January 7, 2008

Maddy’s euphoria had energized Geoff Derwent. He didn’t really believe the girl was going to win The Gift but he damn sure wanted to. And that was good enough. It was better than the desert the Demons had been wandering through for a decade. Okay, The Gift wasn’t footy per se but it associated the club with getting the job done at the business end of elite competition. And that kind of association is gold.


The semi-slumber that the gassy tinnies induced caused Geoff to rise above his immediate concerns.


Yes, he was first and foremost a resourceful business man. That’s why he was elected president. They had put their faith in his ability to build up the club’s brand and put it on a secure financial footing. ‘Get it right off the field and success on the field will follow.’ That’s the phrase he used to torment the previous incumbents with. Then he gathered a ticket together to oust them. Unfortunately, not much had gone to plan and money-wise things were a bit slippy. Under pressure, he had blamed the increasing debt on the lack of success of the senior footy team. Those bureaucratic Kookaburras had massed and made him, mortified, swallow his own catch-phrase.


‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Geoff was tough and he was going. For the past few months Geoff had gathered to himself all evidence of incompetence at the club. He would, in exasperation, resign at the end of the year demonstrating the futility of the task that he had been set given the resources he had to hand. And he needed to get this done before the other crowd got its act together and threw him out.


Now, with beer goggle focus, he realized this story wasn’t about winning The Gift or haggling over handicaps or even putting up a good show. This story was about the Demons, a family oriented club, committed to its community, providing the opportunity for a very well-presented young lady to realize her dream of competing with Olympic champions. The Demons was a club that cared. They cared for your boys, your girls and even your mascots. Yes, that would get some much needed media coverage. And the coverage would translate into a bigger pipeline, a humongous pipe. And it would be much more than a trickle coming through, don’t you worry about that. Geoff Derwent would be a leg end at the Demons. Geoff Derwent would probably be voted President in the Horsham Demons team of the century.


Geoff rang his mate Tom at the Wimmera Mail-Times and sold him the Layla story.



“Now, today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday. I need it in the Monday paper so come down and take a picture tomorrow morning. I’ll make sure she’s here.


No Tom, no. You’ll need a picture. Believe me, the picture is paramount.”


Geoff had calculated correctly. By Monday afternoon Geoff had taken calls from media organizations around Australia and even some international ones. It was greeeaaattt.



“Look Joh, on Layla’s behalf, we were very disappointed with the handicap. Olympic and world champion Linford Christie gets half a metre but this young girl gets put off scratch. It’s ludicrous. Look, she’s a young girl wanting to compete with the best athletes in the world. It’s her heart’s desire. We’re not looking for positive discrimination here. We just want Layla to get a fair go. The whole of the Horsham Demons club is behind her and we’ll be right with her whatever the race situation. I just think that the people responsible for setting her mark in the Stawell Gift should take a good hard look at themselves. And that means you Billy if you’re listening.”


[Joh Feeney, 774 ABC Radio]:

“That sounds well and good but go on, pull the other one Geoff. Could I put it you that maybe the handicapper thought you were taking the mick? Maybe some old scores to be settled with a rival Wimmera town? You know, take some of the prestige away from Stawell by sending in a clown to trivialize the most important event on their calendar? Hopefully, you don’t intend to ham it up too much on the day, do you Geoff?”



“Oh absolutely no way, Joh. We’re Horsham. Folk out here, we don’t do those things. We are as straight as Warren Beatty. And, sort of connected to that, may I say my wife loves your programme. No Joh, Layla is fair dinkum. She’s a beauty. And let me tell you we are holding a demonstration race, her against the boys, at the City Oval at 2pm Tuesday 30th March. That’s tomorrow! So any doubters can have their minds put at rest. And a direct appeal to the media Joh – come along, see Layla in action. Joh, will you come along yourself.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“Well, I think I’d need a helicopter to get to Horsham by 2pm Geoff, so I certainly can’t commit. It does seem, though, that you will have a very interesting afternoon ahead of you at the Oval. Okay, Geoff, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to talk to us on 774 ABC today. And of course how lucky you are to have such a discerning wife.


Now, to respond to Geoff’s complaint against the Stawell handicappers, I’m glad to say we have Billy Vandenhoff on the phone. Mr Vandenhoff, good day to you and welcome to 774 ABC. Were you the handicapper responsible for Layla’s mark?”



“Hello Joh and thanks for having me. Yes, I determined, based on the official guidelines, what handicap Layla Parkin should have in the Stawell Gift.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“Is it your opinion, Mr Vandenhoff, that Linford Christie will be hearing Layla Parkin’s footsteps up until, I don’t know, the 100 metre mark at which time he’ll find himself struggling to no avail to keep her at bay?”



“Now Joh, let me first say this. I could never be certain, just as you intimated, that the Demons mob hasn’t set this up to try to take some of the shine off The Gift. We’ve got an amazing race this year and, of course, Linford is one of the biggest coups we’ve ever had. I won’t be brought into it Joh but that mob have history.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“So Linford is likely to be coughing up Layla Parkin’s dust is he?”



“I’m there Joh, I’m getting to that right now. Okay, notwithstanding the motives of any competitor or their stable, the handicapper goes about his or her job with the utmost diligence.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“Mr Vandenhoff, you still haven’t answered the question. I must insist you do. In the opinion of Stawell handicappers, is Layla faster than Linford?”



“You see Joh. She might well be. She might very well be. It’s not really fair to make that comparison though. I didn’t determine Linford’s mark.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“So it seems the mark you get is greatly dependent on who calculates your handicap. Let’s hope the bookmakers and the punters are happy with that.”



“No, that’s totally untrue. We have a great history of probity at the Gift.


[Joh Feeney]:

“Yes, I read John Perry’s book too. ‘The Quick and the Dead: Stawell and Its Race Through Time’. An anthropologist’s account of The Stawell Gift. It’s quite an interesting read isn’t it? Have you read it Mr Vandenhoff? I can’t imagine the organizing committee will be happy with an outrageous handicapping decision that favours a world champion over an under-age girl?”



“I can assure you that the calculations are fully within the guidelines. I went through some of the details with Mr Derwent. The fact that he doesn’t like the decision doesn’t make it wrong. Look, she’s a new athlete and she’s young; there are limits to what she can have.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“How long have you been a handicapper Mr Vandenhoff?”



“Twenty five years and counting Joh. And, if I may say, I have at least one thing in common with Mr Derwent. My wife love’s you too.”


[Joh Feeney]:

“I’m sorry, though very flattering, that’s a blatent attempt to move the goal posts Mr Vandenhoff. I guess the additional years you count on are at the discretion of the Stawell organizing committee or perhaps the Victorian Athletic League. We’ll keep our eye on the situation and, for the moment Mr Vandenhoff, we’ll bid you farewell and thank you for talking to us at 774 ABC.”


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