Talking Sport … with Jim Tait
Losing to Orkney at senior football level has not been a common occurence of late – inter-county results over the past 40 years show that our great rivals have only claimed the Milne Cup on six occasions during that time.
But the fact that last month’s island games ended on a sour note with defeat in the 9th/10th place play-off match suggests that the pendulum may be beginning to swing the other way.
The 3-1 victory in Gotland was the third in a row for the reds, after last year’s inter-county match in Kirkwall and earlier this year in a North Caledonian knockout competition.
The word now coming from the Shetland camp is that the experience of the games, with the initial win over Saaremaa followed by defeats to Guernsey, Åland and Orkney, proved that more regular and competitive matches are necessary at this level in order to make progress.
There have been suggestions that more support is needed, both from the local association and from bodies outwith the isles. Otherwise the representative game here will remain in some kind of flux.
Shetland football at the crossroads? How many times have we heard that observation over the past couple of decades? As little as a year ago there was great difficulty in filling important roles on the ruling committee. Warnings were made then and also on previous occasions that there could be no competition at all if office bearers were not to be found. Surely we are not back there again.
Contrary to that assertion, certain other aspects of football in the isles seem to be thriving. Referees appear to be growing on trees, there is reasonably healthy competition in the premier league while at younger levels the fields are awash with men and boys in blue tracksuits.
If the overall feeling is that we have come to a crossroads, there needs to be decisions made soon. And for that to happen there are many obstacles to be overcome.
Do we carry straight on or do we change direction? Can Shetland sustain a representative team at adult level competing more regularly? Do we even want to? And if we decide on that route which kind of competitions are feasible? Can more sponsorship be achieved on top of what already exists?
Getting other sides to come up here remains fraught with difficulties. It is hard enough to attract somebody to visit Shetland for the odd friendly never mind on a league basis. Does anyone remember the last time a team other than Orkney played the county side in Lerwick?
The late Jim Peterson said: “The local teams must come first, then the county. And if, only if, there’s room after that then the island games.”
I think partly what he meant was that supporters, which the game needs, see local matches all the time, inter-counties once every two years, and island games encounters barely at all.
The Shetland team which won the gold medal in 2005 did not reach that pinnacle because of regular competitive matches outwith the isles. They reached it because they were the best.
That side contained three or four players who had experienced Highland League or equivalent standard, plus another three or four who could easily have done so.
Two years ago at the games in Jersey, when Shetland finished fourth, you could probably list Leighton Flaws, James Johnston, Shane Jamieson and Erik Thomson in that category.
Last month in Gotland it was only perhaps Flaws and James Aitken, although the former is likely approaching the end of a long stint at the top.
It could be argued that to carry on regardless displays a lack of ambition. But to turn off on a tangent requires a whole new way of thinking. And it needs a groundswell of opinion to change.
I’m not sure Shetland is ready for that.
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Staying with local football, the Parish Cup semi-final reports in this week’s paper once more highlighted the ongoing controversy surrounding that competition.
The first line in the account of the match at Brae said it all: “The Cunningsburgh men headed north … with a very strong Spurs/Ness team but Delting were up for the challenge.”
Good luck and no disrespect to the three or four genuine Cunningsburgh residents who are still members of their parish side, but having the team packed with Gulberwick people is ridiculous.
This is a such a far cry from the team of 40 years ago pictured in The History of Shetland Football, which had won the Parish Cup the previous season.
Of the 11 players in that photo, only Douglas Halcrow lived outside the village, but he was just up the road a couple of miles at Fladdabister. Peter Farmer and Davie White were maybe not Cunningsburgh born and bred, but they had both moved there.
The others, and I’ll name them here so as to avoid any confusion, were Alistair and Gordon Johnston, Billy and Malcom Adamson, Andy Jarmson, Graham Smith, Raymond Aitken and Peter Christie.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I think the only member of the 1976 Parish Cup-winning side not included in that photo were Adie Adamson and the late George Adamson.
Gulberwick, as this column has stated before, is now basically a suburb of Lerwick. People who live there have nothing to do with Cunningsburgh.
The organisers of this competition may continue to stress that it is a trophy for rural-based players, but they have stretched the rules so much that their argument is completely full of holes.
Burra is allowed to augment its team with people who live at East Voe, Scalloway. Maybe Bressay should be able to do likewise with residents of the Lerwick Harbour area.
The sooner they get around the table and sort this out the better. It’s a mess and does nothing for the improvement of isles football in general.
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The English cricket team recorded a fairly straightforward victory over South Africa in the first of the four-test series at Lords.
The visitors look as if they are seriously missing star batsman AB de Villiers and pace specialist Dale Steyn, but at least they should have captain Faf du Plessis back for the second test which begins today.
One player sadly not available, however, is young fast bowler Kagiso Rabada. He has been banned for one match after a stump microphone picked him up swearing at England’s Ben Stokes after he dismissed the all-rounder.
I have to say Rabada has been treated rather unfortunately here, as anyone who has played high level cricket will testify that many bowlers occasionally resort to intemperate language. Stokes himself is an abrasive character who could well have been partly responsible for what happened.
Why on earth could the powers that be not simply have sat Rabada down and said: “Look old chap. We heard you told one of our boys to jolly well eff orf. Fraid we just can’t have fellows using that kind of language at the home of cricket, what? We’ll take no action on this occasion but please don’t make a habit of it.”
The authorities would have been better advised to take some action over the ridiculously poor over rate over the four days of the first test, which is infuriating for supporters, rather than penalise one of the most promising youngsters in the game over a thing of nothing.
This reminds me once again of a tale concerning the famous Australia v England “bodyline” test series of 1932-33. Apologies if you’ve heard it before.
Apparently the English captain, the public school toff Douglas Jardine, complained to his opposite number that one of the Australian team had called him a “bastard”.
The story goes that, accompanied by Jardine, the Australian captain marched into the home dressing room and asked of his team: “Right! Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”
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The big event in sport nationally at the weekend was obviously the British Lions rugby team, or the “English, Welsh and Irish Lions”, drawing the final test against New Zealand and squaring the series.
A whole lot of nonsense has been spouted about how good the Lions are.
But I have to say that were they not handicapped by having to play most of the second test a man short and the inability to kick fairly straightforward penalties, the All Blacks would have walked it.
Former England winger Ugo Monye has probably come out with the daftest statement of all, however, when he compared Lions head coach Warren Gatland with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
Gatland may be many things – personally I still think he was a poor choice – but to suggest he is a conceited, over-rated, self-centred twit who boasts about being special is surely over-egging it!