Fun down under as Mal puts record straight

After former rugby player, boxer and sports physio Mal Smith was featured in this paper a few months ago, he came in for some stick for not mentioning his Australian connection. With Christmas almost on us, he sets the record straight with a festive flavour.

WHEN Jim Tait got me to sit down and talk about “my sporting life”, I’d had little time to prepare for the delicate and tricky chat and I felt some help might be needed. A couple of bottles of nice red wine were introduced and the night went well from then on.

Jim had actually approached me 18 months ago to send some details for the Sporting Chance article, but running around Australia, Malaysia and Singapore somehow cut down on my time to compose the words.

We discussed lots of things, mainly to do with sport in Shetland, but we also talked about life on the other side of the world and some of the sporty stuff I’ve taken part in there. Like the time I was invited to wrestle with a strange- looking guy several years ago, in a police community gym in Subiaco, Western Australia.

It was great fun and a good tussle and he eventually pinned me down. Afterwards I was told that the guy was totally blind and he was training for the Paraplegic Olympics. We had tossed, turned, twisted and crawled for 10 minutes, and yet afterwards he walked off the mat and went straight to his bag and towel. Amazing!

Almost everything in sport that I have been involved with while travelling has had links with Shetland folk, but little was mentioned about this side of things, mainly because the theme of the article was about sport in Shetland, especially my involvement with rugby.

So imagine my amazement when on reaching Australia for an extended holiday from Singapore I was told, humorously, that I was “in the dog house”.

It’s easy to forget that The Shetland Times visits many places on its global travels, thus keeping Shetlanders all over the world up to date with life at home. This was apparent whenever I paid a visit to Ken and Annette Nicolson and their family in Armadale, WA.

“How long have you been away boy?” Ken would say, sitting me down in the garden. He would then produce several months’ copies of The Shetland Times, a six pack of beer, then leave me alone until I had caught up with the news. Sadly Ken is no longer with us.

All my Aussie Shetland friends, and my many friends in Aussie who know Shetlanders, have read my Sporting Chance and have been having a good go at me since because, “at no time in that article did you mention Australia”. They’re right. I didn’t.

Now, wherever where I go in WA – pubs, parties or soccer matches – someone I know will whisper in my ear: “So, you don’t like Australia, eh?” It’s cost me a few drinks, and we have had a good laugh over it, but it goes to show that if you are in the paper you “have to get it right”.

Well, that’s Australia mentioned now.

So, what about the Shelties who are involved in sport here? Ian Hunter is laughing as I write this. “You are going to have to mention everyone,” he says, still laughing as he fries the bacon. So okay, I’ll start with him.

Ian, late of Lerwick Thistle, is now a key defender for the Wan­neroo Vets here in WA, slowly approaching the twilight time for seasoned footballers.

Ian has captained, managed, and been involved with the overall running of the team for many years. He even managed to persuade me to put aside my free time and become involved with the team training. He also puts together a very humorous team magazine.

Ian’s brother Brian plays volley­ball for the local team and makes occasional guest appearances for the Vets. It has to be said that Brian’s touchline commentaries are of great inspirational value to Ian and the rest of the team. His comments also keep the wives, girlfriends and children (the sup­porters) highly amused, partly because they can’t always unde­rstand what he is saying, which is just as well . . .

Brian and Ian’s true Shetland pedigree shines through each year on Boxing Day, the day when Shetland and friends take on the Rest of the World at “botchy”, or boulez if you are from France. So far Shetland hold the lead in this international event by five wins to four.

This will be the 10th year for this very popular sporting event, organised by the boys and held in the beautiful garden of Geoff and Tonia Binns, complete with heated swimming pool and barbecue. (Heated swimming pool! Australia! Forty degrees heat! On a “bad” day!) Brian and Ian also have pools and barbees in their gardens, and they live just two doors apart. It’s an Australian thing. The pool you can do without, but the barbee? Never!

But I’m digressing, as Forbes Hogg would often tell me.

The Shetland team most years would consist of Ian, Brian, Jim Jackson and his wife BC along with their son Murray (who qualifies to play because he has reached the required height of two feet six inches), myself and Brian’s daughter Jess. Keith Craigie would make an occasional “guest” appearance.

Our varied warm-up routine for this event always took our opponents by surprise, giving us a slight edge. The Rest of the World team consisting of the Binns family, friends and Wanneroo Vets FC, could only sit back and wonder what they would have to do to win.

On top of that, the wooden trophy, donated by Ian and Brian, is so ugly that strong consideration is being given to turning the event into an Ashes series. (Well I did mention earlier that this was “on a lighter note”.) It remains to be said that Shetland can take a commanding lead in this year’s forthcoming challenge, subject to Jim, BC and myself saving enough pennies to get over to Aus. Sponsors please contact.

Now Brian and Ian live just north of Perth, but just south of Perth is a place called Armadale, home town of the Nicolson family, consisting of mum Annette, five boys (John, Andrew, Ian, Alister and Stewart) and two girls (Ina and Teresa).

Annette once said to me: “It wasn’t always this way”. She blamed Vegemite (which is similar to Marmite except it tastes 10 times worse).

Tied into all these lovely folk we have wives, husbands and children, and now of course the families are scattered throughout WA and other parts of Australia. So if you plan to go visiting take plenty of sandwiches – it’s a long way between stops.

Ian and his wife Christine, along with Stewart and Teresa, introduced me to mixed touch rugby, a game that looks easy, especially playing against girls (oops, sorry lasses) but it ain’t. Christine is a West Australian 100m and 400m hurdler, and Teresa was no slouch when it came to running. I had to resort to cheating but even that didn’t work, so I didn’t last long at that game.

Christine was coached by Shirley Strickland de la Hunty, Australia’s greatest female Olympic runner, who holds the record for the total amount of medals won by any female athlete. Just thought I’d mention that in case anyone thought I’d slowed down or was just making excuses.

Now the truth . . . I resorted to playing golden oldies rugby after that, at least there was less room to run and there was always the chance I could catch up and maybe tackle someone.

Stewart Nicolson does a bit of mountain biking, although I don’t think there are any mountains in WA, some large hills maybe. It’s a bit like Shetland really, all the mountains are flat. You will have to work that one out for your­selves.

Stewart likes to go out on his bike and get lost for the weekend (more sandwiches). So he pleas­antly surprised me one day by calling and asking if I was interested in watching some international water polo. I said of course. I met him at the pool where he mentioned that he was a courier and promptly introduced me to the team he was nursing – the German ladies’ national water polo team – but that’s another story!

Before I go, I had better mention young Andy Angus, the latest (known) addition to the shores of bonnie Australia, now playing veterans’ football in Perth. Also out there somewhere is Davie and Janice Graham . . . and probably one or two more thereabouts.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a safe New Year.


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