Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

It came as a blow to the many who enjoy indoor bowls to find out this week that their hall at Clickimin will be unavailable for roughly a month.

Apparently the space is necessary for pupils at the nearby Anderson High School to sit their prelim examinations, which run from next week to the middle of February.

Not surprisingly the bowlers, the majority of whom are elderly or retired people, are unhappy, particularly as they say they were given little notice of what was going to happen.

One participant says he was told the decision was made by the management committee of Shetland Recreational Trust, and taken entirely on financial grounds. That seems understandable, given the continuing pressure the trust finds itself under to make ends meet.

According to Shetland Islands Council the bowls hall was hired as a kind of precautionary measure, presumably because of worries about not enough room in the new AHS. Whether the hall will require to be used for the forthcoming Higher and National Four and Five exams is not known.

The biggest problem is obviously the lack of a games hall or assembly hall in the new school, a move done to cut costs but one which the authorities may live to regret. A school without such an amenity is pretty unusual after all.

As another bowler says, the AHS is using more and more of the facilities that all the public uses at Clickimin. They take over great swathes of the day, and now they have moved into the bowls hall. It is a step too far and they are quite angry about it.

George Burgess, a veteran bowler who is also a former teacher and education department official, is one person whose opinion should be listened to. “I find this unacceptable,” he writes in Readers’ Views this week. “For a new, expensive school to have to hire accommodation for their exams is not good enough. This when elderly people are encouraged to be active.”

The initial closure is just for a month, and in the overall scheme of things the education of youngsters has to be the priority. But something better could have been worked out. There are surely other buildings in town which could have been used. For example, what about Islesburgh Community Centre or the Gilbertson Park Games Hall? It is a great shame that the bowlers, not for the first time, appear to be seen as an easy target.

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Staying with Shetland Recreational Trust, more and more people are commenting on the impact the influx of AHS pupils at lunchtimes is having on Clickimin.

Da Muckle Cafe, now run independently from the SRT, is now incredibly busy between 1pm and 2pm. Long queues form with hordes of youngsters heading across the road for a “healthy” snack.

It is over eight years now since the trust gave up running the cafe – doesn’t time fly – and the owners of the Great Wall took over.

I’m not sure when the contract is due for renewal, but if the cash-strapped SRT wants to take advantage of some lucrative new business it would surely make sense to take it back in house again.

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The sudden emergence of new world darts champion Rob Cross shows that, happily, an underdog can occasionally triumph over the odds.

Whether Cross can establish himself as one of the truly great players will remain to be seen. His breakthrough has shades of Keith Deller about it, albeit he is much better and competing at a far higher standard.

It was a pity that the opponent for Cross in last week’s final was Phil Taylor, as the new champion’s moment of glory was tempered somewhat by Sky Sports’ concentration on it being Taylor’s last competition before retiring.

A more exciting match was Cross’s epic battle with Michael Van Gerwen in the semi-final, where he showed great resolve to see off the reigning champion 6-5.

Readers of this column will know I’m not a fan of either Taylor or Van Gerwen, as their behaviour can leave a lot to be desired. Taylor’s gamesmanship is well documented while the Dutchman’s habit of shouting past his opponent after a high score is appalling.

Scotsman Gary Anderson, one of the genuinely decent players in the game nowadays, went on record as saying there were only half a dozen contestants who he respected. One of them was Paul Lim of Singapore, who he defeated at the world championship, and I fancy another two would be Raymond Van Barneveld and Mensur Suljovic. But after that you do begin to struggle.

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It is difficult to find words which can best describe the English cricket team’s capitulation in the Ashes series against Australia.

For fleeting moments they appeared to be at least as good as their opponents, and may well have won the fourth test but for time lost to rain.

But when the chips were down the visiting players were found wanting, and it was no surprise when the Australians wrapped up a 4-0 series win on Monday morning.

There are a number of reasons why this series has turned out such a disastrous one, beginning with the fact the English team was under-prepared, had limited warm-up matches and absolutely no competition at all between tests. However, that is a drawback which faces almost every touring side with the current schedules being what they are.

Another issue which has been barely touched on is having to perform in such ridiculously high temperatures. While the Australian Open tennis tournament suspends play when it reaches 35 degrees, the English cricketers had to contend with heat approaching 47 in Sydney at the weekend.

But in my opinion the tone for this shambles was set when the (insert your own preferred adjective here) decision was made to suspend Ben Stokes.

The absence of their star all-rounder was a blow which could not be absorbed. The equivalent would have been for the home side to have been deprived of the services of captain Steven Smith, who proved so difficult for the ineffective England bowling attack to dislodge.

Will the English authorities learn from this? I doubt it.

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MSP Tavish Scott this week again called for a travel fund to be set up by the Scottish government for isles sports people.

Such a fund would, of course, help Shetland residents to travel to the mainland for regular competition.

This may seem surprising coming from a sports columnist, but I’m not sure why those who choose to partake in that kind of activity should be able to travel cheaper than anyone else. NorthLink already assists with costs, as pointed out regularly by contributors to these pages.

There are all sorts of reasons, apart from sport, why people want to head south. There needs to be consistency here.

I’m supportive of the way Tavish presses the government to do something about the high price of travelling away, in particular the refusal to tackle the extortionate cabin prices. But any help forthcoming should be for all of us.

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An email sent this week by Scottish Football Association to members of the Scottish Travel Club admitted that the appointment of a new international head coach was an emotive subject high on the agenda for all fans.

An assurance was given that the matter was of the utmost priority for both the search committee and the SFA as a whole. Progress had been made, it was stated, but it was “critical that this process is not rushed”. I think we’ve noticed that!


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