Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

As someone whose problematic knee deters almost any form of physical exercise bar swimming, I have enormous admiration (and no little envy) for those who still compete seriously in their 50s and 60s.

I remember interviewing badminton players Gordon and Graham Keith about 14 years ago, when the Yell twins were preparing for competition at the island games in Guernsey and already at 42 years old considered themselves well into the veteran stage.

It was stated then that the pair had been in the vanguard of Shetland badminton for over 20 years, picking up more doubles titles than it is possible to mention. Their ambition was to still be playing at county level at least until the island games reached Shetland in 2005.

Well Graham and Gordon easily reached that ambition, and at the weekend they were still at it, winning medals at an highly contested International Masters event in Glasgow no less.

Badminton players do seem to age like fine wine, as apart from the Keiths we still have examples of Maurice Haining, Colin Grant, Kevin Smith, Anne Wood and Audrey Leask holding off the regular challenge of youngsters.

Lerwick man Sammy Johnson (jnr), who has lived south for many years, was also performing at the masters in Glasgow.

A couple of years ago I seem to recall one former player, who had just reached a fairly significant milestone in the age stakes, mentioning that if he got into serious training he could “probably make the county side”.

Who knows? Perhaps even one-time star John Tulloch, who has been making a different kind of racket recently as founder of Wir Shetland, may even lay down his laptop and hit a shuttle again some day.

But back to the Keiths, the men of the moment. If my arithmetic is correct they have won nine island games medals between them, since Graham began by taking a bronze in the Jersey team tournament of 1997.

They both memorably went a step further with silver team medals during the Shetland games of 2005, while back at Jersey two years ago Gordon teamed up with daughter Shona to claim unforgettable silvers in the mixed doubles.

Keep it going boys. You are a credit to Yell, Shetland and us all.

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola came out with an interesting quote last week when he said he might not be good enough for his Manchester City players, rather than the other way round.

Whether that is true remains to be confirmed, but what it does do is show Guardiola in a different light to that in which he was portrayed since he first arrived in the UK last summer.

The overblown hype surrounding the appointment had to be seen to be believed. The behaviour of the English media, believing almost without exception that he was some kind of god-like figure, was staggering.

In reality, Guardiola had been in charge of two clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, both of which routinely triumph or finish second in their respective Spanish and German championships. He had no experience of managing in a seriously competitive environment such as that which exists in England.

Manchester City are a very good club, but there are another four or five very good clubs in the Premiership, and a further half a dozen who can surprise any team which is not at the top of its game.

Guardiola may not win anything at all this season, and such is the current expectation that he may be sacked if he does not deliver. But with his latest statement he has shown to be much more sensible than most who either talk or write about him.

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Rugby’s Six Nations Championship begins next weekend, with an exciting tournament predicted and the added incentive of a battle for places on the forthcoming British Lions tour to New Zealand.

A Lions squad picked today would contain over a dozen certainties – Scottish full back Stuart Hogg and lock Jonny Gray among them.

The Irish shoe-ins would be Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Tadgh Furlong, Rory Best and CJ Stander, while England would be represented by Jonathan Joseph, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, plus Owen Farrell at either centre or stand-off.

The Welsh contingent would likely include Toby Falateu, Jonathan Davies, Alan Wyn-Jones and perhaps a fit George North, but after that competition becomes far more difficult.

Scotland start with a home match against Ireland, who are riding high after recent wins over New Zealand and have rightly been installed joint favourites for the title along with reigning champions England.

Most pundits predict that if the Scots manage two wins from five matches it would be a reasonably acceptable campaign. But it is also arguable that they are not all that far away from being a seriously good side. Proof of that can be found by taking into account recent results by Glasgow and Edinburgh, the teams which make up the bulk of the squad.

If Scotland start well against Ireland, who are surely not invincible, anything could happen.

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Andy Murray ‘s defeat to the unfancied Mischa Zverev continued a run of shock results in the Australian Open tennis tournament, following Novak Djokovic’s exit in the previous round and women’s number one seed Angelique Kerber going out at the same stage.

What this has done is opened up the competition, which is surely a good thing, albeit the performances of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, seeded at nine and 17 respectively, along with the Williams sisters, mean the latter stages have a distinct déjà-vu feel.

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Former Dutch footballer Marco Van Basten has caused some controversy after coming up with a few ideas which he thought could revolutionise the game.

He has been particularly criticised in Scotland, where various scribes described his plans as bonkers and hinted that he may have been smoking some “industrial super-strength spliffs” back in Amsterdam before he revealed his eight-point plan.

Had he perhaps suggested doing away with Scotch pies or Bovril at matches, or maybe that one or two clubs north of the border might consider moving into the 21st century where emblems and songs are concerned.

Well, no actually. Van Basten called for the offside rule to be amended, extra time to be ditched and penalty shootouts to be replaced by time-limited runs from the halfway line.

He wanted a new card, somewhere between yellow and red (orange maybe?) and the introduction of sin-bins similar to rugby.

Other ideas included four quarters instead of two halves, trying to cut out time wasting in the latter stages of matches, and only allowing captains to talk to referees.

Personally, and I’m sure the late Jim Peterson would concur, I believe the offside rule has always been open to question.

Older readers may even remember that a change was introduced temporarily by the Scottish Football Association back in 1973 for the Drybrough Cup. It saw the penalty area line extended to join up with the touchlines, creating a solid line across the pitch 18 yards from each goal. Players could only be offside when they were over that.

Rather than lambasting Van Basten for what seems like perfectly good suggestions, people who are stuck in a time warp should consider moving forward.


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