By JIM TAIT
A SYNTHETIC sports pitch in Lerwick moved a small step closer this week when it was agreed to set up a working group for the project.
The prime movers in the proposal are members of Shetland Ladies’ Hockey Association (SLHA), as the only realistic place to play the game now is the plastic pitch at Brae, which is coming to the end of its lifetime.
The working group will also comprise representatives of the local football fraternity, albeit in a sympathetic role rather than firm backers, as their sport is considered well catered for in comparison.
Two potential sites have been earmarked, either the “kickabout” area at Clickimin North adjacent to the rugby pitch, or the current football pitch at Clickimin South.
The cost of providing a single hockey surface has been put at £850,000 but if football, which requires an completely different type of synthetic turf, is also catered for the price could be approaching £2 million.
A public meeting on Wednesday was largely dominated by well over 30 past and present hockey players, outnumbering their male colleagues by about four to one. The council’s sports and leisure service was represented by manager Neil Watt, while only one councillor, Rick Nickerson from the hockeyless South Mainland, was present. Strangely there was no representation at all from Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT).
The audience heard first from SLHA member Helen Robertson, who explained that the need for a plastic pitch in town was becoming increasingly necessary. Since 2005 hockey at every age level had been played at Brae, which placed a massive strain on everybody involved.
Ironically, while the pitch issue was becoming ever more vital, the game itself continued to grow within the isles.
“All the arrangements [needed] to go to Brae kind of takes the fun out of it,” Mrs Robertson said. “And with an hour and a half spent travelling you hardly have time to discuss tactics.”
She said the Scottish Hockey Union had indicated that it would consider a grant for the project, and there was the possibility of applying for lottery money. But a “massive” fund-raising effort would be required, to demonstrate to the council the commitment and desire to have the pitch, if it was to be considered as a capital project.
“We sometimes feel that Shetland hockey is a kind of forgotten sport when it comes to funding,” she added.
Mr Watt was supportive of the idea of a synthetic pitch in town, which was “sorely needed”. But the reality was that no one surface would suit both hockey and football.
He said a feasibilty study had looked at three different sites in town – Seafield, Gilbertson Park and Clickimin – and the overwhelming view was that Clickimin would be the best place.
“I would imagine that you would get far less resistance to doing something at Clickimin South than Clickimin North,” he added.
However, Mr Watt said there was no official council position. That kind of thing would have to come from elected members.
“The council needs to provide schools, it needs to provide roads and it needs to provide ferries, but it doesn’t have to provide a synthetic surface,” he cautioned.
Gwen Malcolmson said the hockey association would probably go ahead on its own if the football association did not get involved, as they knew what was needed.
Shetland Football Association president Magnus Flaws, a former councillor himself, advised the meeting that the best thing was to “get the ball rolling” in an official’s report to the council.
“We’re speaking about £2 million for two pitches. This has to follow the route through the council, through a report. Interest is being shown [but] if the SIC or SRT is not interested what’s the point? [For] a committee, no matter how interested they are, it’s going to a be a big task.”
Worries over a constitution for a new committee prompted Mr Watt to suggest setting up a working group. That appeared to curry favour with the audience, many of whom put their names forward, and the group will meet for the first time on Tuesday, 29th July.