17th November 2018
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Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

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Huddersfield Town’s victory over Reading in the play-off final for promotion to the English Premiership again highlighted why penalty kicks are such a controversial way of deciding a football match.

Both teams had missed one kick when Huddersfield keeper Danny Ward, formerly on loan at Aberdeen, saved another with the score at 3-3. That left Christopher Schindler to become the Yorkshire club’s hero, and a headline writer’s dream, when he converted the final scheduled penalty.

But with the winners set to benefit from at least £170 million next season, which could be extended by a further £100 million if they manage to stay in the top tier, is it really fair that one player’s miss from the spot could be held responsible for failing to secure such a prize?

There are surely better alternatives to penalty shootouts – which appear to be the only go-to solution for knockout matches in premier football tournaments.

A couple of ideas have been tried, such as the toss of a coin which Glasgow Celtic benefited from in their European Cup second round tie against Benfica in 1969. Captain Billy McNeill famously guessed correctly after the Portuguese club had reversed the 3-0 deficit from the first leg in Glasgow.

The North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer in the USA both tested a short-lived variant on the spot kick, with players starting 35 yards from goal and tasked with beating the goalkeeper inside a given time limit. But like penalties it still pitted one man against another, reducing the beloved team game to an individual head-to-head contest.

The golden goal system was used at the European Championships of 1996, 2000 and 2004 and the World Cups of 1998 and 2002, whereby the first score in extra time would mean the game was over. But it was thought to promote negativity and encourage teams to sit back and wait for the penalty shootout.

Another suggestion is the attacker-defender-goalkeeper (ADG) solution, whereby a team nominates five attackers, five defenders and a goalkeeper, thus involving everyone in the side. I feel that one does have some merit.

Similar to a penalty shootout each team would have five attempts each. The attacker would start on the centre spot and have 30 seconds to score a goal against the defender and keeper. An obvious disadvantage would be if a team had a player sent off, leaving a defender short for one of the opposition attempts.

Some form of statistical counts have been mooted, such as the most corners, most shots on targets, most possession, etc. But that would not always reflect the better side on the day.

You could always return to the coin toss, but do it before the game is played. That way a team would know whether a draw was enough or would an outright victory be required, but again it would likely produce negative football.

I personally would favour the idea whereby teams reduce the number of players during extra time, possibly one every five minutes. That would leave the last five minutes with just six players apiece, surely leading to a greater chance of goals.

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The adventures of old mucker Bruce Leask, who appears to be on a never-ending trip around Ireland, consuming never-ending quantities of the dark brown stuff (it’s all right for some), have prompted thoughts of sailing at the highest level.

Is it a boat or what? The Land Rover Bar craft skippered by Ben Ainslie.

I refer of course to the America’s Cup, where the action is currently taking place in Bermuda. The British boat Land Rover BAR, with Sir Ben Ainslie at the helm, is competing against teams from Japan, Sweden, France and New Zealand for the right to take on defending champions Oracle Team USA in the final later this month.

Ainslie is certainly not having it all his own way, already suffering four defeats and behind New Zealand. If not for the two points gained from the past two years’ World Series races the British team would have little chance.

The US boat, which will contest the main event as holder, leads the way with six points, followed by New Zealand on five, the UK on four and Sweden, France and Japan all on two.

Since the America’s Cup was first hosted at the Isle of Wight by the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851 there has been no British winner, although the country has provided the challenging boat on roughly half of the 35 times the event has taken place.

The USA ruled the roost until 1995, apart from one solitary victory by Alan Bond’s Australian team in 1983.

A more conventional design – the 1895 winner Defender.

Then enter a man with fine Shetland credentials – the great Russell Coutts who had a grandfather from these parts. The New Zealander, who is also now a knight, has been involved in winning the trophy on five of the past six occasions.

A former gold medallist in the Finn Class at the Olympic Games, he skippered the New Zealand team to victory in the 1995 and 2000 events, then helmed the landlocked Swiss to take the trophy in 2003. For the past two America’s Cup competitions he has been chief executive of the winning US team.

Ainslie may have an even better record at the Olympics than Coutts, but when it comes to this event he has a hard act to follow.

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This weekend sees the 70th annual junior inter-county match with the Shetland team having home advantage on this occasion.

Memories of last year’s defeat in Kirkwall are probably still painful, as the blues suffered what can only be described as a terrible second day. It had all begun so well by winning all three events on Saturday, the athletics 49½-47½ , the netball 25-23 and the swimming 57½-39, contributing to an overall lead of 132-109½.

But heavy defeats in the hockey and football, by 10-0 and 4-0 respectively, gave Orkney 70 unanswered points on the second day and they retained the Stuart Cup they had won in 2015.

There has been some discussion over the scoring system being unfair, and there may be a case there. But the rules remain the same and if you are victorious you usually have no problem with them.

This weekend the Shetland competitors will again fancy their chances on the first day. The swimming team especially will go into the competition as favourites and recent successes of our athletes and netball players on the mainland surely stand them in good stead.

The overall outcome will likely depend on Sunday’s results, where the football and hockey teams have a score to settle.

Good luck to everyone who is taking part. If they do their best then that is all you can hope for. And a Shetland victory would be nice.

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I never much took to golfer Tiger Woods, viewing him as one of those manufactured sports people, similar to David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson, who are elevated to some kind of global brand but in reality are almost devoid of personality.

It was sad, however, to see the photos of Woods after he was arrested for drink driving, something he denies. And the way most of the media, having previously lauded him, appeared to revel in his latest downfall.

Problems with alcohol, which afflict many in the sporting world, are always difficult, and it is to be hoped he sorts himself out.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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