Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

While we have no official “sports review of the year”, there have been several successes over the past 12 months which deserve highlighting again.

Starting with football, still the favourite pursuit of many throughout the isles, it was good to see Whitedale’s senior team claiming the championship for the first time in 27 years. Spurs and Whalsay shared the knockout trophies, Cunningsburgh deservedly won the Parish Cup and Shetland regained the Milne Cup at inter-county level.

The island games in Gotland saw four gold medals won by our competitors – the ageless Christine McLean in the women’s cycling time trial, along with swimmer Felix Gifford, middle-distance runner Seumas MacKay and clay shooter John Magnus Laurenson. The latter was a very popular recipient of the Shetland Sportsperson of the Year award at the beginning of this month.

The Shetland hockey team continued to improve, reaching the Scottish District Cup final where they lost to Orkney and later running their county rivals close in the annual match at Brae. If only they had a pitch in town to play on, but that remains a burning issue.

In the junior inter-county the Stuart Cup was secured in style with convincing performances by the athletics, swimming and football teams, the latter clinching the overall result with a 4-1 victory in the final event.

At national level surely one of the best achievements was by table tennis player Lynda Flaws, who got her hands on the Scottish singles trophy for the third time. She really is one of the brightest jewels in our sporting crown.

On the rugby pitch the Shetland women’s team won the BT North League in their first competitive season, while their male counterparts continued to blow hot and cold. At home they are match for anyone in their league, but getting enough players to travel to away games remains their biggest challenge.

Just recently there was a triple medal success in cross country races, with Whalsay’s Michelle Sandison winning the West of Scotland championships at Irvine and Katie Bristow leading her side to a team gold. One the other side of the country another Shetlander, Leon Johnson, picked up a masters silver in the East District Championships at Livingston.

Back home again one of the most consistent of all competitors has to be darts player Neal Redfern. A few weeks ago he became the Shetland open singles champion for the second time, blowing away all his opponents with three 180s on the night. He might not make the back page but his skill is nonetheless impressive.

Speaking of indoor sports, we have reached the middle of the winter season and there is great competition being shown in the netball, indoor hockey, volleyball, pool and table tennis leagues. The fact that their reports regularly feature on these pages are due to the efforts of individual press secretaries, and we are greatly indebted to them all.

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Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling was unfortunately attacked outside his club’s training ground a couple of weeks ago.

The incident resulted in a man with a history of football-related violence rightly being sentenced to 16 weeks in prison and ordered to pay over £200 in compensation.

Since then more allegations have been made about Sterling being subjected to online racial abuse on social media sites.

The player is said to have been ridiculed for blasphemy, simulaton, treachery and poor time-keeping among other issues.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I cannot see what any of that has to do with racism.

Sterling is no doubt a good player, but there are aspects of his game which are guaranteed to bring out the worst in people.

He could be accused of diving, possessing ridiculous Dickensian sideburns and uttering silly quotes from the Bible, not to mention being over-paid, over-rated and not trying hard enough at times.

One notable writer has suggested that Sterling should be “respected, not persecuted”, as he is the most important sports person in the country and far superior to the more-lauded Harry Kane. What utter nonsense!

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Whoever is in charge at the Scottish Football Assocation needs to get their finger out now and appoint a new manager for the national team.

There may be some months before the next competitive fixture but the successor to Gordon Strachan needs to be given time to plan a couple of friendlies and, more importantly, take in matches both north and south of the border to see who is good enough for his squad.

A few weeks ago the favourite appeared to be the Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who has the benefit of living in Edinburgh. However, according to rumours he has not been approached yet and in any case would prefer to remain in his current position.

Alex McLeish, who held the job before jumping ship and heading off to Birmingham City, is another name which has been touted. But I would wager the SFA would be reluctant to turn the clock back.

Steve Clarke, who is doing well at Kilmarnock, could be a dark horse. But I can’t see anyone better than Paul Lambert and an advantage would be that he is currently out of work.

Whoever they go for, they need to do it quickly. Otherwise the national team would fall into the same trap as Glasgow Rangers, a club which has been stumbling around in the dark since the ill-judged and short-lived experiment with Pedro Caixinha.

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England’s cricketers are at least making a fight of it in the fourth test against Australia, although the Ashes were lost after they succumbed 3-0 in the five-match series.

Losing Ben Stokes was an obvious disadvantage. A player who is one of the best batsmen in his side and an ideal first-change bowler, not to mention being by far and away the best fielder in the team, is irreplacable.

But the fact remains that England have massively underperformed. A couple of their most senior players have only started contributing in serious fashion after it was too late.

The tourists have also contrived to make home captain Steve Smith, a batsmen of limited talents, look like a world-beater to the extent he is now being compared to Donald Bradman.

Personally I do not believe the current Australian side is all that great overall. Compared with the team of a decade ago, which contained the likes of Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, they are distinctly average.

What they do possess is a trio of very quick bowlers who appear adept at getting under the skin of the English batsmen. That is a good attribute, but it is nothing new and certainly should have been dealt with much better during this current series.

As we went to press yesterday England were in an excellent position with Alastair Cook having finally found his form and hit an unbeaten double century. He was helped in great style by Stuart Broad, another who was being written off a couple of weeks ago.

A lead of over 150 could be said to be comfortable, but if the Australians go on to score 300-plus and send England back in needing almost 200, anything could happen.


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