Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

The Shetland Sports Awards staged at Clickimin a fortnight ago once again honoured the achievements of our most successful competitors during the past year.

Shooter John Magnus Laurenson, who won a gold medal at the NatWest Island Games in Gotland, received some of the loudest cheers of the evening when he was crowned Sportsperson of the Year.

Laurenson is one of those people who no-one seems to have a bad word for – an attribute most of us can only dream about – and his success was well deserved.

The choice for Young Sportsperson of the Year was surely never in doubt – it had to be 16-year-old Seumas MacKay who took gold at Gotland in the men’s 800 metres and has since represented Scotland – and his mentor David Wagstaff was sensibly recognised as Coach of the Year.

Judging the senior and junior Team of the Year awards must have been more difficult for the judges but their choices of the island games women’s triathlon and junior inter-county swimming teams were clearly very popular.

The Lifetime Endeavour award presented in memory of the late Rob Anderson went to archery stalwart Sandra Jamieson, who confessed that she was unusually “speechless”.

Jamieson was one of Shetland’s first medal winners at an island games, gaining a bronze at Guernsey in September 1987 when podium positions were more of a rarity.

The archery event on that occasion was held in miserable conditions, and the high winds and driving rain certainly did not give her an advantage as previously Jamieson had usually shot indoors. Her chances were said to be so low that she was not even mentioned on the local radio station.

Asked by The Shetland Times reporter what motivated her, she replied: “I did what everyone always tells me to do. I stopped talking!” So she’s been speechless twice in her life then!

Jamieson went on to coach many isles archers, and in 1999 she became chairwoman of the Shetland Island Games Association. Working with others she was part of the bid team which successfully brought the event to Shetland in 2005. Her honour was also richly merited.

Another standout of the sports awards weekend was the visit of special guest speaker Gregor Townsend, the head coach of the Scottish international rugby team.

As well as playing his part in the ceremony Townsend delivered a coaching session to dozens of excited youngsters the following morning at the new Clickimin indoor centre, where he said he was impressed with the handling skills on display.

Although Townsend was on a very tight schedule, having to rush off to catch a flight, he also found time to answer questions put to him by one of my colleagues. His answers were both honest and interesting, suggesting that the future of Scottish rugby at the highest level looks to be in good hands.

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An ongoing debate in football concerns whether players should have the right to go to ground in the opposition penalty box if they have been fouled.

This has been highlighted again in recent matches including the Scottish League Cup final between Celtic and Motherwell when Scott Sinclair was criticised for falling down too readily in order to win a penalty.

Somewhat worryingly on his issue, I read recently that in certain places youngsters are being coached in the art of how to fall properly, basically to do it in such a way as to con the officials.

Referees have a difficult enough job already without having to judge these kinds of situations. A couple of decades ago it was almost unheard of for a player to be booked for diving; now it is commonplace.

Sadly I am old enough to remember Francis Lee, the English international striker who played for Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and Derby County in the 1960s and 70s. He had an uncanny knack of winning penalties for his side, mainly gained by running straight at a defender whose challenge inevitably led to him hitting the turf.

In the 1971-72 season Lee set a British record for the number of penalties converted in a season, with 15 of his 35 goals for Man City coming from the spot. Many resulted from fouls on himself, earning the nickname “Lee One Pen”. Some journalists, holding the opinion that he was somewhat of a diver, used the name “Lee Won Pen” instead, while refereeing chief of the day Keith Hackett described him as a player who “had a reputation of falling down easily”.

While I would never condone cheating in any form, in my opinion if a player has been the victim of a foul, and doubts if the referee is going to blow his whistle, it is probably acceptable for him to go down. But it is obviously a very difficult area.

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Despite the gloating from those who were only able to offer criticism during the brief period of competition on flights to and from Shetland, last week’s decision by Flybe to withdraw from the service must be seen as bad for isles sports travellers.

Flybe’s main problem was that the airline attemped to do too much too quickly, offering daily flights to Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh in a desperate bid to take on Loganair. Expecting a single aircraft to manage all that was always bound to lead to backlogs when inevitable disruptions arose.

Proper competition is what is needed. A monopoly will only lead to people having to pay more to fly to mainland destinations, as evidenced this week by Loganair’s statement that prices are likely rise.

Many sports people from the isles head south regularly for competitions, and although most of them use the NorthLink ferries the situation with two airlines operating flights from Sumburgh would have given hope that some kind of deal could be struck. That seems very unlikely now.

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The English cricket side is facing an uphill task in the Ashes tour of Australia, having lost the first two tests and gone into the current third in Perth with most pundits writing off their chances.

As well as the on-field pressure the players are having to face a ridiculous situation where the media is highlighting every minor incident which occurs during their leisure time.

The authorities did not do themselves any favours by omitting star all-rounder Ben Stokes because he was the subject of a police investigation regarding an altercation outside a nightclub. That immediately exacerbated the problem with suggestions made of some kind of “drinking culture”.

Firstly, before a ball had even been bowled during this tour a story emerged that England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow had “head-butted” Australian opener Cameron Bancroft. Anyone who is familiar with head-butting will know that if it is done in a serious manner it will at least give the victim two black eyes if not a broken nose. Bancroft, however, was completely unaffected and has played in all the tests so far.

Then last week it was alleged that England Lions batsman Ben Duckett, whose team are also in action down under, had poured a drink over premier test bowler James Anderson in a Perth bar.

Both Duckett and Anderson said the incident was completely non-malicious and coach Trevor Bayliss described it as trivial. But what did the English authorities do? They suspended Duckett from taking any more part in the tour as well as fining him and issuing a written warning.

One former English batsman, who played in an era when there was more of drinking culture, called it right this week. He said that apart from a silly waste of expensive beer he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

The Australians are doing very well in this series and certainly do not require any help in their quest to regain the Ashes. But it appears the English players, management and media alike are doing their very best to make that happen.


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