Talking sport … with Jim Tait

Continual under-performing by Scottish professional football teams, at both club and national level, has been highlighted over the past fortnight.

Scottish manager Gordon Strachan, along with others in the game such as newly appointed performance director Brian McClair and another former international Jim McInally, now manager at Peterhead, have similar views.

The general consensus appears to be that the Club Academy pro-youth system in the country, which regularly caters for around 3,000 youngsters, is about three times too big, and that far too few of its protégés ever make it to the top level.

Blame for the situation has also been levelled at the growing influence of parents on their children’s sporting involvement, and the placing of undue expectations on those so young.

I’m not sure I’d go down that road completely, as those running clubs at younger levels often depend on fathers, mothers and grandparents to assist in some way. But it is true to say that massive changes have taken place in the last half century which have coincided with the apparent lowering of overall standards.

I’m fairly sure that when I was playing at a teenage level it was almost unheard of to have a father shouting from the sidelines, whereas it is now commonplace. While some of the advice may well be admirable, at other times it can be completely off-putting for whoever is in charge. “Put so-and-so into midfield,” would scream a parent who had most likely never played the game or knew an iota about what was involved.

At younger age-group levels here in Shetland a tremendous amount of hard work goes into running all the teams around the isles, and no-one should demean those who put the hours into organising things.

But on the other hand it is not always a good idea to have children thinking they have made it as a player at a tender age. Prancing around in a Shetland tracksuit at the age of 12 and going on trips down south does not mean you will be still involved six or more years later.

The greatest players ever produced by Scotland, such as Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Kenny Dalglish and many more, came through a tough route and were not mollycoddled as youngsters.

That is probably the message that Strachan, McClair and McInally are trying to put across, but no doubt they will annoy many in authority with their efforts to do so.

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Last weekend was a good one for the Shetland women’s hockey and netball teams in their respective competitions in Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The netball squad gained two victories from three games in the qualifying stages of the Scottish Cup, including one over Orkney, which was enough to take them through to the next round.

I had the pleasure (apart from the rain) of being at the Aberdeen Sports Village on Sunday for the Scottish District Cup quarter-final where the Shetland Ladies hockey team had a convincing 4-0 win over Glasgow High Kelvinside 2s.

Hockey can be a dangerous game and unfortunately Shetland defender Janetta Williamson found that out to her cost when she took a stick to the forehead early in the match. After a bit of quick running repairs she was taken to hospital to have stitches inserted in a nasty looking head wound.

Thankfully the semi-final is not until next year so hopefully Janetta will be recovered by then and able to join her teammates as they attempt to reach the final for the first time.

The match itself saw the Shetland girls take a deserved 2-0 lead in the first half with goals from Julie Kirkness and Kristan Robertson.

They should have had more during the second period as they were well in control but eventually added another two late on through Nicola Johnston and Kirkness again.

GHK did threaten on occasion but excellent defending and organisation stopped them from finding the backboard.

I recall seeing Shetland playing in Orkney a couple of years ago when goalkeeper Toni Sidgwick was largely responsible for preventing a much heavier defeat and wondered how on earth the team would cope if she was missing.

That question was answered on Sunday by Rebekah Laurenson who proved a more than able deputy. One save following a penalty corner was definitely Sidgwick-esque.

I was also impressed by the consistency of Victoria Duthie on the right side of the forward line while Nicola Blance’s work rate in the middle of the park really stood out.

But hockey is of course a team game and everyone is worthy of praise, especially the way the players quickly regrouped and just got on with things following Williamson’s injury.

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Cheating of any kind in sport, from diving in the box to gain your side a penalty kick to indulging in performance-enhancing drugs to win Olympic medals, I find repellant.

For youngsters who cheered on the likes of cyclist Lance Armstrong or athletes Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis to find out their heroes were cheats must be a massive disappointment.

The revelation a few years ago that no less than five of the eight finalists in the 100 metres final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics had either failed drug tests or admitted an offence was a pretty damning statistic.

Johnson was of course eventually banned for life and stripped of his gold medal. But Lewis and Linford Christie, who finished second and third respectively, escaped similar punishment as the International Olympic Committee refused to sanction investigations into questions of ethics as the evidence came to light more than three years after the games.

Two of the others in that final, American Dennis Mitchell and Desai Williams of Canada, later admitted their own guilt. That left just Calvin Smith of the USA, Brazil’s Robson da Silva and Ray Stewart of Jamaica in the clear. Little wonder it was later dubbed “the dirtiest race in history”.

One of my own favourite athletes used to be Scottish and UK 400 metres runner David Jenkins.
He was sentenced to seven years in jail in the USA in 1988 after being caught smuggling millions of dollars worth of steroids across the border from Mexico.

Released after a paltry 10 months, Jenkins bounced back in style, his company eventually becoming one of the largest manufacturers of “legal” supplements for athletes and body builders in North America. I found that all very hard to take.

Last week’s decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend Russia from all competitions after allegations of state-sponsored doping is obviously a step in the right direction, but we await to see how much teeth the IAAF has and whether the ban will still be in place come next year’s Olympics in Rio. I somehow doubt it.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe, a former top UK middle distance runner and Tory MP who now sits in the House of Lords, described the revelations as a “shameful wake-up call”.

Coe himself is under pressure for lavishing praise on his predecessor Lamine Diack, recently arrested over allegations he took payment for deferring sanctions over Russian drug cheats, and also his refusal to give up an advisory role with sports company Nike.

Coe’s failure to grasp the whole conflict of interest thing puts his suitability for the IAAF position in severe doubt. I’m amazed he didn’t do the decent thing and step down from the Nike job. But then I always preferred Steve Ovett.

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Speaking about tainted organisations, Fifa presidential candidate Gianni Infantino apparently says he will withdraw from the race if suspended Uefa boss Michel Platini is allowed to stand.

Platini, a former French football star who used to be held in high regard, and outgoing president Sepp Blatter are under investigation over a payment allegedly made to the Frenchman by the Swiss. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Looking at the other candidates for president, apart from those two, the most obvious thing is that Infantino is not the only one who possesses an eye-catching name.

The remaining five include, wait for it, Asian football leader Sheikh Salman bin Abrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, and Prince Ali bin al-Hussaion of Jordan.

And if you’re still reading, what about former South African politician Tokyo Sexwale, Liberian federation president Musa Bility and, the daddy of them all, former Fifa official Jerome Champagne.

You definitely couldn’t make this up. I think I’d go for Platini.


Add Your Comment
  • Clive Harper

    • November 21st, 2015 19:26

    Hi Jim. Fantastic to see the Shetland Under 12’s football team ‘prancing about’ last night at the Shetland Sports Awards and picking up Young Team of The Year. Richly deserved for all their hard work and feet kept firmly on the ground by their coaches. They may not all be around in six years but let’s recognise their achievement and encourage them to strive to be as good as they can be, whatever level of football they end up playing.


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