George Piggins in hospital but South Sydney’s poor treatment of Rabbitohs club legend continues
The Rabbitohs turned their back on their saviour, George Piggins, years ago. Now that he’s laying in a hospital bed, not much has changed, PAUL KENT writes.
April 23, 2021 - 4:54PM
News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom
NRL: The Rabbitohs are reportedly moving Cody Walker to fullback in order to cover the loss of the suspended Latrell Mitchell.
He was a man who loved South Sydney, even when South Sydney no longer loved him.
Once committed, George Piggins always believed you never quit.
That was the measure of Piggins who, three times, saved South Sydney from extinction. The first two nobody ever heard about. The third made him a folk hero, for a while at least.
He never gave up loving his club even after the fans who marched behind him eventually turned on him and voted for privatisation, ultimately showing they were the same as everyone else, that self-interest was king.
George Piggins joins thousands of protesting Souths fans march along Sydney streets during the rally in 2000 to reinstate the Rabbitohs into the NRL. Picture: Mick Tsikas
And now he lies in a hospital bed, serious but stable they say, and hardly a word is heard about George and his tremendous sacrifices to save the club that continues to call itself the pride of the league while they politely ignore that, when the heat got fiercest, they lost their courage and voted privatisation.
No one will ever fully acknowledge the debt to Piggins, who loved the club too much. He is being forgotten out of history.
There was a day many years ago when Ian Walsh was retiring at St George and George was young and tough and talented and Frank Facer, the great Dragons boss, tried to sign him to replace Walsh.
“No,” George said, his reason simple. He was a Souths man.
He played nearly three more years in reserve grade behind Elwyn Walters because he was a Souths man who refused to play for another club.
Souths represented the community he came from and, in return, he believed the club belonged to the people.
That was it with George. That’s what they never got.
It was one-in, all-in, Souths people sticking together.
There was a day many years ago when Souths had their trip away to the Gold Coast and they were all in the pub and George looked around and saw one of them missing.
He walked outside and found Bruce “Lapa” Stewart sitting in the gutter.
“What’s wrong?” George wanted to know.
“Nothing,” Stewart said. “They just don’t let black fellas in.”
This was in the 60s when it still happened, so George went back in and told the publican they better let Lapa in and the publican told him he couldn’t do it, they had a no blacks rule. So George went to that reservoir of violence that sat deep inside and he told the publican that if he didn’t let Lapa in they would tear the pub apart.
And then he welcomed Lapa in.
It was always Souths first for George Piggins.
Former Rabbitoh Bruce ‘Lapa’ Stewart.
Soon after Souths got back in the competition, in the early 2000s, the Make-A-Wish Foundation called.
A young boy had brain cancer so advanced it would eventually take his eyesight but he wanted to watch Souths play.
“We’ve got to look after this kid,” George told his club.
George kitted him up in all the Souths gear and, every time he went to a game, took him in the dressing room. He really turned it on, knowing what it meant and what he could do.
By then, George was used to young men following the Rabbitohs and how much it meant to them.
He coached Souths in the 1980s for five years and two Dally M Coach of the Year awards, and it did not cost the club a cent because he refused payment, and young men often wanted to be around the club.
One young man often knocked on the change room door at Redfern Oval, asking, “Excuse me Mr Piggins, can I come in and see the players?”
George Piggins collected plenty of silverware as a Rabbitoh.
George always let him in. He was a young actor of some sort, went by the name of Crowe. His father had an auto electrician shop at Botany.
That was why the betrayal cut so deep when Russell Crowe launched his privatisation bid. Crowe had benefited from George’s belief that the club belonged to the people when he was young and anonymous and now here he was taking the club away from the people.
George’s position was simple: South Sydney Rabbitohs should always be owned by the people.
By the end of the campaign, everything they ever claimed to be was gone, and these South Sydney fans, who pride themselves on old-fashioned values like loyalty and character, turned on the one man who saved their club from extinction.
He was unfairly portrayed as a tyrant, drunk on power and unwilling to surrender control.
Peter Holmes a Court later rewarded the authors of their campaign with a pair of golf balls and a plaque. The golf balls were shaped like testicles and had the Rabbitohs emblem on them. The plaque said: “It took balls.”
It might have, but it was costly too.
There were lies and slander spread about George, and as a result he won five separate defamation cases out of court.
Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court are all smiles at Stadium Australia after winning a vote of the members that gave them control of the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
He was the only one, in the end, who refused to compromise.
Along with the football club, the members voted away their four storey leagues club building, 10 apartments in Chalmers St and 198 car parks, for which they cared very little about at the time.
They just wanted Crowe’s and Holmes a Court’s money to prop up the footy club.
Today that property would be valued somewhere in the vicinity of $60 million. The members have not a dollar from it.
And so George Piggins walked away from South Sydney that day in 2006 when South Sydney members turned on him and voted to sell three-quarters of their club to an actor and a businessman.
And they made Souths successful. They put money into the club that wasn’t there before and Crowe used his considerable profile to attract players.
But it will always be George who saved South Sydney. He is the greatest figure in the club’s history because without him there would no longer be a South Sydney.
South Sydney stalwarts George Piggins and Mario Fenech.
Some years back an old Balmain fan was told his club would still be around if only the fans had stuck it out like Souths’ fans did.
“No, you had George,” the Balmain fan said. “George was the difference.”
And today history slowly gets rewritten and Crowe is gradually reshaped as the man who saved Souths when all along it was the man who fell ill this week and lies in hospital fighting for his life, because he was always a fighter, and he gets barely a moment’s thought from the Rabbitohs’ faithful.
Not all, though.
Zac Cheney called this week and had only one question he wanted answered. Zac, a man now, was the young boy who went blind with his brain cancer and who George doted over every time he could make it to a game.
“Tell me he is all right,” Zac said.
We hope he will be, they said.