On This Day: Rabbitohs Re-instated
Nearly eighteen years to the day, one of the most pivotal moments in the South Sydney Rabbitohs' storied history occurred.
On November 12 2000, the Red and Green faithful took to the streets, led by Club Legend George Piggins, to protest against their exclusion from the NRL competition.
To put that into context, current winger Campbell Graham was only one year old, and a young Jason Clark was up on his dad's shoulders that day in the crowd.
The march began outside the Clubs' doors on Chalmers Street and went through to Town Hall, with the likes of John Sattler, Bob McCarthy and the late Frank Hyde and Jack Gibson joining in the protest against one of the greatest injustices in Australian sport.
For former captain Sean Garlick, who had just retired from his playing career the year prior, it was a situation that brought to light just how important the Club meant to not only the people of South Sydney but to Rugby League.
"I was in a unique situation where I retired in 1999 and I had joined the board of the Rabbitohs," he reminisced.
"We weren't quite sure what was going on, there were rumours they (the NRL) were going to throw us out of the comp.
"We didn't know exactly how many people were going to be there. Of course, we knew Souths supporters were up in arms about what was being suggested, but we were all taken by surprise at how many supporters of other teams also came in droves to march with us."
Droves seemed to be an understatement, as an estimated 80,000 protesters came out in support – more than those who attended the dismissal of former prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 – as the sheer amount of people power made it particularly memorable for Garlick.
"It was a hell of an emotional time. When you saw the support from fans of teams we saw as rivals, all of a sudden they were jumping on our side so we knew they were on the right side of the battle," he said.
"I suppose it was just the emotion that caught me off. We all get emotional during a game, but it was quite amazing to see how motivated and spirited people were about the potential of their Club being thrown out of the competition.
"All of a sudden they were cheering off the field as opposed to what happened on the field, it was a coming together of a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life who held a common belief of what was right and what was fair.
"It became more than just a South Sydney thing. It was about the little guy taking on the big guy. It was an opportunity for the little guys to take on the formidable opponent in News Limited.
"It was a David and Goliath battle we thought we couldn't afford to lose."
Media personality Andrew Denton was one of the many speakers who addressed the crowd that day, with the life-long Souths supporter giving a powerful message to those in the sea of Red and Green.
"This isn't about criteria, who won or for and against," said Denton.
"This is about dads taking their sons to the football, about mums and dads meeting at the Club meeting other mums and dads, about stories passed on from 90 years in this city.
"It's about our community, our way of life. It's not just about sport. You may profit, you may make profit, but you will never prosper in this city!
"Our agenda is very simple; we have stood up for a point of principle to protect what we have built and what we rightly believe is ours. And no matter if Souths triumph, I want you all to know that we have already won.
"We have been lied about, we have been lied to, but we will not lie down. If we have to come back this time next year, we will!"
The man who led the charge, then-Club president George Piggins, who played twelve seasons in Red and Green and coached for a further five, also had some words of wisdom and support for the crowd.
"I promise you, I won't walk away," he said.
"This is the thing about Rugby League - we love one another, we love the sport, and it belongs to us.
"We don't need any politics, it doesn't matter your religion, your colour, or race.
"What we do is cheer for our football club, have a great time and we become friends. And that's what it has meant to me over my life.
"I promise you, if you've come all this way and you want to fight, I'll come back and fight every year with you!"
And fight we did.
After months of court dates and plenty of tears shed, justice was finally served when on July 6 2001, the Club had won the battle in court for reinstatement into the 2002 competition.
It was a victory not only for South Sydney but for the greatest game of all.
It was a day that kick-started the revolution and the readmission of the mighty Red and Green back in their rightful place in the competition.
The march typified the people of South Sydney – the working class who looked to their heroes every weekend. Those who spilled blood, shed tears and exhausted themselves for the Club.
From that day on, there was no going back, and for Club Chief Executive Officer Blake Solly, was an incredible turning point in the Club's history.
"Obviously from the Club point of view it's extremely important and there is no doubt that the mobilisation of people power was almost as important as the court victory," Mr Solly said.
"The fact there were 80000 people marching on town hall like that showed that not only was it illegally wrong what had happened it was against the public sentiment and morally wrong,
"There is no doubt that Souths wouldn't be here if it were not for the march."
In eighteen years since, and now in our 110th season, we've come back into the competition, become a competitive force that has claimed its 21st premiership, the most in Australian Rugby League.
"In terms of the future it's an ongoing reminder and I don't think there's a day that goes by that most of the staff or the board or the investors of the Club who don't think about that," said Mr Solly.
"Working here comes an obligation to make sure that the efforts of those who marched don't go to waste and having fought back from exclusion we've got an obligation to make sure that the Club is successful on and off the field at all times."