Some sadness at end of southern era

News that the death knell may shortly toll for the Southern Football Association, while some­what inevitable, will still be greeted with sadness in some quarters.

For nigh on 60 years players turned out for a variety of teams in the Southern League, predomin-antly from Dunrossness, Sandwick and Cunningsburgh. And many a memorable 90 minutes ensued.

The widely-held view was that participation in such a fiercely-contested environment hindered Ness United from becoming a serious contender in the main Shetland leagues.

That was certainly true to a degree – knocking all hell out of your Ness team mate every weekend was hardly the ideal preparation for Monday’s Association Cup or Madrid Cup campaign. But it should be remembered that in 1966, when Ness became Shetland champions for the one and only time, the Southern League was also flourishing.

A photo in Jim Peterson’s The History of Shetland Football of the 11 men responsible reveals that two were from Cunningsburgh, four from Sandwick and five hailed from further south.

Generations bring change, however, and the new Ness foot-ball hierarchy was probably correct to call time on what existed before.

But to wind up the association entirely seems harsh. Three or four historic trophies are still in existence and it is a pity some way of contesting them could not be found. Even a knockout competition prior to and after the main season would surely have been better than nothing. This is particularly relevant as, presumably, Southend, Sandwick and Cunningsburgh will still feature in the Parish Cup.

This column has long argued that a shake-up of the entire Shetland football set-up is necessary, with regional leagues and a revamped Parish Cup run in tandem with the main competition. The death of the Southern League is yet another example of why that is necessary.

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Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho was up to his old tricks this week ahead of his side’s Champions League encounter with Manchester United, suggesting he could be the man to take over at Old Trafford when Alex Ferguson finally decides to call it a day.

“Special clubs need special managers,” he is quoted as saying on Monday, adding that if he had been charge of a Premiership club the title race would have been much closer this season, and even that he had earlier been approached to take over as England boss.

The media, particularly the English-based, have been seduced by this repellent character ever since he set foot in the UK and declared himself “the special one”, and they show no signs of seeing through his pretences, continuing to use words such as “charismatic” and “engaging” when describing his boast­ing and buffoonery.

I have been a fan of Man Utd for over 40 years, but my support for will be suspended come the day Mourinho takes over at the helm.

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Staying with football managers, this column has on more than one occasion condemned the ridiculous behaviour of Celtic supremo Gordon Strachan when speaking to reporters.

He was at it again on Saturday, telling a female interviewer that she would know as much about what it meant to lose a major match as he would know about childbirth.

Of course it was an ill-considered thing to say, notwith-standing the sexist connotations. But it simply proved that Strachan is not going to change his ways.

I know that current television deals require club represenatives to appear in front of the cameras after matches, but if a manager is so readily provoked as Strachan, always aiming to belittle the interviewer, maybe it is time for a rethink.

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Do lawyers play too much of a role in sport? Are medals awarded in the courtroom and not in the sports arena? Does the law take a sporting dispute into extra time? These questions and more were under the spotlight at a recent debate at Sheffield University.

One of the panellists was sports lawyer Mark Gay, who worked on Rio Ferdinand’s prosecution for missing a drugs test. His view was that the law should not stop on the touchline. Field of play disputes were subject to the law of the land.

I disagree entirely. Incidents on a football pitch, for example, have to be sorted out by the relevant authorities. Only if they abdicate responsibility, due to the incredible seriousness of an individual prob-lem, should the courts be involved.

Michele Verroken, director of a group called Sporting Integrity, hit the nail on the head. To be afraid of legal intervention and over-regulation restricted behaviour, she said, and over-draconian regimes of drug testing, for example, could lead to a loss of the hearts and minds battle.

I hark back to the incident a decade and a half ago when footballer Duncan Ferguson, then of Glasgow Rangers, was jailed for three months for head-butting a player during a match against Raith Rovers. The Scottish Football Association stuck its head in the sand, and as a result Ferguson refused to play for the national team again.

A few years later Aston Villa’s Dion Dublin, reacting to an alleged racist remark, also stuck the head on an opponent. The offence was no worse than that perpetrated by Ferguson, but on that occasion the authorities were able to sort out the matter by way of a ban. That is way it should be.

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England’s cricket tour of the West Indies is over, the test series having ended in a 1-0 win for the home side.

Not surprisingly the finger is now being pointed at the short-comings of the English side, the failure to take 20 West Indian wickets in any of the matches, and captain Andrew Strauss for being too careful and twice delaying a declaration.

But with a relatively inexperien­ced England attack it was always going to be difficult to dismiss a team twice, especially on pitches which gave little or no help to the bowlers.

Perhaps this experience may yet be the making of the English side, who cannot wait to play on pitches where they will get added seam, swing, bounce and turn.

The Ashes series against Australia is now just four months away. England can only get better, while the Aussies have just bounced back to defeat South Africa. It will be mighty close I’ll wager, especially with Andrew Flintoff and, hopefully, a fit-again Simon Jones or Steve Harmison firing on all cylinders, allied to the much-improved Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

Jim Tait


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