SYDNEY — It was after a horrific train crash in Zimbabwe in July, in the days before he married his American sweetheart, that Peter Holmes á Court decided to sell his stake in South Sydney.
The 46-year-old flew out of Sydney late on Wednesday afternoon, back to his base in New York after witnessing his Rabbitohs win a premier trophy eight years after he bought into the club.
By the time he steps off the plane at John F Kennedy Airport, he may well no longer own a stake in the famous club.
Holmes á Court and co-owner Russell Crowe could be seen shaking hands on the viewing balcony of their box at ANZ Stadium after full-time last Sunday night and the gesture wasn’t just about a job well done after they took the success-starved foundation club from the competition gutter to the top of the tree.
For Holmes á Court, it was also about reaching the end of the road.
Negotiations to sell his 37.5% share in the club to James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings were already at an advanced stage under a heavy veil of secrecy so as not to distract Michael Maguire’s team from their grand final against Canterbury.
Packer’s interest in buying into Souths to join close friend Crowe at the helm in Redfern was raised nearly 12 months ago and since then several offers were made and passed on by Holmes á Court.
Holmes á Court confirmed on Wednesday, however, that he was finalising the sale of his 50% share in Blackcourt
League Investments, the company through which he and Crowe paid $3 million for a 75% stake in the club in 2006.
“I confirm there are negotiations underway for the purchase of my 37.5% share in the South Sydney Rabbitohs,”
Holmes á Court said in a statement as lawyers worked to finalise the deal.
“I am proud to have played a part in the team’s great victory on Sunday and expect the club to go from strength to strength in coming years.”
The timing appeared perfect with a long-awaited grand final triumph achieved and a billionaire ready to take the baton, but for Holmes á Court it was a far more sombre life-changing experience three months earlier that was a major factor in his decision to sell.
He was in a tourist tram near Victoria Falls with his wife-to-be, award-winning photographer Alissa Everett and the wedding party in July when a freight train crashed into it, injuring 20 and killing one of their guests, William Poovey.
The ceremony went ahead a few days later in Botswana but, as Holmes á Court admitted at the time, he and his new wife were left with their hearts “broken for the loss of our dear friend”.
The offloading of his stake in Souths is undoubtedly a commercial decision – he will reportedly receive as much as $10 million for the transaction, and is owed $4.5 million he tipped into the club – but the tragedy in Africa is said to have given him a profound new perspective on life.
Everett has been a long-time champion for women through charity work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and there are other pressing matters for the former businessman whose relocation to Europe, then to the US have made him a distant partner with Crowe in Souths since he stepped aside as Souths’ managing director in 2008.
Those close to Holmes á Court say reports of tension between Crowe and him are overblown, citing the celebratory evening they spent in each other’s company after the 30-6 win over the Bulldogs last Sunday night.