28th September 2016
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Talking sport … with Jim Tait

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Understrength hockey team rose to the occasion

The Shetland women’s hockey team are just over a fortnight away from one of their biggest challenges, the Scottish Cup semi-final.

As the current crop of players train hard at Brae for their match against Milne Craig Clydesdale Western Ladies – their commitment is all weathers is surely impressive – perhaps it is worth delving into the archives.

My old friend Joan Nicolson has provided me with a reminder of how different the game was 50 years ago when most matches were played on the old sloping pitch at Seafield.

The inter-county match against Orkney in 1966 was one such encounter, ending in a thrilling 3-3 draw. According to The Shetland Times report a “scratch” home team, including several veteran players, would actually have been worthy of a 6-3 victory.

It had been 20 years since Shetland had defeated Orkney on their home turf and a daunting task faced the line-up of June Rorie, Jessie Cogle, Zena Johnson, Beryl Abernethy, Alison Dale, Eleanor Paton, Kathleen Leask, Shirley Bruce, Joan Nicolson, Jasmine Gray and Margaret Johnson.

But things started in heartening fashion and forward Bruce, as described by the paper, “whacked home a shot in the eighth minute to the delirious delight of junior local supporters and more restrained elation from the adults”.

The spectators, who had no doubt been expecting the opposite to happen, now got fully behind their team and gave great vocal support.

Orkney came back swiftly, however, and Ann Leonard squared things by equalising in the 11th minute.

There was even some needle in the match, evidenced by a visiting player who, after being tackled from behind on the run, hit out at her opponent with her stick.

It was “a regrettable incident”, according to the report, and the Orkney player was “lucky to get off with a light reprimand”.

Shetland had the ball in the Orkney net in the 21st minute but the jubilation was premature. The shot had been from outside the circle and was quickly ruled out, leading to more disappointment among the home support.

Orkney were in the ascendancy after that and Leonard and Walls put them 3-1 ahead. But back came Shetland again and it was Nicolson who grabbed an important goal just before the break.

The question at half-time was could the home team keep up the pace? And with the slope advantage and the wind behind them hopes were high.

There were many chances and another “goal” was ruled out because of an infringement. Then with under a minute remaining, and the equaliser seeming frustratingly elusive, Kathleen Leask proved the woman for the occasion, striking a great finish to make the final score three-all.

Some of the paper’s reflections are worth repeating, especially as there was no club hockey in Shetland then and their adversaries were much younger and more highly rated.

“What a show the [veterans] put up,” stated the reporter. “They played with their old skill and dash from the opening whistle and really warmed the hearts of their supporters.

“Considering that their practice must have been virtually nil compared to their opponents no praise is too high for them.

“Mrs Joan Nicolson, mother of six, was still tearing round in full cry at the end and a real menace to the Orkney defence, as was her sister Mrs Margaret Johnson who showed she still retained some nifty stickwork.”

Fifty years on Joan and Margaret no doubt remember the match vividly, and hopefully their efforts can spur on the present-day players at the end of this month.

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The hero-worship of Manchester City manager-elect Josep “Pep” Guardiola by football writers and observers is nothing less than astonishing.

Guardiola was obviously a fine player himself, being capped 47 times for his country, albeit during that period the Spanish national side were under-achievers par-excellence.

Since becoming a manager he appears to have assumed the mantle of greatness, although he has rarely, if ever, been placed under serious pressure or plied his trade in a highly competitive league.

When he took over at Barcelona in 2008 he inherited a side which was nearly always in the top two in La Liga, and had been champions two years previously as well as securing the European Champions League.

Guardiola, with the wonderful Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta at the heart of his midfield, took Barcelona to four out of five national titles during his time in charge, and two more Champions League successes.

But in his final year in charge at Barca, his tiki-taka style of possession play was finally found wanting and completely dismantled by Bayern Munich, who stormed to the European pinnacle under Jupp Heynckes.

What did Guardiola do? Look for a new test? No, he joined the German champions of course.
Although unable to defend the Champions League he has performed perfectly adequately at domestic level.

Bayern took the national title during his first two years in charge and are odds on to make it a hat-trick this season, currently leading the table by eight points.

Now Guardiola is eager for a new “challenge”, and appears to have decided himself that his future lies in England.

But of course he didn’t follow in the footsteps of Spanish colleagues such as Roberto Martinez and Quique Flores, who are currently battling away at Everton and Watford respectively. That is not the route of Guardiola. He is heading to the cash-haven that is Manchester City.

Now we have the English media attempting to convince everyone that the only way for Manchester United to seriously rival their neighbours is to enlist the services of their other darling, the one and only Jose Mourinho.

All this is seriously disrespectful to Manuel Pellegrino and Louis Van Gaal, who are still in charge at City and United, in the former’s case until the end of the season when Guardiola takes over.

Van Gaal remains under intense pressure, and not a week goes by where he doesn’t walk out of a press conference or take a pop at a reporter he considers to be out of order.

This column stated a couple of months ago that Van Gaal should be given at least until the end of the season to turn things around, and on recent form nothing has happened to change that opinion.

If you want the name of a manager who has really excelled, given the kind of limited resources to work with which is unknown to either Guardiola or Mourinho, look no further than Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City.

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It was a case of the same old same at the weekend as the Scottish rugby team, although enjoying some promising moments, made too many errors and failed once again to break down a solid England side.

For about 25 minutes up to half-time the Scots were dominating proceedings. They could easily have had two tries and missed fairly straightforward penalty and drop-goal opportunities.

There were positives to be taken, for instance the performances of Stuart Hogg, WP Nel, Jonny Gray and John Hardie. But others, such as Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell and David Denton, were very much under par.

To defeat any side in the Six Nations either the whole team needs to be firing on all cylinders or you need a huge slice of luck. Sadly the Scots failed on both counts.

If the English match was tough, an equally difficult challenge lies in wait tomorrow with a visit to Cardiff.

Two years ago that fixture saw one of the heaviest ever defeats, when Hogg’s early sending-off affected his team mates to such a degree that they played like novices.

Scottish forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys, a former Welsh international himself, insists that good times are “just around the corner”. I’m sure thousands of fans are desperately hoping he’s right.

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Like most people I’m happy for tennis star Andy Murray and his wife Kim that they are now the proud parents of a baby daughter.

However, it must have been a poor day news wise on Tuesday with the exaggerated coverage given to the event.

The only consolation, I suppose, is that it doesn’t compare to the amount of column inches devoted to Prince George. According to one national paper this week, at the age of two and a half he’s expressed a desire to be a pilot when he grows up!

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BP’s donation of £500 to Shetland Junior Football Association towards the purchase of prescription goggles for young footballers in the isles has to be welcomed.

Over the years many promising players have seen their ability hindered by eyesight problems, with tradititional glasses being entirely unsuitable and contact lenses unavailable.

In my own long-distant junior days we actually had a goalkeeper who wore specs and still managed to perform heroics. I still wonder to this day how on earth he did it. Perhaps if “Spoggles” had been around in Jim Houston’s time he would have been a world-beater!

AboutJim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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