Tour leader Steve Bell poured over a folder of paperwork in the plush surroundings of a Maze Backpackers 4 bunk dorm room in final preparation for the challenge of co-ordinating twenty-three hungover, useless idiots. It was Saturday; game day; and after two hit and miss training sessions earlier in the week, there were no more chances. He had to get it right. Even a deputy as passionate, committed and able as Tristan O’Connor had struggled, having been curtailed by Momo’s disappearance to buy pyjamas, Siam’s over-conspicuous voyeurism, Skinny ditching us to go and re-enact a scene from Trainspotting with a bunch of other Kiwis in some dingy basement and Hooey being Hooey. Thus it became clear that this was a task that only one man was fit to undertake.
Thursday had started off in true Southerners fashion, with the French complaining about something…
…and Darrel responding appropriately:
The tour kicked off with a rendezvous in the Civic Hotel (de facto Southerners Club House for the weekend) where kit was distributed, followed by a trip to Newtown to investigate this ‘hipster’ phenomenon that I automatically assume I am too old to understand. Old Bangkok habits die hard and pitchers of beer were treated like Khao San Road buckets of Sangsom and Red Bull, an attempt was made by a young, well-dressed lady to forge new friendships and Siam’s antics went far enough to later elicit a reprise of Belly’s legendary ‘No fun’ speech from the 2012 Pattaya Tour. Conclusion: ‘Hipster’ and ‘rugby fan’ are mutually exclusive descriptions.
So, after a slightly un-nerving venture into Side Bar which emphasised the ‘Old Boys’ element of the tour, it was decided that pubs full of rugby jersey clad, middle-aged Brits were probably more appropriate surroundings and, with the squad mindful of not peaking too early, numbers slowly dwindled as the night wound down.
With the arrival of the Melbourne crew (Brian Smith, Tongo Mike, David Gearing and associates), Rossco and friends and rock star, Timmy Hansen, Friday saw the tour party swell to near-full strength in time for sunset drinks at the world famous Opera Bar. In the afternoon, once again led by First Mate O’Connor, the Southerners Maritime Section had embarked upon a voyage to the glorious, sun-bathed Watsons Bay, where Patricio ably demonstrated the handling skills of a prop with his son’s lunch and Laurent ably demonstrated that he is French by getting all emotional about wine. Timmy Hansen signed autographs.
By then, the in-demand Steve Bell had returned to take the reins and lead us to the Underneath of the Sydney Harbour Bridge View Harbourview Hotel for the official tour dinner, where we were honoured to welcome two of the earliest members of the Southerners: Tony Nicholson and Jason Grant, the latter of whom played in the club’s second ever rugby match and was presented with a recent rugby jersey in recognition of that achievement. At the request of Belly, the chef had kindly put non-steak options on the menu in order to ensure the accurate identification of fannies, who were duly fined. I am hesitant to inflict further shame upon the culprits, their families and their compatriots by naming names, but if I were to tell you a joke about a Canadian, an Ecuadorian and a Frenchman that walked into a rugby dinner, I think we would be going in the right direction. Shame on you all – even Hooey got it right! Timmy Hansen spent most of the evening on the phone, rearranging the European Tour dates.
Formalities concluded with speeches from current Southerners Rugby Supremo, Darrel Lintott and founding member, Tony Nicholson; and with the reprise of the ‘No fun’ speech, we were let loose on The Rocks to mingle with other Lions fans and itinerant Southerners, Baron Richard Perkins, Chris ‘Wagga’ Doherty and Warwick ‘Wazza’ Baglin. Timmy Hansen snorted coke off strippers’ breasts and will never look at an acacia tree the same way again.
Thus came Saturday and, as an aspiring tour leader, it was a fascinating and educational experience for me to observe the accuracy and efficiency with which Steve Bell went about his business. Phones buzzed, tasks were delegated and the authority with which he took over Siam’s bed and instantly transformed it into an operations centre was a joy to behold. The great man even had time to share some of his invaluable knowledge with me. Never shall I forget the words, “Trying to get you hopeless bunch of tampons in the same place at the same time is hard enough without being asked bullshit questions every two minutes”. Such profoundness would have brought a tear to Darrel’s eye, had he been present, but he was too busy lording it over us paupers from some penthouse suite down the road that he had ruthlessly snatched from right in front of the very eyes of other tourists that had kindly been offered it by Darren Dye, who was unfortunately unable to attend. Speaking of tears, rumours were flying around that Timmy Hansen had been observed in floods of them the night before, as he threw TVs out of windows, smashed guitars against walls and screamed to anyone that would listen, “It’s all about the music, man. It’s always been about the music.”
The Southerners is the world’s most fashion-conscious rugby club and the diligence with which official tour kit has always been designed is one such example of this. Darrel once again did a fine job in equipping us with new, appropriately coloured polo shirts and we were pretty confident that the attire would bring home the ‘Best Dressed Supporters’ award. However, in Brian, Tongo Mike and friends, a rogue element of the club had gone a step further and arrived in costumes so good that they made it onto the official British and Irish Lions twitter feed. Great work indeed! Less impressive was Gearing’s attire, inspired by his curious new-found love for Australian country music star, Lee Kernaghan. Kernaghan was voted ‘Australian of the Year’ in 2008, so I suppose that Gearing is on the right track to sealing the ‘Okka Wannabee 2014’ award. Several hours and beers later, the task of getting the ‘hopeless tampons in the same place at the same time’ was eventually achieved, as Hooey arrived on a scooter having spent the last two hours giving a massage to a muscular young man. No, [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”]really[/highlight]. From one liability on the piss to another, this is the first mention of Zorba (a teacher and father), whose sense of responsibility was once again called into question as he had decided to bring his 6 year old nieces to Scruffy Murphys – an establishment with [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”]all the ambience and class[/highlight] that one would associate with a bar that has a 24 hour license and, according to former employee, Clare Bell, “security staff that all have criminal records”. He also brought his 12 year old son along, but Callum is, in his own words, “Down with this shit” and proved as much by squaring up to Belly and possibly chucking the odd table or two. Timmy Hansen fielded questions from the press about the challenges of producing a second album that both gives the fans the safety net of the familiar whilst simultaneously avoiding criticism of stagnation and lack of creative development.
With excitement building and Lions fans breaking out in song, we made our way to ANZ Stadium. Fearing the awesomeness of twenty-three Southerners sitting together, the ARU had limited ticket sales to blocks of four, so the party splintered on arrival and remained scattered until a rendezvous after the match. I was seated with Tony, Jason and Vaughan McClear, who had replaced his traditional red and white hooped jersey with a gold Southerners one in order to blend in with the crowd once again. I am not sure what there is to write about the crushing defeat of a weak as piss Wallaby side that has not already been written, but I am sure that whether you watched the match from inside the stadium, the bars outside, or on TV in Bangkok, Britain or somewhere else, you will remember Wallaby fans (with yellow pudding bowls on their heads) deserting their team on around the 65 minute mark to a cacophony of jeers and mocking chants from their Lions supporting counterparts. The desertion has been described in the Australian media as “shameful”, “classless” and “Unaustralian” and I know for a fact that, as proud Australians, Tristan and Belly were disgusted by it. What you may not know is that the man that lead the desertion was the Southerners’ very own Damian Hoo. Admittedly, he left the stadium sans-pudding bowl, having discarded it in a fit of emotion. As he did so, Jamie Roberts crashed over to put the Lions 39-16 ahead with a kick to come and Callum Lewis, already well schooled in the art of Hoo-bashing, yelled out “See ya later Hooey”, gave a sarcastic wave and lead 30,000 Lions fans in the “Cheerio” chant that boomed around the stadium. Southerners Rugby: Trend-setting since 1994; even the kids. Timmy Hansen watched from the VIP section, having joined [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”]Australian rock legend, Daryl Braithwaite[/highlight], on stage for the pre-match entertainment.
The numerical dominance of Wallaby fans resulted in a somewhat subdued post-match debrief, but Gearing did his best to liven things up with unabashed taunting of Belly and several rousing renditions of “Lions Lions Lions”. The night ended with pie, mash and mushy peas, which would be an entirely unremarkable detail, were it not for the presence of Laurent, who will surely never again be allowed to enter his home country, having tucked into a pie thus shunning his obligation as a Frenchman to generally mutter offensively before mincing off to drink Château Vère-des-criminales once again. Timmy Hansen threw his pie at the paparazzi.
The Southerners is proud to describe itself as a family club and Sunday’s activities reinforced it. Zorba and Patricio’s familes had been with us for most of the tour and on Sunday, they were joined at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach by Clare and Hugh Bell, the latter of whom was only too happy to oblige the masses by posing with Darrel for a photograph that will go around the world. Former Southerners, Mel Stewart, Nicole Stanners and Chris Doherty also made an appearance, as did the legendary Leanne – well known to those that were on the 2011 Phnom Penh tour. Laurent took control of the barbeque, Reed (who for some reason has not been mentioned up to this point) took control of beer supply and Hooey organised a Lions vs Wallabies game of rugby on the beach in front of an impassioned crowd. Lead by the Passmore-Bell-Hoo triumvirate, some Wallaby pride was restored at long last as not even a ‘next try wins’ call could bring the Lions team a victory. The Lions kicked away too much ball and were unable to exert the physical dominance that their heavyweight pack should have provided. With a bit more mobility in the line up, the Wallabies soon took advantage of the space and crossed the line on a number of occasions. Needless to say though, there were some typically questionable tactics from the Wallabies team. With uneven numbers, we were graciously donated a ‘player’ in the form of the Southerners’ poster-boy for equal opportunities – Tristan, who was repeatedly targeted in defence, especially by a ruthlessly competitive Uncle Vaughan. When asked whether he considered it poor sportsmanship to pick on the cripple, Vaughan said “If you want to know about poor sportsmanship, go ask that pommie prick Stuart Broad. He’s been picking on 11 cripples every bloody day!” Timmy Hansen never made it to the beach, having checked himself into rehab that morning. His agent told reporters today that Timmy has acknowledged that he had been struggling to deal with his new-found fame and fortune, but also added that he has turned a corner and turned away from the bottle, pledging to devote more time to music and other interests, which include Buddhism, a vegan diet and yoga lessons.
As the sun dipped behind the buildings, the intensity of the previous four days finally seemed to catch up with everyone and a few last photos were taken and emotional goodbyes exchanged. From Bangkok to Bondi, the Southerners continued a fine tradition of bringing together individuals from different nations, cultures and walks of life and uniting them all through rugby, alcohol and high tolerance levels. The club also started what will hopefully become part of a new tradition and toured outside Asia for the first time. Having organised a tour myself in the past, I know how much time and effort is required to sort out something as apparently simple as playing in a rugby tournament in SE Asia. So, to organise a tour to another continent, with people flying in from far and wide, takes a phenomenal amount of administration, commitment and communication. All joking aside, I am not sure that anyone but Belly could have managed it and we really are ingratiated to him for his enthusiasm and dedication. Of course, he was ably assisted by Tristan, as well as almost every other tourist in many ways, great and small and in particular, Darrel, who took care of everything at the Bangkok end. Whether it was Patricio capturing the best moments photographically, Momo topping up drinks from a hippy, Siam directing us to Sydney’s best pie shops or Zorba making the rest of us look sober, everyone contributed in one way or another. Even the useless clowns who just showed up to drink – it would not have been the same without you. Special mention must go to Brian Smith, who had such a great weekend that he had to take three days off work to get over it. Whilst the copious amounts of beer and whisky were probably partly responsible, apparently he also somehow managed to pick up pink eye! The source has not yet been confirmed and some suggested that it may have come from poorly washed pillow cases, but I simply cannot imagine that an establishment of the quality of Maze Backpackers would have such shabby hygiene standards and I certainly saw nothing to suggest that any blame should be apportioned to the staff or management. So, that leads me to the conclusion that Gearing must have shit on his face.
P.S. If you feel that you have been harshly picked on in this report, let me give you another quote from Belly: “Hooey, you reap what you sow”.