You are here: Home / Media / Putting the heat on Souths

Putting the heat on Souths

An investigation into alleged breaches at South Sydney Leagues Club, the entertaining of celebrities at Homebush Bay, and real estate transactions at the Redfern premises is proceeding following revelations in the Herald last month of members' frustration since the takeover of the Rabbitohs by high-profile owners Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court reported the Sydney Morning Herald of 18th October 2008.

A case officer from the NSW Department of Liquor, Gaming and Racing assigned to the investigation has interviewed a number of past and current directors and employees over alleged breaches, which could lead to the cancellation of the club licence, and he has also called for documentation to justify a leagues club decision to buy back floor space at the Redfern property for six times the price Holmes a Court and Crowe paid.

South Sydney members complain they have not been able to enjoy a beer at their club for nearly two years, while celebrities - including Lara Bingle and Michael Clarke, Lleyton and Bec Hewitt, then deputy prime minister Mark Vaile, Channel Nine personality Eddie McGuire, Leo Sayer, Major Michael Mori (lawyer who represented David Hicks) and Firepower executives - sat in corporate boxes at ANZ Stadium to watch the team.

Special Inspector (Enforcement) Nicholas Smyth said the investigation focuses on the issue of free membership of the leagues club to signed-up Rabbitohs supporters and the use of the liquor licence to supply alcohol at Homebush Bay, while he is also inquiring whether club members' interests had been served since a developer bought into the Chalmers Street building.

"I'm doing an investigation to ensure the leagues club complies with the Registered Clubs Act, whereas the football club, which is 75 per cent owned by Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court, is something I don't deal with at all," Smyth said.

The problem, according to one former director of the club, Larry Agius, is that the celebrity owners of the Rabbitohs deal with the difference, although Holmes a Court ceased any active role with the club earlier this year following a falling out with Crowe. "They find it difficult to draw a line between the two clubs - the leagues club and the football club," Agius said, confirming he had been questioned by Smyth last week.

"The investigation is whether liquor has been bought via the leagues club account and sold through the football club."

A former general manager of the leagues club, Chuck Driscoll, said he had also been interviewed by the case officer. "They can't use the leagues club liquor licence at Homebush," he said. "It can only be used at 265 Chalmers Street, Redfern."

However, the chairman of South Sydney Leagues Club, Bill Alexiou-Hucker, said he had met Smyth and explained the football club bought and sold the liquor, while the supplier invoiced the leagues club.

"The department's concern was only that certain members were entitled to free alcohol and others were not," he said, explaining that all members were welcome to purchase entry to corporate areas at ANZ stadium, where sponsors' liquor is available. A spokesman for the stadium said it was widespread practice for hirers to supply sponsors' products at the venue.

Driscoll, who resigned in December 2006, said the more serious concern was the issue of free membership because it made a mockery of the election of office bearers.

Three thousand Rabbitohs fans became new leagues club members for season 2008 without paying a fee following Holmes a Court's demand he be allowed to offer free memberships to ticketed members of his football club. Rule 30 (1) (j) of the Registered Clubs Act is very specific: "The fee payable by, or by any class of, ordinary members for membership of the club shall be an amount, not being less than $2 per annum … "

Alexiou-Hucker conceded this was illegal under the Act and punishable by anything from a reprimand to cancellation of the licence, admitting they had breached the legislation.

"You are not allowed to issue free memberships," Alexiou-Hucker said. "This is an oversight by the board."

However, he insisted Holmes a Court's free membership initiative had come after the board had already extended this concession to all members. "Peter's offer of free membership came after we had already granted this to all members in good faith because we didn't have a club."

It is understood a former employee of the football club has confirmed to Smyth that a warning was given that free memberships were illegal.

"It makes the election of office bearers null and void," Driscoll said. "The whole thing smells."

Yet Alexiou-Hucker said everything had to be minuted. "We are under such close scrutiny, we have to be squeaky clean," Alexiou-Hucker said.

Club members ask how the election of office bearers could have proceeded when the Registered Clubs Act requires the names of candidates be displayed "in a conspicuous place on the premises of the club". South Sydney doesn't have a notice board, let alone a club in which to conspicuously hang anything. "The whole thing is a farce," said former director Agius.

Alexiou-Hucker has also conceded the Department of Liquor, Gaming and Racing had called for three independent valuations of 1000 square metres of additional space required to house 60 poker machines following a vote by members to abandon Holmes a Court's "no pokies" policy.

The leagues club has agreed to pay $6.15m for an area sold to Holmes a Court and Crowe 18 months earlier for $1m. "People are upset the administrator sold 11,000 square metres for $13m and now we are paying over $6m for a bit over 1000 square metres, but I tell them they're going to get a triple A building when it's finished," Alexiou-Hucker said.

Souths members point out $3m for a fit-out of their new club was included in the purchase price and because construction hasn't commenced 19 months on, this money has been retained by the owners earning interest, rather than deposited in the leagues club account.

Another club member and former policeman, Paul Miles, has also been interviewed by the Department of Liquor, Gaming and Racing.

"When Holmes a Court and Crowe rode into town on white horses to take over the club, the then chairman, Nicholas Pappas, boasted that he'd delivered on his promise 'to bring in the big end of town', Miles said, disappointed he hasn't had a beer at Redfern while celebrities can sip bubbly at Homebush Bay.

"Two years on we fear they meant the big ending."