12th December 2017

Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

The Shetland Sports Awards ceremony is a much bigger affair than back in 2007 when the inaugural event was held and runner Claire Wilson became the first winner of the senior individual award.

Since then the audiences have been entertained by a variety of guest speakers, witnessed exciting demonstrations of athletic abilities, and the well-merited Lifetime Endeavour Award in memory of the late Rob Anderson has been added to the list of presentations.

I’m not sure what the organisers have in store for next Friday but, as I’ve already stated, they have executed a masterstroke by getting Scottish rugby legend Gregor Townsend as this year’s special guest.

Apparently our MSP may have had something to do with enticing the current Scottish coach to make the trip north. If that is true it pays to have good contacts. When “Il Tavolo” is not engaging in his favourite pastime of tabling motions he’s obviously rubbing shoulders with influential people in the world of sport.

The judges have now done their bit and the winners have been chosen, and they must have had a difficult job in making the final choice in the main categories.

Up for Sportsperson of the Year are three gold medallists from this year’s NatWest Island Games in Gotland – intrepid cyclist Christine McLean, our greatest ever male swimmer Felix Gifford and experienced shooter John Magnus Laurenson, who has been to more island games than most. Whoever is chosen will be a worthy winner.

Shetland’s other gold medal winner from Gotland, young middle-distance runner Seumas MacKay, has been nominated in the Young Sportsperson of the Year category, along with fellow athlete Leigh Nicolson and swimmer Jasmin Smith.

Shortlisted for the Team of the Year are the Shetland women’s rugby squad, who won the BT North League in their first season, plus the island games swimming and triathlon teams.

In the Young Team of the Year category are three of this year’s junior inter-county groups, the athletes, footballers and swimmers who were responsible for winning the overall Stuart Cup. In both the team awards the judges will again have had a far from easy job arriving at their final decisions.

There are also a number of other individual categories, including coaches, volunteers and technical officials, all people who are so vital for the continuing success of our competitors. It is very unlikely that any of them do what they do in order to win awards, but extremely gratifying when their hard work is recognised.

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The sports awards were unfortunately introduced too late for Shetland’s archery team, whose members displayed outstanding levels of consistency during the 1990s and early part of this century.

Inspired initially by the efforts of Sandra Jamieson and then led in style by Billy Finnie and Sara Leith, a whole stack of medals of all colours were secured at different island games.

The past decade has been less successful but it was heartening to note that the Shetland team came back from Orkney at the weekend with the inter-county trophy.

The experienced Finnie and Keith Lobban are still shooting and are now joined by a few newcomers. Plus some younger competitors are also getting involved, which is heartening for the future.

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Scotland may have lost the second autumn rugby test to New Zealand at the weekend but both teams are to be congratulated for contributing to the only watchable contest involving the four home nations.

Wales and Ireland, albeit fielding understrength sides, narrowly got the better of Georgia and Fiji respectively, with the Welsh resorting to dubious tactics in order to stop their opponents scoring late in the game. England’s victory over Australia may have seemed emphatic, but the visitors were unlucky with several refereeing decisions in what amounted to yet another bore-fest.

The Scots, which seems almost customary now, were also on the wrong side of officialdom. The baffling intervention of a television match official stopped Waisake Naholo from being yellow-carded after barging into Stuart Hogg when the full back was taking a high ball in the air. Then referee Matthew Carley somehow missed a blatant handling offence by All Blacks captain Kieran Reid which prevented a certain Scottish score. At the very least Reid should have sin-binned, while some officials would have had no qualms in awarding a penalty try.

The New Zealanders were certainly cynical in their attempts to stop the Scots crossing the line, but that is part of their game. They have been doing it for years, not least through former skipper Richie McCaw who was an absolute master of the art.

The very fact the visitors had to resort to such tactics in order to hold on to their lead is in a way the highest praise which can be heaped on the Scottish team.

As forwards coach Dan McFarland said this week, it was a case of being “streetwise” when under immense pressure, the kind of pressure which usually happens the other way round.

Considering their injury problems, which continued on Saturday with the loss of yet another three players, Scotland turned in a superb performance.
Hogg was simply sensational, rightly receiving plaudits from all quarters for what may have been his finest display in a dark blue shirt, and he was backed up well by the excellent Huw Jones, Stuart McInally, Jonny Gray and John Barclay.

The tone was set by the poignant moment when former international lock Doddie Weir, recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, carried the match ball on to the pitch with his three sons at his side. The dignified way he was greeted by Reid was also impressive.

Rugby may be a great game, especially when played the way it was at the weekend, but its importance pales into insignificance when compared with what the Weir family is going through.

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The English cricket team made a decent start to the Ashes series over the first three days, although the inability to get Australian captain Steve Smith does not bode well.

As usual much hype has surrounded this contest, not least concerning the future of Ben Stokes who is currently suspended pending a police investigation. “Will he join the tour at some stage?”, remains the burning question.

The Australians, as is their wont, have been doing their best to belittle the tourists. All sorts of ridiculous statements have been made.

Similar to fast bowler Mitchell Johnson’s well-documented threats during the last time England defended the Ashes in Australia, and David Warner bragging about seeing “fear in the eyes”, this time we have had absurd twaddle from spinner Nathan Lyon.

Scaring English batsmen was the aim, Lyon told media representatives, and “ending the careers” of a few would be the ultimate reward.

With the tragic death of Australian opener Phillip Hughes after being hit by a ball still relatively fresh in the minds of many, I can’t understand why anyone would want to resort to these tactics.

Lyon should also consider the plight of Jonathan Trott, who was forced to withdraw from the last Ashes series after succumbing to a stress-related illness.

A bit of sledging on the field is still seen as acceptable by many. I don’t have so much of a problem with that. But this kind of obnoxious talk has no place in any kind of sport.

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The new leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Richard Leonard, has said he would support England against Scotland in a football or rugby match between the two.

This revelation may have caused a ripple of excitement in the national media, but I don’t know what was so surprising about it. Leonard may have lived and worked north of the border after going to university in Stirling, but he was born in Yorkshire.

Having seen off his opponent Anas Sarwar in the battle to replace the departed leader Kezia Dugdale, Leonard stated that he would support Scotland in every other game except when they were up against the English.

Presumably he would have made the same loyalty admission had he been asked the question before the leadership contest began. If this is front-page news there must be little happening.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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