19th November 2017

Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

A few different names have been included in interim Scottish international football manager Malky Mackay’s first squad selection.

For next Thursday’s match against Holland at Pittodrie he has, as expected, chosen three Aberdeen players – Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Ryan Christie.

Captain Scott Brown and his regular deputy Darren Fletcher, although 32 and 33 respectively, are also both in the squad. That is good news indeed for the Tartan Army faithful, and their great experience should also be a bonus for youngsters breaking through.

A trio of previous manager Gordon Strachan’s long-term favourites, midfielders Barry Bannan and Ikechi Anya and striker Chris Martin, have been discarded by Mackay. While they no doubt played their part to some extent, most people know there are better players around.

Surprise choices are Hiberian centre back Paul Hanlon and former Hibs striker Jason Cummings, now plying his trade at Nottingham Forest, while it is good to see Cardiff right back Callum Patterson recovered from injury and back in the reckoning.

The midfield and wide positions remain by far the strongest departments of the Scottish team, and apart from those already mentioned there are places for Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Callum McGregor, Ryan Fraser of Bournemouth, John McGinn of Hibs and Matt Phillips of West Bromwich Albion.

James McArthur of Crystal Palace is perhaps unlucky to miss out, as is Fulham’s Tom Cairney, but with the latter’s burgeoning reputation his chance will surely come sooner rather than later. Either of those is surely better than Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack who has made the cut.

Others who will no doubt consider themselves unfortunate not to have been picked include Matt Ritchie of Newcastle and Robert Snodgrass of Aston Villa. But with withdrawals likely after this weekend’s league action, expect a few more call-ups.

In defence I have no quibble with the choice of Hanlon, as he has been there or thereabouts for several years and his early season form has made him difficult to leave out.

It would have been good to see another young centre back, however, such as Scott McKenna of Aberdeen, Ross McCrorie of Rangers or Liam Lindsay of Barnsley. The current incumbents, Christophe Berra and Charlie Mulgrew, are basically only there because there is such a dearth of quality in the middle of the back four. Happily that is beginning to change.

The Dutch team, which also missed out on World Cup qualification and also last year’s European Championships, is in a period of transition but will provide a serious test.

Winger Arjen Robben has retired from the national side but they still have many class players available. Veteran Wesley Sneijder is still around, along with Daley Blind, Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum and Kevin Strootman, and the up-and-coming Nathan Aké and Wesley Hoedt have both established themselves in the English Premiership.

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An Unst team at Burravoe in the 1970s. Back (from left): Ron Groves (referee), Leslie Spence, Brian Sutherland, Charlie Priest, Jim Thomson, Davy McMillan, Douglas Priest, Laurence Robertson (manager). Front : Hosea Moar, Bertie Priest, Willie Spence, Alvar Henderson, Finlay Mouat. Photo courtesy of Desley Stickle

It was a great shock this week to hear of the sudden death of Norwick man Charlie Priest.

Charlie and his twin brother Bertie were both members of a very good Unst football team of the 1970s and 80s.

With the amount of talent the isle had available during that period it is hard to believe that both those decades were barren where Parish Cup success was concerned.

Unst had, of course, enjoyed great prosperity in the 1960s, winning the parish trophy on three occasions, but it is hard to believe that after the 1967 victory they had to wait another 33 years for the next.

Charlie and Bertie were both good players, but apart from the annual parish outing their ability was not so well known outside Unst.

In the isle it was very different. There was regular league and cup competition between Baltasound United, Northern Rangers and at least one RAF side.

The Priest twins both played for Northern Rangers, along with the Spence brothers, big Jim Thomson and Finlay Mouat among others.

Team mates recall that while Charlie obviously enjoyed representing Unst, the smaller team was definitely his priority, and the winning of the Spence Cup was considered the pinnacle of achievement.

One former colleague remembers a Parish Cup semi-final against Whalsay at the old Burrafirth pitch. The Unst manager decided to substitute Charlie in a match the visitors eventually won, and he always maintained the result would have been very different had he stayed on the field until the end.

Apart from football Charlie was a keen regatta enthusiast and badminton player. As a salmon farmer, crofter, garage and shop owner, bus and taxi driver he was a great presence in the isle and will be much missed by everybody who knew him.

Recently the Priest twins got a taste of television stardom when they were regularly featured in the BBC’s Island Parish programme.

A measure of Charlie’s popularity was the fact that, due to the anticipation of the turnout for his funeral tomorrow (Saturday), the council has laid on extra ferries on the Bluemull Sound route.

Sincere condolences to Charlie’s widow Alison, Bertie and his other brothers and sisters, and all his family at this sad time.

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Motor racing driver Lewis Hamilton, who clinched his fourth Formula One world title at the weekend, is definitely an acquired taste.

There is no doubting his ability – only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) have won more championships and Hamilton now joins Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel in equal third place.

Hamilton is also notable due to his working class background and the fact that his father made many sacrifices in order for his son to progress through the different levels of competition.

His decision to reside as a tax exile in first Switzerland and now Monaco has done little to endear him to the wider public, nor his love of DJ-ing, bling jewellery and off-the-wall fashions. But he is without doubt some driver.

Whether he is “the” greatest to emerge from the British Isles is of course open to question. I thought it rather unfortunate that former driver Damon Hill, who won one world championship himself, this week championed his own father Graham (two titles) but omitted to mention Scottish pair Jackie Stewart (three) and Jim Clark (two).

Personally, I would still rate Clark as the best of them all, along with the Brazilian Ayrton Senna. Sadly both were killed on the track so no-one knows how many titles they may have racked up.

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Scottish international rugby coach Gregor Townsend, due in the isles soon for the annual Shetland Sports Awards, has important business before he heads north on 1st December.Townsend last week named his provisional squad for the three forthcoming matches against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, with a host of uncapped players selected.

The paucity of experience among the forwards is glaringly obvious, with a raft of talent including several props currently on the treatment table. The tight-head positions are secure with WP Nel happily returning and Zander Fagerson also included, but on the other side of the scrum Al Dickinson and Alan Dell are both injured and Gordon Reid overlooked.

First-choice hooker Fraser Brown is also out and Townsend may need to rely on Scotland’s most capped player Ross Ford, although he struggles to make the Edinburgh first team nowadays.

Lock Ritchie Gray remains injured while flankers John Hardie and Magnus Bradbury are missing because of disciplinary reasons.

At least there is still plenty of talent available in the back division. Centre Duncan Taylor may be out but a more than adequate deputy is available in Huw Jones, who showed his class with a man of the match display in Western Province’s victory in South Africa’s Currie Cup final at the weekend.

Even with the injuries Scotland should be good enough to see off Samoa, but if they can stay within 10 points of the All Blacks and Australia it should be seen as a good achievement.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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