By NEIL RIDDELL
SHETLAND football team manager John Johnson has resigned in the same week that it was confirmed the team would be travelling to next year’s Island Games in Åland.
Johnson, who had been in the post since October 2006, is stepping down because of work commitments in the coming months which meant he would not be able to devote sufficient time to preparing the squad for the 2009 season.
It was agreed at an open team meeting on Monday evening that Shetland would be sending a side to compete in the Island Games next June, but Johnson indicated that he would be unable to commit to training the team over the winter and subsequently wrote to SFA president Magnus Flaws to say he would not be able to continue as manager.
Johnson said a health and safety course and other personal commitments meant he would not be able to take training for a few months and, on the back of that, he had decided to resign. “I wish them all the best and I hope they do well,” said Johnson. “I was hoping to go to the games, but it’s not to be.”
The Shetland Times has learned that Johnson was initially talked out of resigning last week by assistants Paul Regan and Bruce Crossan, who indicated they were willing to step in and take training sessions over the winter months, but that was not deemed to be an acceptable solution at the meeting.
Flaws, who had a disagreement with Johnson prior to the team’s friendly with Deveronvale in June over the matter of a match-day programme, said he had accepted the former Shetland goalkeeper’s resignation letter and had “no problems with him at all”.
“Your work comes before everything else,” he said. “It’s a pity, but work has to come first. It’s his decision so we just have to go on, we’re committed to going to Åland next year, we need to get a manager, get a team together, get underway with fundraising [and] hopefully go there and compete.”
Johnson has enjoyed a broadly successful time in the post, taking the Shetland team into competitive action on the UK mainland for the first time when the team entered the Highland League Challenge Cup earlier this year, and winning both inter-county matches against Orkney, though the team chose not to enter last year’s Island Games in Rhodes to defend the title they famously won here in 2005.
Flaws said he hoped potential replacements would come forward before the association’s AGM, to be held on 6th November, and is planning to advertise the post in this newspaper next week. If there is more than one interested candidate, there will be a ballot of club and association representatives to decide on who is best qualified to take on the position.
Possible successors include Delting’s John Jamieson, who has overseen seven successive league titles for the Brae side and said this week he was neither ruling himself in nor out of the running to replace Johnson.
Island Games-winning manager Niall Bristow said he was “saddened” to hear of Johnson’s resignation and said he was not interested in taking over at this stage because of athletics commitments, while his predecessor Derrick Bradley said it was very unlikely he would be interested because of the breakdown in trust when he was ousted in favour of Bristow by the association in 2003.
Meanwhile, only one member of the squad has said he will definitely not be making the trip to Åland, which is likely to cost somewhere between £800-£1,000 for each competitor.
Flaws said: “We had one definite no, because of family commitment, but the rest seem fairly committed. It’s difficult to say [how many of the squad will go] because some are away at university, but the ones that were there were all keen.”
The cost is a sizeable increase on the £700 cost of travelling to the Rhodes games last year – when the SFA decided not to send a team to defend the gold medal they won here in 2005. Ways of raising funds for the trip are now to be examined and Flaws is calling for the SIC to make an increased contribution to the costs for all competitors travelling to Åland.
“I’m hoping to be speaking to the convener shortly,” he said.
“If they were doing that it would have to be across the board and I’d hope they would. It is the best of Shetland sportsmen and women that’s representing the islands, and I would hope that the local authority would help to support that.”
Convener Sandy Cluness said the extra cost for the cream of Shetland’s crop of sportsmen and women sounded “horrendous” and that, while those wanting to take part in the games would have to do their utmost in terms of fundraising, he thought it was something the council could possibly make a contribution to.
He said: “Folk will have to try and raise as much as they possibly can, but [I think we should] certainly look at whether we can do something, I don’t know exactly what.”
• Meanwhile, overall team manager Bob Kerr said this week that following a Shetland Island Games Association (SIGA) meeting on Tuesday night it appears that the Shetland squad for Åland will number around 140 competitors, though that number will obviously be subject to change before the final 27th April deadline, and that the team is to charter a flight from Aberdeen to Åland.
In 2007, the SIC gave a grant of £31,968 towards the overall cost of the Shetland team’s participation in Rhodes and Mr Kerr said another application for grant assistance would be made early next year. The total cost of last year’s trip came to £87,874, but with added travel and accommodation costs this time around and the prospect of the number of competitors from the isles almost doubling, the figure is likely to be substantially higher.
Mr Kerr said SIGA was very appreciative of the council’s continued support and appealed for any local businesses interested in sponsoring the team to come forward. “We would be looking for all sports and the team collectively to be involved in as much fundraising as possible to try and reduce the overall cost to each participant,” he added.