Long-serving Lang Lang Coursing Club president John Clay was recently announced as a worthy winner of the 2019 Noel Banks Medal – a coveted award for outstanding and continuous volunteer service to the coursing industry.
A stalwart of the sport, Clay, 70, described his honour as “like the Brownlow Medal of coursing”.
And he was effusive in his praise of Noel Banks, who he said was a coursing ‘father figure’.
“You appreciate it (the medal),” Clay said. “Noel was also Keeper of the Stud Book and it was the ‘Bible’ of the industry.”
Clay added that Banks was an absolute gentleman who would help anyone in need.
“In the late ’90s, Noel gave me $100 out of his own pocket towards a concrete slab for a shower and toilet block at Lang Lang,” Clay said. “Ironically, the amenities were never built but the slab remains as a legacy of his generosity.”
Clay, who says he’s been Lang Lang’s president for around 13 years, was introduced to greyhound racing at age 24 and got his first greyhound – a giveaway – in 1967.
“An early coursing recollection was putting the kids into the car and heading off to a Waterloo Cup at Penshurst… Only trouble was a wheel came off the trailer, but it wasn’t long before another coursing participant was lending a helping hand,” Clay said.
“That’s the thing about coursing, we all help each other… I think it’s always been about the people; it’s a different atmosphere,” he added. “I remember coursing for a bag of kibble and we received more nominations than a Warragul meeting.”
Clay also recalls a crisis meeting being held at Lang Lang CC around 2005 when the club’s future appeared in jeopardy.
“It was going downhill and there was talk about closing down… But a few of us put $20 in each to get things ticking over again,” he said.
They say “behind every good man in greyhounds there’s a better woman” and Clay totally agrees.
“On the night of the medal presentation, my wife Marion and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary,” Clay said. “When we first met, Marion had bought a pup and I gave her a hand to break it in… Initially, we just shared an interest in greyhounds.”
Pawnote: Noel Banks began coursing in 1934 when he won his first Plumpton Coursing at the Sandown Speed Coursing Track. Banks went on to win an unprecedented 11 Waterloo Cups as either a trainer or breeder. He devoted his life to greyhound racing but particularly his first passion, coursing. Banks became a member of the NCA executive in 1955, representing the Tynong Coursing Club. He commenced as NCA secretary in 1969, initially for a three-month period, but stayed in the position for 17 years. Banks was described as proactive and always searching for ways to improve coursing. He was a deep thinker, and he didn’t want his name up in lights. He was straight down the line and kept a lot of people honest.
Roll on nearly four decades and the Clays – who have five siblings between them – have never had a holiday together.
In fact, they’re almost inseparable except for two things: “The only time we’re apart is when I go boating around Tooradin or Corinella, when I get a bit of spare time, and when Marion gets her retail therapy fix – she loves shopping!” Clay quipped.
A hands-on president at Lang Lang, Clay has driven the lure, ridden the motorbike (to re-set the lure) and ‘climbed the tower’, and says he still doesn’t feel 70.
A ‘dog checker’ for more years than he cares to remember, Clay has raced greyhounds the calibre of Black Russian, Worthy Bear, Our Stewy and Royal Jubilee, and says he’s had a Waterloo Cup runner-up at Geelong. “I think it was Russian Crusher or Red Crusher, my memory deceives me,” he said.
But Clay says eventually there’ll be a time in his life where he’d “like to back down a little bit”.
“We’ve got eight pups by Banjo Boy that are 12 months old and once they’ve finished their careers it may be time to hang up the lead and collar,” he said.
Perhaps a well-deserved holiday with Marion is on the cards, John?