Talking Sport … by Jim Tait

Fourth officials need to understand the frustration

I’m sure everyone has moments when they want to throw something at the television.

In my own case it can be when the likes of Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton or Ant and Dec appear, or when BBC journalists start attempting to garner “expert opinon” from one of their colleagues.

Where football is concerned such a moment might be when motor-mouth pundits such as Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Savage subject us to their interminable drivel.

That is just my opinion though. I’m sure there are others out there who think the likes of Redknapp and Savage offer words of great wisdom. And that is their prerogative.

Where I might find more collective agreement concerns the presence of the so-called “fourth official”.

This has been in evidence for many years now, and I’m not against them per se. It is obviously a good idea to have another qualified referee at matches in case one of the three officials is injured or taken ill. I can remember the days when they used to issue an appeal over the tannoy for someone in the ground to come forward in the event of such an emergency.

However, it strikes me that apart from holding up boards for substitutions and added time the purpose of the fourth official is mainly to be a nuisance for managers and officials of both sides.

Several years ago I was in London and attended a match at Vicarage Road between Watford and Sheffield United. The ubiquitous Neil Warnock was at that time in charge of the visiting side.

It was a rainy night and the Watford ball boys were issued with towels, but would only give them to their own side for use when taking throw-ins. So Warnock instructed one of his coaching staff to strategically place a few of their own down the touchline so his players could enjoy the same “advantage”.

The fourth official for the match, Steve Bennett, then went and removed the Sheffield United towels, which enraged Warnock to such an extent that he replaced them himself.

That whole episode was laughable, but it illustrated the ridiculous lengths to which over-officious people will go in order to display their authority.

In Scotland, apart from the showing of the boards, the main purpose of the fourth official seems to be to try and calm down irate managers who believe the referee has got it badly wrong.

Recently Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes ended up being sent to the stand after one such incident, where basically all he did was shout and bawl a bit after a shocking decision by Bobby Madden.

That came on the back of the much-publicised series of howlers in the Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Aberdeen match from fellow referee Willie Collum, who was so bad they may as well have had an actual “column” in charge.

Officials should recognise that managers thinking they have been wronged will feel like letting off a bit of steam. It is only natural. As long as they don’t hit someone or go overboard with their abuse they should be allowed to get on with it and not be treated like children.

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Shetland’s rugby team is finally getting some game time, following the long enforced lay-off due mainly to weather and transport problems.

The away victory a fortnight ago against Lochaber may have been followed by a defeat at the weekend at home to Aberdeen Wanderers, but by all accounts it was a good performance against the team third in the league, particularly in the second half.

While there is no doubting the rugby club’s commitment, it has been suggested among the local sports community that in football perhaps a sense of direction is missing. Competition against mainland sides is fairly irregular, and there are those who would like to see a Shetland side entered in some kind of national league.

There would be great difficulty in making that happen, however, as the only fair system would require teams travelling north in the same way that BT Caledonia League rugby clubs do. And as we all know there are high costs involved.

There is no doubt that a town the size of Lerwick should be able to provide a football team strong enough to hold its own in at least north junior circles, or even the Highland League.

But there are several big obstacles to that, not least the kind of winters we have been experiencing of late.

There is also the fact that Shetland has but one rugby club, while a football side playing outwith the isles would, initially at least, be mustered from a variety of teams and areas.

It would also be to the detriment of the local league structure, although perhaps difficult at first that might not necessarily be a bad thing in the long run. A shake-up has been needed for many years now.

One of our respected stalwarts of the game once told me: “Fitba in Shetland should be aboot da clubs first, dan da coonty, an if there’s any time left then the island games. But only then.”

On balance he is probably still right, although times do indeed change and we all need to move with them

: : : : : : : :

Getting back to rugby, it was great to see Scotland finally register a victory in the Six Nations championship after nine defeats on the trot.

Admittedly the success came against Italy but winning in Rome, at least for the Scots, has never been easy.

Sunday’s match at Murrayfield against France will be more of a pointer in assessing how far the team has come under coach Vern Cotter.

The French are obviously not the team they were, and can be notoriously bad travellers, but they are also unpredictable and the Scots will have to be at their very best to prevail.

With that in mind is good to see centre Alex Dunbar back in the squad, as he is undoubtedly a class act. You don’t get named in the Pro 12 team of the season, as he was last year, unless you are something special.

: : : : : : : :

You have to admire local strongman Dhanni Moar, who headed all the way to the USA to compete in the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic competition in Ohio.

His performance itself may have been impressive, but the way he described his meeting with the “Terminator” himself was pretty much unbeatable.

“I got in a good position and put out my big paw,” said Dhanni. “He couldn’t resist. He didn’t acknowledge anyone else in that hall …”

Perhaps Arnie had heard where Dhanni hailed from, and is making a bid to play the baddie in the next Shetland series.

: : : : : : : :

For several years now we have been producing a fine collection of swimmers, with Andrea Strachan and Felix Gifford at the top of the list and many more besides.

The latest kid on the block is young Adam Millar, who picked up no fewer than eight gold medals at the weekend’s North District Age Group Championships in Aberdeen.

Good luck to Adam for the future, and a word of praise also for the coaches who put in the hard hours at Clickimin in helping him make the grade.


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