25th September 2016
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Talking sport … with Jim Tait

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Dundee manager Paul Hartley this week launched a blistering attack on the BBC’s long-running television programme Sportscene, which provides brief highlights on Sunday evening of Scottish football matches along with a few thoughts from various “pundits”.

Hartley’s venom was mainly directed at one of the more regular contributors, former Chelsea, Everton and Scotland winger Pat Nevin, who was on at the weekend with St Mirren player Steven Thompson.

Thankfully he didn’t have a go at Shetland’s own Jonathan Sutherland, who presents the show. If he did then Jonathan could always have retorted by making fun of Hartley’s beard, a scruffy and pitiful feature, in a week when his isles comrades are making the news for their impressive facial hair.

Nevin had had the impudence to suggest that Dundee’s defence, during the 1-0 defeat at Aberdeen on Friday evening, had been a bit disorganised.

Hartley, who has proved himself to be a decent manager during his few years in the hot seat, no doubt believes he is a good tactician, and was fuming at Nevin’s remarks.

He said he didn’t watch Sportscene, which he branded “garbage”, and had to be told about it. Showing a limited selection of descriptive nouns, he also said Nevin’s comments were “garbage” and suggested he didn’t have the authority to make them as he hadn’t managed a club himself.

Nevin later hit back, saying he had a huge respect for managers. But he needed to do his job and be honest. He was sticking by what he said and that was that.

This situation is somewhat similar to the spat between English pundit Robbie Savage and Chelsea player John Terry.

Savage stated that he thought Terry was past it, a view which has possibly been shown to be doubtful on recent performances. Terry replied by saying Savage, a Welsh international, had no right to be making such remarks as he hadn’t played a high enough level.

It is certainly not the first time Sportscene has come in for criticism from a manager. Former host Archie MacPherson has told a humorous story about getting a phone call from someone pretending to be his uncle Henry. Although MacPherson was pretty sure he had no such relation, he was intrigued and agreed to take the call.

It turned out to be the late Celtic manager Jock Stein, who was angry about something MacPherson had said. He had used the pretence to get past the over-protective BBC switchboard ladies, who Archie in his imitable style likened to the Praetorian Guard.

“My new ‘uncle’ tore me to shreds,” he said. “Think of shoving your hand into a mincer and you’ll get the gist of how it felt.”

MacPherson admitted he also received the occasional death threat – although he and his colleagues usually treated them as a joke – and there were certain pubs he deliberately shunned thereafter.

What Hartley, Terry and Stein all failed to realise was that the comments were neither proven fact nor fiction. They were simply someone’s view.

It’s exactly the same with this column, which has taken a little criticism on social media in recent months from folk, some of whom who should know better.

People may disagree with certain aspects and that is their right. As long as personal abuse is not thrown I have no problem. It’s something called opinion! Geddit?

Nevin may not have been in charge of a club himself, but he was a tremendous winger in his day, played at the highest level and would walk into the current Scotland side. He is also a thoughtful and reasonably interesting character who can occasionally inject a bit of humour into proceedings.

Hartley also won 25 caps for his country, only three fewer then Nevin, but he did so in an era where a dearth of talent was obvious to anyone who regularly watched the international side.

Neither of these two men has any divine right to speak sense. That their views are so different is just a heartening reminder that all footballers are not so bland as the majority.

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Scottish rugby coach Vern Cotter has announced his provisional squad for the Six Nations competition, which begins a week tomorrow with a home match at Murrayfield against England.

New English coach Eddie Jones has already started playing mind games be alleging that the Scots are favourites for the Calcutta Cup match, even though they finished bottom of the competition last season with defeats in all six games.

Persumably Jones thinks that Scotland’s performances in last year’s Rugby World Cup, where they reached the quarter-final and were considered unlucky to lose to Australia, are grounds for his unusual view.

Personally, and this of course is only an opinion, I would say the English rugby structure, with so many more professional sides than their opponents, should always make them favourites in a contest such as this.

A number of Cotter’s men are also troubled by injuries and loss of form, but allowing for that I believe they will surely finish higher than last year. Even then there were signs that things were improving, and the World Cup displays were definitely encouraging.

Particularly in the forwards, where the likes of W P Nel and John Hardie have added much-needed stability, they should be far more of a match for England than they were at Twickenham last year.

The backs are much more of a worry, with most of the seven players who will be selected having displayed nowhere near their best for so far this season.

My prediction would be for the Scots to finish fourth in the table, with two wins and three defeats. Anything higher would surely be a bonus.

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The English cricket team’s capitulation on the final day of the fourth test against South Africa, after having already secured the series 2-0, showed that they are far from the finished article.

When you have a side down you need to make sure they stay down, and once again England failed to stamp their authority when the time was right to do so.

It was a similar situation in last year’s home Ashes contest against Australia. Once the series was won the foot was taken off the gas and the opposition was able to finish on a high note.

Grinding an opponent into the dirt appears to be a characteristic that England just cannot accomplish, whereas it seems to come naturally to the Australians, and especially the great West Indian sides of the 1970s and 80s.

Too many players on this tour seemed to switch off when they really needed to produce, as if their place in the side is secure. It is nothing short of a miracle, and mainly due to two individual efforts by Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, that they actually managed to win the series at all.

Alex Hales, the eighth batsman to be given a chance to partner captain Alistair Cook as an opener following the retiral of Andrew Strauss, followed the way of his seven predecessors. Nick Compton, apart from one decent innings, failed miserably at number three. And James Taylor showed that he is no better than even an out-of-form Ian Bell.

The bowling was only slightly more impressive, with James Anderson pretty much out of form and Steven Finn again succumbing to injury. Broad, Stokes and Moeen Ali all had their moments but lacked consistency. For Broad to now be rated number one in the world is ridiculous.

It is likely that Hales, Compton and Taylor will be given at least another two tests in which to make their mark, but they must be aware that the likes of Bell, Gary Ballance and a few others are queuing up to take over.

AboutJim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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