From Neil Riddell in Åland Photos by Kevin Jones
Shetland’s footballers are in confident mood as they undergo final preparations ahead of taking on Menorca at midday on Sunday for what will be their first taste of Island Games action since defeating Guernsey to take the top prize in Lerwick four years ago.
The 94-strong pool of sportsmen and women, and their loyal band of supporters, have been captivated by the scenery and gorgeous weather since touching down on a charter flight from Aberdeen on Friday afternoon.
Manager John Jamieson led his side through a short training session ahead of the opening ceremony on Saturday evening and, as expected, will be sending his team out in a 4-4-2 formation for their opening game at Hammarvallen Park on the west side of Åland’s main landmass.
It is likely to be a tough task for the footballers against a side who only lost 2-1 to 2007 gold medal winners Gibraltar.
Ironically, given that one of the main reasons for the footballers’ absence in Rhodes two years ago was the high temperatures they would have faced, they will have to cope with an unexpectedly warm and sunny climate on Sunday – something which is sure to suit their Mediterranean opponents.
Speaking to The Shetland Times at his team’s guest house, which is situated next to a golf course near the venue for their first match, a relaxed Jamieson said his team could not wait for the action to get under way, but is expecting an “extremely difficult” test against a team which has a population of over 80,000 to draw upon.
Menorca finished in 9th place overall two years ago but they had been drawn in an extremely tough group against Gibraltar and Jersey, only losing 1-0 to the latter before thumping Ynys Môn 6-1 and seeing off Saareema 4-0 in their play-off matches.
The manager has named Ness United’s Erik Peterson in his starting XI, meaning the young goalkeeper appears to have usurped veteran Craig Dinwoodie – who Jamieson also manages at club level with Delting – as the preferred number one.
He has also plumped for Whalsay utility man Gary Jamieson at right-back and Peter Peterson at left-back in order to get key men Leighton Flaws and Ross Moncrieff into more advanced positions, while James Johnston will play just off lone striker Ross MacDougall. Anchoring the midfield will be Alan Duncan and Karl Williamson, both combative players known for their judicious use of the ball.
Jamieson said: “The boys are really up for it, they just want the games to start. At the moment [all we can talk about is] speculation – it just can’t start soon enough. We’ve excellent team spirit, the boys all get on well and they have a good laugh, and we’re enjoying it.”
He is confident the players will be able to cope with the warmth, with the temperature expected to be tipping over 25C when they kick off. “It’s a lot hotter than we were probably expecting it to be. It’ll suit them more than it will suit us, that’s for sure. I think the boys will deal with it, take on plenty of liquids and everything.”
The Shetland line-up to face Menorca at the Hammarvallen park at 10am BST on Sunday will be: Erik Peterson; Gary Jamieson, Peter Peterson, Merv Jamieson (captain), Richard Arthur; Leighton Flaws, Ross Moncrieff, Karl Williamson, Alan Duncan; James Johnston; Ross MacDougal. Subs from: Craig Dinwoodie, Lewis Kay, Josie Kay, Duncan Bray, Craig Gerty, Erik Thomson, Fraser Hall, Joe Leask, Duncan Anderson.