By NEIL RIDDELL
IT MAY be an honour to our Orcadian friends to learn that, despite having his eyes on the island games tournament in Åland and a second entry into competitive action against Highland League sides, the trophy Shetland’s new football manager really wants to win is the Milne Cup.
John Jamieson, who was recently appointed as successor to the outgoing John Johnson, has been setting out his plans for the blues ahead of arguably the county side’s busiest ever fixtures calendar in 2009.
He said this week: “The most important game we’ll ever play in a year will be the county match against Orkney – it’ll always be the most important game we play.”
Following a meeting with players at the Shetland Hotel on Sunday, Jamieson has put together a training pool of around 28 names – including all the members of Johnson’s final squad – which will set to work immediately after the festive period in preparation for a pre-season tour of the Scottish mainland.
The tour, likely to take place in March or April, will itself act as a precursor to the team’s first return to island games action since winning the tournament at the Gilbertson Park in July 2005. There is also the now-annual fixture against Deveronvale, that important match against against Orkney and then a second entry into the Highland League Challenge Cup next August.
Speaking publicly about his appointment for the first time after returning from a holiday in Dubai, Jamieson told The Shetland Times he was relishing the task but admitted it was difficult to know how the standard of competition at the island games would have developed in the intervening four years.
He said: “I think it was a huge mistake not going to Rhodes [the host island of the 2007 games]. I said so at the time, but we are where we are. We’re going to be four years down the line, and we’re not very sure how much the quality of football has moved on since then, so it’ll be hard to say how well we’ll do in it but we can only prepare and go and do our best.”
After mixed fortunes for the side during their first foray into competitive action on the mainland, Jamieson is keen to set about narrowing the chasm with the top sides in the Highlands. Shetland thumped lowly Fort William 5-0 but found the going tougher against champions Cove Rangers, who dispatched them with a convincing 6-2 victory in August.
“The Highland League, we’ve seen this last season: okay, we can beat the bottom of the table but when you get to play the top teams, there’s a big gulf between Shetland and them so we need to close that gap.”
Although Jamieson was the only candidate for the post after Johnson stepped down principally due to work commitments, some were critical of the appointment because he is to continue in his role as manager of the isles’ most successful club side Delting, a point on which he was insistent.
He said he was perfectly capable of juggling both jobs; he had decided to stand because it became clear that no-one else was interested in the Shetland post.
“To be quite honest with you, I have the time to do it and the Shetland thing this year will be a lot of work, but the following year there’s not so many competitive games. I feel as though I need to be involved with football all the time [so] I’m quite happy to do both jobs.
“We tend to play one another a good lot of times, with 10 teams in the league. Delting has always been one of the better teams [in recent years] so usually when you see other teams playing, their better players, you see what they can do against Delting – it’s a good yardstick.
“It’s nothing new to me, football in Shetland, and I know all the players anyway. We can always invite players to come to training and assess them.”
In his day job Jamieson, 54, is site manager for Cape Scaffolding at Sullom Voe and he has been involved with Shetland football from a young age. He started out with Lerwick Spurs and represented the county team at both junior and senior levels, the latter on two occasions.
The Glasgow Rangers fan’s long and fruitful involvement with Delting began back in the 1970s, with the club growing on the back of the North Mainland’s booming population thanks to the arrival of the oil industry. The club only stepped up to the top division in 1988 but won their first title in 1999 and have now been crowned champions in every year since their second triumph in 2002, after Jamieson took up the reins as manager at the start of the new millennium.
Jamieson said he asks every team he sends on to the park to go out and attack the opposition and, though he accepts that desire may have to be compromised against stronger opposition, it is thought his preference for the county side will be to adopt a 4-4-2 formation with two wingers on most occasions.
“I very much like to see attacking football being played, a good flowing form, boys playing football freely and enjoying it,” he said. “You’ve got to look at who you’re playing and adjust to suit. I think we need to assess our squad and see what the strengths are, adapt players into what they’re good at.”
Another important task at hand is a “huge” fund-raising effort ahead of Åland, with estimates that the cost of making the trip could be as high as £1,000 per person raising question marks over whether the isles’ strongest squad of footballers will end up travelling to the Swedish archipelago next summer.
Mark Goodhand has been roped in to assist the efforts to raise money and Jamieson said it was vital to reach a position where the squad can be picked on their ability to play, rather than ability to pay.
“The cost is huge, but we need to go and do something about it,” he said. “The idea is that the boys will be fund-raising, doing whatever means they can to raise the money to reduce the costs. I want it to be that the players that go to Åland are not going there just because they can afford it but on their ability.”
However, the sponsorship deal with Brudolff Hotels does leave the association in a better position with free accommodation available for the players in Aberdeen and for visiting teams travelling to the isles, a deal the new manager describes as “tremendous”, leaving the SFA in a “far better place than it’s ever been”.
Having been openly critical of his immediate predecessor in the days before Johnson tendered his resignation in September, accusing him of taking Shetland football backwards during his two-year tenure, Jamieson now appears to be adopting a more diplomatic tone and is keen for discussions to focus on matters on the pitch rather than off it.
He said: “Niall Bristow won the island games doing things his way, John Johnson then came in and had a lot of success doing things the way he has been doing it. I will probably be different, everybody has different ideas, but I think everybody that comes in for Shetland is going to do their best for them.”
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Peterson and Manning in management team
GIVEN their continued success locally, it seems inevitable that John Jamieson’s Delting connections will form an important part of his efforts to take the Shetland team forward.
Indeed, his assistant manager will be Peter Peterson, one of the stand-out players during the Brae side’s recent success, while centre back Merv Jamieson – who is also the new manager’s son – is to remain captain.
“Peter brings a wealth of experience to the Shetland set-up, he’s been playing in island games and county football for the last 10 years,” said the manager of the versatile stalwart, who recently retired from the county but remains an integral part of his club side.
Physio Ian Manning has also pledged as much time as he can afford, given his involvement in athletics, while Jamieson has held initial discussions with 2005 island games-winning supremo Niall Bristow about lending his assistance in a coaching capacity.
The personnel of the squad is unlikely to change radically – Jamieson believes that, by and large, his predecessors have been picking the right players – though there are a few additions to his training squad, including Yell’s impressive young goalkeeper Matthew Saunders.
In spite of his club side conceding in excess of 100 goals and finishing bottom last season, Saunders’ shot-stopping has caught the attention of many onlookers in recent seasons and with Shetland and Delting’s regular number one Craig Dinwoodie now nearing the end of his playing days at the age of 38, he may well be viewed as the solution to what Jamieson admits is a position which “definitely needs a bit of attention”.
Along with Celtic’s Paul Grant and Ness custodian Eric Peterson, Saunders will be one of three young goalkeepers in the squad and former Berwick Rangers keeper Glenn Gilfillan has volunteered to do some coaching work with the trio.
Another new face is Whalsay’s combative and versatile midfielder Gary Jamieson, while Scalloway’s rejuvenated forward Steven Umphray – part of the successful 2005 team – is set to return from the county wilderness.
Although a few members of the team that so famously defeated Guernsey to claim the gold medal three years ago have now hung up their boots, the core of the team will continue to be formed by experienced but still relatively youthful players like Karl Williamson, Leighton Flaws, James Johnston, Merv Jamieson, coupled with talents like Shetland’s current player of the year Ross Moncrieff.