of blokes that did not trust anyone new. They were extremely paranoid as there were alleged illegal card games, SP bookies and a lot of clientele awaiting trial for all sorts of misadventures if you get my drift.
They gave me a hard time, to say the least, and some days I feared for my safety. There were security guards employed, but even they were chased away.
I was running both the saloon bar and the public bar, which was also a scary place, and everyone was mean to me. I didn't think it could get any worse and was looking for another job. Then one day one of South Sydney's star players came in and said out loud: "Who's the guy with the sideburns!?" Everyone laughed, and my nickname became Elvis.
Eventually having a nickname in that environment gave me protection as people started to trust that I wasn't a cop, meaning that I was defended on many occasions. Over time I soon got to be part of the place. There were hilarious moments such as a truckers stack of beds being wheeled in and surfed across the floor in races which they ended up betting on! Afterwards, anyone who hadn't been to sleep the night before would then crash out on the beds.
The bar owner just shook his head when I explained what was going on and left in a hurry. Arm wrestles for money, the cheers when a horse won, the sing-a-longs to 'Going to the Chapel' were consistent.
These were working-class people who loved laughter and understood that life usually dealt heavy blows. Money was hard to come by and their jobs (if they had one) did not pay more than the rent and a little beer money. Therefore, they gambled to win. Having a win changed everything. Shouting the bar, buying high-end products, taking everyone out afterwards to bars were all part of the thrill.
Anyone down on their luck was shouted by the winner, so everyone participated in the win. They were loyal to each other and took care of their own.
Times were not always good. One former rugby league player returned from prison a shell of his old self. He was often asleep in a car out the front with his partner, the doors open, pharmaceuticals loose on the ground. It was unwanted attention, but they said nothing as they knew his pain which fortunately did not last too long.
The bar was raided one day. Initially, an undercover policeman walked in. Nobody knew him. He ordered a schooner of Tooheys Light which was an order I had never been asked for before, and alarm bells were sounded. The vice squad was after the alleged SP bookie. Soon after the bar owner was questioned as to why he allowed this to happen in his establishment which he denied and told them to ask the barman...me.
I was questioned at home and denied everything, saying I was too busy running both bars to know what was going on. My mother defended me in front of them like a grizzly bear protects her cubs, and they eventually left. The next shift I walked into the bar and received a standing ovation.
I still do not know how they knew I had not said anything, but they did. I had finally become a trusted member of the group. The problem I had now was that I needed to leave as I would be at risk. Elvis was about to leave the building.
Fortunately one of the Rabbitohs' stars said he would get me a job at South Sydney Leagues Club (once again, looking after their own) behind Redfern Oval on the condition I now had to support South Sydney.
I gave him my word and have followed the Club ever since, through all the bad times and the great times.
I pulled beers and got to know the players. On Friday night they had a meat raffle where they would give out hams and meat trays, but not many people came. It was emceed by a classic comic who made the older ladies laugh with tongue twisters and jokes. My job was to hand out the meat trays, and then he asked me my name. Someone yelled out: "His name's Elvis." He then put the microphone in front of my face and asked me to sing a song which I butchered.
To my complete humiliation, he pulled the mic away and said: "That's the worst Elvis I've ever heard!"
I was so embarrassed. Everyone was giving it to me for the next week. I locked myself at home and started to find a song that I could sing in my key that would redeem myself.
The next Friday the raffle came up again. The band usually started about half an hour after the raffle finished, but I asked them if they could back me up and sung the key I sing in.
I asked 'The Colonel' if I could sing again and he was reluctant. I guess he was trying to protect me from further embarrassment. I cued the band and ripped into 'Blue Suede Shoes'. It absolutely rocked, and everyone cheered (probably due to relief for me). We then became the Colonel and Elvis every Friday night, and the raffle got bigger. I asked the manager for a bit of entertainment money bonus, but he was a bit jealous of me as I had been given the job over him.
Eventually, I left and moved to Queensland. My memories serving the players and their wives upstairs after the game were very special, and I will always remember my time there fondly.
I will forever support the South Sydney Rabbitohs 'til the day I die.
(In my deepest Elvis Voice), THANK YOU VERY MUCH.