30th April 2017

Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

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News that two new players have been called up for the Scottish women’s international football team may well have gone unnoticed in these parts.

The fact that one is German and the other English certainly wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. Capping foreign-born players happens all the time with the men’s squad.

But Vaila Barsley, who along with Sophie Howard has been named in manager Anna Signeul’s latest squad, is someone with definite isles connections.

It is 13 years now since as a young teenager, having represented England at under-17 level, she told The Shetland Times of her promising career.

At that time Vaila was turning out for Norwich City, and as her mother was Rosemary Leslie from Culster, Dunrossness, she hinted that she would have loved to be able to represent Shetland at the island games.

Following success at Norwich she signed for English giants Arsenal, but after that her career went off the radar somewhat, mainly because of her accountancy career.

From 2006 to 2009, as she studied for a degree in the USA she played for St John’s Red Storm, and later while working for Ernst & Young in New York she represented Long Island Rough Riders.

Vaila’s big break came in 2013 when she negotiated a leave of absence after being offered a professional contract with Swedish club Eskilstuna United.

In her first season she helped her new side win promotion to the Damallsvenskan (premier division), and the following year Eskilstuna finished runners-up in the top league.

During her three three years in Sweden she has played 62 times for Eskilstuna, and weighed in with 17 goals. That is highly impressive for someone who plays in central defence.

Vaila, now 29, could make her Scottish debut in Tuesday’s friendly against Belgium. It will be a tough introduction as the squad has been badly hit by injuries, but with match results between the sides standing at two wins apiece a close game is possible.

A few folk in the Ness, including her uncle and aunt Gerald and Amy Leslie, will no doubt be interested in how she fares. I would also wish her the best of luck.

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Opinion is obviously divided over Hibernian manager Neil Lennon, who continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons.

There was his much publicised spat with Ally McCoist when the pair were in charge at Celtic and Rangers respectively, along with a few ill-judged and late-night shenanigans during his time in Glasgow.

He certainly couldn’t be blamed when that moron of a Hearts fan invaded the pitch at Tynecastle and attacked him. But the snarling figure often witnessed on the touchline seemed a totally different individual from the tireless charity worker often described by Scottish journalists.

Was Lennon some kind of Jekyll and Hyde character, I used to wonder, a nice man really but just incapable of controlling himself when emotions ran high.

That was confirmed after the Scotland v Republic of Ireland match at Celtic Park in the 2016 World Cup qualifying group.

Following the match, which the Scots narrowly won 1-0 courtesy of a fine Shaun Maloney goal, a friend and I were in a watering hole on Byres Road when who should appear a few feet away but Lennon himself.

We had a brief chat about the game and even my mate, a Rangers fan, agreed that Lennon seemed like a thoroughly decent guy.

That view was more than reinforced over the last couple of years when in various punditry roles he came across as both considered and incisive.

Fast forward to last week and the doubts have crept in again. I refer to his actions at the Hibs v Morton match, although he had justification at being upset over a shocking tackle on one of his players right in front of him, and also when the Morton player involved pretended to have been headbutted by Hibs defender Darren McGregor when clearly no contact was made.

But much worse was the behaviour of the Morton management team, including the previously well-respected Jim Duffy, who surely should have known better than to invade the Hibs technical area after Lennon went off on one. Passions run high in football, especially when a potentially leg-breaking challenge has occurred.

The incident has been described in the Scottish media in various ways, from “a bit of handbags” to “a fracas” and also someone demanding “a square go”. It was certainly embarrassing.

Perhaps a few years ago I would have been among those apportioning equal blame on both managers. But I’m not so sure now. Lennon’s behaviour may not always have been the best in the past but last Wednesday he had more than a little justification.

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Like many, I was delighted that Scotland defeated Slovenia last week and thus retained an outside chance of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

While the possibilities of making it to the play-offs remain slim the hopes have not entirely been extinquished, which has to be a positive.

The Scots’ performance was the best for some time, and although they needed to rely on an 88th minute goal from the much-criticised Chris Martin, the victory was well deserved.

Manager Gordon Strachan, for once, got his selection pretty much correct. His decision to start with all the Celtic players in his squad was obviously the right one, given that their confidence is on a high compared with most of English-based contingent, some of whom struggle to command a first-team place with their respective clubs.

Fielding Kieran Tierney, normally a left back, on the other side of the defence was a masterstroke. When you have two left-sided players as good as Tierney and Andrew Robertson, and taking into account the overall quality of what is available, some way has to be found of getting them in the same team.

The only aspect of the win which I found disappointing, apart from the senseless booing of Martin when he appeared as a substitite, was the behaviour of Strachan himself when being interviewed by the Sky Sports reporter.

The question was fairly simple. Was the victory all the more welcome given the pressure that Strachan had been under, as many people had suggested that in the event of a defeat he would likely either be sacked or stand down.

In the sarcastic manner which has become a feature of Strachan’s comments when asked something by a Scottish-based commentator, he warbled something about not knowing he had any difficulties. He had been surprised by the suggestion and he was going off home to have a cry.

This is tiresome and unnecessary. Strachan should start behaving in an adult fashion. Or even more will be glad to see the back of him when his time is eventually up.

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And finally, the achievements of the Shetland men’s volleyball team in the Scottish National League 2 deserve a mention.

In their first season of regular competition against mainland opposition, they finished third in the table, registering wins against all the teams except champions Livingston Lizards.

In the most recent three matches, all at Clickimin, Shetland defeated Beacon by three sets to two, lost narrowly by the same score against the Edinburgh University, and then gained revenge over the university team the following day with a 3-0 win.

Having the massive figure of Edward Oldbury, a current Scottish under-20 international player, is obviously a tremendous boost to the Shetland team, but it is a team game and the rest of the squad members have each played a part. Congratulations to them all.

AboutJim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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