There still might be snow and sleet this April but summer is on its way and the lighter nights can only mean one thing – the start of the Shetland football season.
This year promises to be one of the most intriguing again following on from 2011′s drama which saw five different top flight teams win a trophy each. There was an exciting championship duel between holders Whalsay and a young Celtic side while Shetland narrowly overcame Orkney to win the annual inter-county yet again.
There has been some transfer activity and speculation over the winter with some top players moving clubs while injury, retirement, university and moves out of Shetland have been the curse of many.
There have been changes off the pitch too with some new blood joining the association, new sponsors for the reserve league and some new managers taking the reins, not to mention Niall Bristow deciding to stay on as county coach again.
It looks like Whalsay will remain the team to beat in the G&S Flooring Premier League with a virtually unchanged squad from last season. Their consistency and experience kept challengers at bay when it mattered with the overall top scorer, Stuart Shearer, scoring for fun, ably assisted by an array of county team mates. Their only disappointment will have been their three cup-final defeats at the hands of three different Lerwick sides so they will be seeking revenge for that this year.
If any team is going to beat Whalsay it looks like it will be Spurs who on their day they can play some of the best technical football in the league. While last season they may have been disappointed not to have sustained a title challenge with the squad they had, they still clinched the Madrid Cup and have added substantially to their personnel with the notable signings of Paul Molloy from Whitedale and 2011 player of the year Jordan Webb from Celtic.
Webb and Molloy are two players of county pedigree who will strengthen midfield and attack and who scored over 30 goals between them last year. If pre-season form is an indicator of how teams will do, Spurs may just win the title. As a taster they beat Whalsay 3-2 in the Highland Fuels Cup final earlier this month.
How Celtic fare without Webb and some others will be key to their progress in 2012. They topped the league for a while last season before some disappointing results prevented them from securing success but they did come away with the Manson Cup.
With a young team and many players coming back from university later on in the season, Celtic will be looking to start well if they want to replicate last season’s form to mount a title challenge.
Whitedale will miss Molloy’s goals and creativity but they can rely on a solid defence, some good experience and the goal threat of Jamie Wilson who has been one of the most consistent scorers in Shetland football over the years.
They also have a league-winning reserve squad so can call some more players up when required. While the last few years have seen cups won for the West Siders, they will be looking for more consistency in the league if they want to improve their mid-table position from last year.
Another cup-winning team who will look to improve league form is Thistle. The Jags had some special moments last season, especially ending their six-year cup drought with victory in the Fraser Cup but they sometimes failed to repeat that form in the league.
If they can keep their squad together and play the way they can, they should pull off a few surprises again this season. They will also have to do this without Shetland duo David Thomson and Neil Laurenson who were star performers last year but have signed for Unst this season.
Delting came out of their 2011 season with no silverware, which is something they will want to put right this year. While their squad is not the biggest, they still possess a strong spine full of title-winning and inter-county experience to match any team. With players like Ross Jamieson, Leighton Flaws, Merv Jamieson and Ross Macdougal they will still be tough to beat.
Scalloway’s form last season was baffling with some great wins following heavy defeats at times. They can beat anyone on their day though and always carry a goal threat with players like Steven Umphray and Robert Garrick while a reportedly more rigorous winter schedule means they will be leaner and fitter than in the past few seasons.
Ness United were another team who will feel they underachieved last season. Despite many good performances they didn’t score enough or win enough games. However, they have one of the youngest teams in the league and offer a lot of promise with many junior county level players in the squad.
With some first-team players moving from Shetland at the end of last season for various reasons, Ness will have a small squad but the acquisitions of Danny Finnie and Thomas Sinclair will add more of a goal threat than previous years.
The newly named Mind Your Head Reserve League started this week and reigning champions Whitedale will hope to retain the title after winning it comfortably last year ahead of Spurs.
There will also be two knock out cups for the reserve teams to play for. The only change from last year is that Mossbank have disbanded so the league will be down to 10 teams again.
Shetland Football Association would like to thank sponsors G&S Flooring, Brudolff Hotels and Mind Your Head for their support and wish all teams the best for the new season.