Talking Sport … with Jim Tait
Merchant – a coach who left his mark on many
News this week of the death of former professional footballer George Merchant will rekindle fond memories of many Shetland youngsters who played the game in the 1950s.
Merchant, who was later to be a regular visitor to the isles through his job in the printing trade, first came north in a coaching capacity when he was playing at centre forward for Dundee.
He helped the 1953 junior inter-county side to a 3-0 win over Orkney, a rare success in what was a disappointing decade for results.
Two goals were scored by John “Pisco” Leask from Scalloway and one by Jimmy Shearer in what was described as an “efficient, if none too spectacular victory”.
Other survivors of that side include John Nicolson, Allison Bain, Jimmy Burgess, Brian Knight and Ian Gray.
Merchant also coached the junior side a year later in what was a dull, goalless draw in Kirkwall and returned in 1957 for the match in Lerwick.
Hopes were high that year and especially so when Tommy “Tiny” Jamieson gave the home side the lead at half-time. However, Orkney came back and eventually won 2-1.
Playing on the wing for the Shetland team (pictured below) was Jimmy Tulloch. Merchant recommended him to Falkirk, who he had moved to from Dundee, for trials.
Around the same time he also put in a word for senior county player Rob Laurenson, who was moving away from Shetland due to being transferred to a bank in Perth.
While with Falkirk Merchant’s greatest claim to fame was undoubtedly the club’s Scottish Cup victory of 1957, where he played a starring role at centre forward.
After a 1-1 draw in the final Falkirk went on to defeat Kilmarnock 2-1 in the replay, Merchant getting the first goal for his side.
After retiring from the game Merchant went on to run his own printing company in Broughty Ferry, which is now managed by his son Neil.
Merchant was the first of many Scottish professional players and coaches who helped the junior inter-county side. Others included Bob Methven of Raith Rovers, Ross Mathie and Jim Cook from Kilmarnock, who I recall from my own schooldays, former Rangers player Davie Provan, Cameron Murray of St Mirren, Teddy Scott from Aberdeen and the much-travelled Ross Jack.
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St Johnstone defender Brad McKay was this week charged by the Scottish Football Association – yes it just had to be that august body – with making an “offensive comment” about his Hearts opponent Juanma.
McKay allegedly described the Spanish striker as “a typical foreigner” who “gets touched and goes down”.
Some may feel this is an over-the-top reaction from the SFA, but it emphasises more than ever that there are thoughts which players would be advised to keep to themselves nowadays.
In any case, going down too easily when tackled, along with pushing, groping, shirt-pulling and especially all the ridiculous behaviour which goes on at corner kicks, is not confined to people from outwith our own country.
Maybe McKay should have said Juanma was behaving like “a typical footballer”. They surely couldn’t have punished him for that.
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This year’s inter-club sailing regatta was cancelled for the first time in its history owing to the deaths of two stalwarts of the event.
Vice-commodore Ralph Pottinger, from Burra, and Laurence Robertson, originally from the town but who had lived in Unst for well over half his life, had given sterling service to the committee over many years.
I knew Laurence well and it was not so long ago that he helped me compile an article about a get-together of “Charlie Moar’s boys” (former junior Lerwick Celtic footballers) which he was organising.
Laurence grew up in Lerwick and played for Celtic in the late 1950s. He represented the junior inter-county side in 1962.
After university and qualifying as a teacher he moved to a job in Baltasound, where he met his wife Mary. As part of that appointment he also taught in Yell for a while.
He was greatly involved in football in Unst, and I recall vividly memorable pre-season trips north where he would be one of the first to meet us off the ferry. Laurence would, of course, be hoping for a home victory, but when we took on RAF Saxa Vord his allegiance was with the Lerwick side.
Sailing regattas were an equal love for Laurence, and he spent an amazing 31 years on the inter-club committee before standing down a couple of years ago.
He was also an avid fan of cricket and rugby, and attended Scottish international matches in recent years.
It was my pleasure to coach Laurence’s two sons Andrew and Patrick when they played
football. To them, Mary, and their sisters
Linda and Marie I would offer my sincere condolences. He was a great fellow.
A full obituary is expected to be carried in next week’s paper.
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To see Andy Murray finally put one over on Novak Djokovic in the Rogers Cup final in Canada on Sunday evening was highly pleasing.
His three-set win has lifted the Scotsman to number two in the world rankings, welcome news with the US Open beginning at the end of this month.
Murray displayed tremendous tennis in his latest Masters triumph, which he had to in order to overcome an opponent who appears super-human at times.
Only Murray’s body language was less than sharp, but sadly that just appears to be a feature of his general demeanour. He often trudges around leaden-footed like a man ready to give up.
If only he could improve that department, and display more confidence in the face of the strong opposition he regularly faces, who knows? He might even rise to number one.
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Congratulations to Whalsay for retaining the Parish Cup at the weekend, and equally well done to Burra for pushing the holders all the way.
Burra, although using the competition’s boundary rules to their undoubted advantage, have a sprinkling of good young players.
Perhaps next year they could go one better and get their name on the famous trophy again. It seems a long time since 1981.