December 24, 2007

There was a good turnout at the city Oval for the afternoon rumpus – nineteen guys and nine girls. Good weather for it as well – clear and comfortably warm.


Some had come directly from school and still wore the majority of their uniform. Six of the boys, Joel included, were kitted out in the Horsham Demons junior strip. Monday was training night and they would get straight into it after the kick-about.


Layla had gone home to pick up her gear before heading to the Oval. Her hair held firmly in a white gypsy scarf, she emerged from her changing room and sashayed onto the pitch, metronomically bouncing a Sherrin footy. A baying of boos greeted her as her play mates grasped that she was decked out in Nathan Buckley’s infamous number five Collingwood strip. Sacrilege in Horsham. Hold on. ‘Boooooooooooooooooooo’. ‘Boooooooooooooooooooo’.



“What can I say guys? It’s a religious requirement.”



“Right, everyone, I guess the teams pick themselves. As usual, it’s everyone against Collingwood. Just kidding Layls. Look, what we’ll do is play in one half of the field, forwards against backs, and we’ll alternate. You and me pick Layls. Okay, guys, let’s not get too keen, it’s touch footy, no tackling, let go of the ball if you’re touched without taking a mark. Right, let’s go.”


It was just a fun knock-about. No-one was over exerting themselves. Still, it was immediately clear that Layla was the stand out athlete. She was far too fast for the other players. She always got to the ball first. Joel wasn’t surprised; he’d seen her sprinting ability. He was amazed, however, at her skill level, flexibility, reading of the game, peripheral awareness of other players and the speed that she could change direction. Okay, it was just touch footy but it was blissful. A sight for soar eyes. If you couldn’t have a woman of table height to put your beer on, you could settle for this.


[As Joel later told his coach]:

“She got this hospital handball right. She was right in front of me and running towards me. All I had to do was wait till she caught the ball and then tap her. In a real game I could have laid her out. Somehow, between catching it and me putting my right hand out to touch her, she had brushed past me on my left and put a long bomb into the goal square. It was physically impossible. Momentum alone should have had her running right into me. And it wasn’t like I didn’t want to touch her. No, no, you know what I mean. It was like we were two north poles of a magnet.”


The youngsters were having good clean healthy fun. They each, in their own way, expressed themselves on and off the footy. Of course, Catherine couldn’t keep to the rules and wouldn’t give up the ball when tagged. She’d taunt the opposition until a boy or two grabbed her and playfully dragged it out of her folded arms.


Layla took a mark about thirty metres out, straight in front, and without fuss ran on and put it between the big sticks for a goal. She could kick alright. Most of the time though, Layla was happy spoiling and tagging and putting the ball to the advantage of her team mates.


Layla’s other girl friend, Annabel, was also there. She took a kick from right in front of the goal posts and missed the ball completely, falling on her back leaving her skirt revealingly high with the inside out. She was given another go and missed it again, this time remaining on her unsteady legs. The third time she passed the pill off to a team mate who booted it through.


A couple of competing junior Demons, buffooning, went hard at the ball ignoring Joels ‘no tackling’ rule. Yeah, to show their class mates what real footy is like if they really wanted a piece of it.


Joel took a screamer only to find Layla’s concrete shoulder thumping into his chest, blackening his senses till he bumped the back of his head on the hard ground.



“Oh, I’m so sorry Joel. That was so clumsy of me. Are you alright? Do you need help? Helloooo?”


Layla bent down to help Joel get guardedly up.



“Hey, look, you can have the footy. Here.”



“Yeah, right. No worries. Just, you know, let’s keep a lid on it Layla. You’d get three weeks for that at the tribunal.”


As Joel re-oriented himself and handballed to a mate he thought:

“Jeez, you’d think she’d be soft. She’s not.”


Joel noticed that Maddy Quigley, the junior coach, had turned up for training and was watching from the boundary line. This was probably a good time for Joel to jog over to him. Maddy, a popular publican and former cattle rancher, was in his late fifties. He was mad keen on his grassroots fuddy and had coached the junior team since the first of his grandkids started playing back in ‘95.



“How yez going Maddy? I’m knackered. I’ll have to go easy tonight. Bloody chasing the dark one there around like a bull for the past half hour.”



“Aw yeah, good thanks J. St Brigids on tour tonight?”



“Aw just a kick-about Maddy. The dark one, Layla, she’s been having a rough time of it. She fancied a bit of footy.”



“Aw yeah? Tell you what mate, she’s showing a bit of form too. She’s like a kangaroo out there. She’s incredible. Looks like she could handle herself too, if it came to a bit of push and shove. She’s feral. Ah she’s wearing the right guernsey alright. I’ll have to lock me caaar.”



“Bloody oath. I tell you she’s as fit as a Mallee bull.”


[Maddy laughing]:

“I know, I saw it all mate. She shirt-fronted you bang to rights. That’s my girl.”



“Get her on the junior team Maddy. She’s deffo good enough. She’d serve it up to any team. We’ll win the grand final easily with her.”



“Aw mate I’d put her in the seniors if I could. But it’s not going to happen. The league won’t allow it. You’re over twelve, you’re not going to be playing footy with the lads anymore if you haven’t got a set.”


As the two were evaluating the salient aspects of Layla’s footy prowess she was rapidly carrying the footy through the middle of the ground. She executed a look-away handball past an opponent to Annabel who attempted to feed it back to the swiftly running Layla. Annabel misjudged by quite a bit so that the ball ended up behind Layla. Noticing this, whilst maintaining her sprint speed, Layla threw her left palm back and powerfully flicked the Sherrin over her head. Fortunately, it arrived in front of her at just the right distance to kick. So she did, she kicked the leather off the ball from just outside the fifty metre line. It whooshed off like an arrow making a beautiful arc and sailed through the middle of the goal.




Maddy shouted ‘Whoooaaa, whoooaaa, Jaysus H Christ, will you take a look at fucking that’ and instinctively started to run forward – albeit at 110kgs quite slowly. Within a couple of metres he had launched himself into the air. He lost his balance, if that’s possible mid-air. The small part of his right foot that landed first couldn’t handle the new centre of gravity and he buckled heavily into the ground with wheezes and grunts. Prone and supported by one arm, he managed to raise the other to complete the obligatory:

“Yoooooooooooo Bewoooooottttttaaayy”.


The players were screaming and clapping and running after Layla soccer style. Layla was high-stepping and high-fiving her way to the goal square and, from that distance, Joel could just make out her triumphant rendition of the Collingwood club song ‘good old Collingwood for ever….’.



“I’ve never seen a thing like it Joel. Never. Where are the cameras when you need them.”


[Joel, coming to terms with the curve balls life was throwing him]:

“Well, I guess she did tell me she never misses from the fifty, Maddy.”



“Fair dinkum. That was fifty and then some. Never misses eh?”


From his low position he lifted his eyes to the blue blanketing sky. If he stuck a helmet on her? And a bit of stubble. He’d cut her hair short if he had to, don’t you worry about that. He looked over at her in the goal square, surrounded by jubilant teenagers and being carried on the shoulders of two of the Demons. Even from this distance he decided to give that idea away ‘more bumps than a night of dodgems’.


Not long after, a hot, glistening and bedraggled Layla had hiked herself over to Joel.



“Layls, this is Maddy Quigley our coach.”



“Hello, Mr Quigley, nice to meet you.”



“Tell you what, you’ve got a great pair of thighs. We could use you at this club.”


Quigley, self-absorbed, nodded to himself as he turned to walk towards the changing rooms.



“I have an idea J. Have to sort something out. See yez later.”


[Layla, comedically gobsmacked]:

“O-Moy-Gawd! Did you hear that Joel? That old man was hitting on me. He was checking me legs out.”



“No Layls, no he wasn’t. Quigley only thinks about footy. He used to be a cattle man. That’s why he’s a bit … ah well you know.”



“Well, if you say so Joel. You know what? I’ve had a great time. I’m totally shagged.”



“Hmmmmm. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was good for … ah well you know.”


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