By Matt Fotia
Get vicious or die trying.
That was and sometimes still is the tagline of notable social media account Valley Vicious Footy and Netball Banter, a page dedicated to the lighter side of Football and Netball in the Yarra Valley and now the South East.
But behind each post that highlights the less than flattering expressions made when eating a pie at the footy, having a sneaky snooze in the rooms after a couple of quiet ones or the face you make when being met in a bone crunching tackle, there is a much more touching, serious side.
Lee Lawrence played most of his football at the Coldstream Football Club, having been born in the area. He had a year at Yarra Glen but sustained an injury, before returning to Coldstream.
Later down the line, whilst living in Yarra Glen, Lawrence decided to go back to the RiverPigs and put his hand up for the Reserves coaching role. He stayed in the role for four seasons and has only nice things to say about his time with the RiverPigs.
“It’s a great club, we built a really fantastic culture down there and that still continues on now.”
Lawrence gave away his coaching role when it became too hard to commit due to both an increasing workload and the increasing size of his family.
Unable to get his regular football fix he took to social media and Valley Vicious was born.
“To be honest it was me, bored, sitting at home, not being able to get to as many footy games as I would’ve liked, so I took to social media,”
“It started out as a small little page with pretty much just the boys from Yarra Glen and a few others getting around it and has just grown.”
That little page now has over 5,000 followers, a five star rating and more or less cult status, with no member of the community immune to ‘VV’s’ gaze.
Lawrence can’t quite remember the first post that VV ever uploaded, but can remember the man that really set the page on its way – Jayden Leather, better known to many as ‘The Leatherman’.
“I’m pretty wrapt that (viral post) happened because I got to know Jayden really well and he’s helped us out a lot.”
“My aim was to get some characters around the league and build the league up, you know blokes that play good footy and look a bit different, they create a buzz.”
It’s done more than create a buzz.
The page is now humming and on Friday the 1st of March 2019 Lawrence utilised its power grouping together 32 players, including ex VFL/AFL stars Shaun Smith and Lindsay Gilbee, to play for the Valley Vicious All Stars against newly formed Eastern Football League side Croydon North/Mount Lilydale, all to raise awareness for Rett Syndrome in an event that Lawrence can only describe as ‘fantastic’.
“I grew up with Lindsay (Gilbee) and played all my juniors with him, so it was a privilege to run out with him and all the other All Stars,”
“To play against Croydon North/Mount Lilydale was great, because it’s their first year as a club and they were fantastic with all their help.”
The match saw a crowd of over 3,000 people descend upon the Healesville Football Ground, on a balmy summers evening, to support a great cause.
“It was a fantastic turnout and we had a great group of people who helped organise it,”
“It was hard work, it was tiring and without those who helped, it probably wouldn’t have happened,”
“The day itself, everything just worked.”
“It was a stinking hot day, but there was a cool change just in time for the game,”
“People just flooded in, it was a really good event and we’re definitely doing it again.”
Lee recalls his and some of the other All Stars emotions when running out in front of the 3,000 strong crowd.
“It was amazing, some of the blokes said this is the biggest crowd they’d ever played in front of,”
“We ran out of the rooms through the VV tent and we saw the crowd and I had goosebumps, it was unreal,”
“I’ve made friendships with the blokes that played in that game that will last forever.
Whilst that game, like all of VV’s work, was laced with humour, fun times and general good spirits, it was all the more important for Lawrence and his wife Tahli.
The Rett Awareness Cup idea was originally hatched to help raise funds to donate towards Rett Syndrome, a genetic brain disorder that typically becomes apparent in young girls from about six months old. It effects a child’s hand-eye coordination and their ability to walk and talk.
The disease more or less only effects females, as male genetics rarely allow a male child to be born with Rett.
Lawrence’s five year old daughter, Gypsy, is a sufferer of Rett Syndrome and has never spoken. She walks but will lose that ability sooner rather than later and her own hand-eye coordination is deteriorating.
Lawrence and his wife noticed that something was wrong with Gypsy when she was around one years old.
“We noticed at around age one, that things weren’t right, ”
“That next year was so tough, because they (doctors) couldn’t come up with anything, they were giving us heaps of ideas of what it could be, but couldn’t diagnose her,”
“The day I found out it was Rett was heartbreaking, but there was a bit of relief because I was able to understand and know what it was.”
Lawrence has two other children, Ishana (3) and Boston (1), and says the hardest part is watching them grow up in full health, whilst Gypsy goes the other way.
But there is hope.
“It’s pretty sad watching Ishana and Boston grow up whilst watching Gypsy go backwards,”
“It’s a similar boat to Motor Neurone Disease, they are getting close to breakthroughs and stuff like that,”
“Last year we donated $30,000 to Rett and we’ve got a campaign going at the moment – Kick a Goal for Rett – which is getting some legs,”
“Not many people know about it (Rett Syndrome), it’s just one of those things – but we’ll keep pushing it and the cause.”
The 2020 version of the Rett Awareness Cup will be once again held at the Healesville Football Ground on Saturday the 29th of February. The day will include netball, womens football and of course the Valley Vicious All Stars.
To donate money towards Rett Syndrome click here