13th December 2017

Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

While Shetland’s senior footballers remain unsure about future participation in mainland competitions, hockey and rugby squads from the isles have already got their winter seasons up and running.

The women’s hockey team enjoyed a resounding 9-0 victory a couple of weeks ago over Highland in the first round of the Scottish District Cup. While they will no doubt face much stiffer hurdles ahead, the performance was impressive and, as an added bonus, the opposition had agreed to make the trip north for the game.

Rugby teams in the BT Caledonia leagues are already committed to travelling to Shetland for matches, of course, and have done so in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Unfortunately the men’s team are propping up the table with no points from their three games so far, but much improvement was shown a fortnight ago in the 17-7 defeat to Garioch. Shetland also boasted a full complement of eight substitutes, probably the “strongest bench in history” according to the report.

The women’s team, the reigning BT North League champions, started with a 12-0 win over Inverness Craig Dunain. It may not have been the most convincing scoreline ever but with the number of chances for further points they passed up the future for the girls surely looks bright.

It would be ideal if our footballers could enjoy similar opportunities to their hockey and rugby counterparts. Hopefully the recent visit by a Scottish Amateur Football Association select side, accompanied by a number of officials, may be of some assistance.

There was no doubting the quality of the SAFA visitors, but the Shetland team was very unlucky to lose 2-1 and deserved at least a draw.

It is never easily to convince those on the mainland that coming to the isles for competition is worthwhile, but rugby has shown that it is possible.

NorthLink already does its bit for sponsored travel by ferry, and perhaps with Loganair and Flybe now going head to head on the air service those companies may be interested in the making some kind of regular goodwill gesture.

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The British Lions rugby team, with Warren Gatland at the helm for the second time, was much lauded during the summer for drawing the series in New Zealand 1-1.

But according to Irish flanker Sean O’Brien, who played in all three tests, if the Lions had been better coached they could have defeated the All Blacks 3-0.

O’Brien, 30, is probably safe to make the criticism. His age counts against a further tour and in any case Gatland will surely have been replaced come the trip to South Africa in 2021.

The comments were very interesting, however, and although Gatland would not have been impressed they were especially aimed at attack coach Rob Howley.

O’Brien claimed that Howley struggled to get his ideas across and that the offensive tactics ended up being led by stand-off Johnny Sexton and centre Owen Farrell as the tour gained momentum.

There is no doubt that Gatland will go down in history as having been one of the most successful Lions coaches ever. As well as this year’s draw his team won the last series in Australia four years ago.

But there is a danger of believing that because someone has been fruitful a certain other individual could not have done better.

O’Brien may have something here. And he deserves praise for making his views known.

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The sacking of Mark Sampson as coach of the England women’s football team, after a period of undoubted success, is further evidence of the politically correct brigade’s continued interference in matters it should stay out of.

Following an excellent showing at the recent European Championships, Sampson’s team dispatched Russia 6-0 last week and the players showed their support for the man in charge by hugging him as if their lives depended on it.

Sadly the English Football Association had already made up its mind, that because of alleged “inappropriate relationships” Sampson was no longer deemed suitable for the role.

As usual, what was actually so “inappropriate” has not been disclosed officially, so the rumour mill has gone into overdrive with most people making up their own minds over what may or may not have occurred. What is clear, however, is that Sampson was already cleared of the charges long before the FA decided to act.

At the same time there have been allegations of bullying, which is probably the reason Sampson lost his job. He is alleged to have asked a player of mixed race how many times she had been arrested, and advised another, who intimated she was having relatives over from Nigeria, that they better not bring ebola with them.

None of these remarks were particularly funny; rather they were mindless, silly and slightly offensive. But enough to warrant a sacking? I think not.

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And talking of silly decisions, it is heartening to hear that Fifa has now seen sense over the stance it took last year when banning teams from displaying poppies.

Last year all four home nations were fined for their use of the poppy on shirts to commemorate Armistice Day, after the world football governing body deemed it to be a political symbol.

I’m not sure why football associations are so keen for their players to wear poppies. Perhaps it is just a case of jumping on the bandwagon similar to television authorities.

No-one should of course be forced to display one, otherwise it goes against the essential freedom to decide which was the very reason people fought and died on our behalf. Individual players must be able to make up their own minds.

But the ban is now set to be lifted in time for this year’s events. The proviso is that opposing teams and the competition organisers for relevant matches both accept its use in advance.

Authorities in Germany, due to play matches against both Northern Ireland and England in the coming weeks, are understood to have no objections. That hopefully will be the end of the matter.

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A professional football manager’s job can be a precarious one, and they don’t all have the huge salaries enjoyed by those at the really top level.

The sacking this week of Ross County boss Jim McIntyre seems unduly harsh, especially as it was carried out by club chairman Roy McGregor who is widely believed to be one of the nicest men in the game.

After seven games in the Scottish Premier League the “Staggies” are third from bottom with just four points. But a closer look at their five defeats shows a more realistic picture. Apart from a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Celtic they have lost 2-1 to Aberdeen, 2-0 to Motherwell, 3-1 to Rangers and 1-0 to Hibs.

Ross County are a very small club, the smallest in the top division and smaller than several in the championship, and the town of Dingwall has a population of fewer than Lerwick.

That they have even made it to the premier league is a major achievement. To say that McIntyre has been hard done by is an understatement.

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The rowing teams from Nesting and Lerwick did the isles proud at the Castle to Cran race in Glasgow at the weekend, with the latter finishing first in the yoal class.

An important member of the town team was Roger Sinclair, who apparently was continually offering encouragement to his mates and urging: “Slow but steady guys, slow but steady.”

I’m not sure you’d ever have heard Steve Redgrave or Katherine Grainger uttering those words, but in Roger’s case it seems to have worked a treat. Well them done all!

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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