17th October 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

There is still a slim possibility of using part of the vacant Anderson High School site at the Knab for some kind of sporting provision.

A public workshop will be held in Lerwick Town Hall a week on Tuesday, with the aim of establishing a consensus on what happens to the land.

Officials from 7N Architects will again be in attendance, following a similar workshop in the former AHS building in November.

On that occasion the hockey players of Shetland made their voices heard as they put a strong case for using part of the site for a new artificial pitch.

According to a spokesman for 7N this next meeting will be more structured, and demonstrate to people that their ideas are not being forgotten.

More than one councillor has expressed the view that, much as they would like to help the hockey players, using the site predominantly for houses is a more likely outcome.

It doesn’t have to be that way. To go against the wishes of a committed group of sports people, not to mention the majority of the area’s residents, is a kick in the teeth for many of the electors who voted last May.

Hopefully the hockey representatives, and any other sporting participants who are interested in what happens, turn up next week to again put their case.

It will be a tough battle to win, and certainly very much against the odds, but all is not lost yet.

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There has been much criticism of Scottish Football Association president Alan McRae’s performance during last week’s press conference to confirm the appointment of Alex McLeish as the new international manager.

But perhaps McRae was sensible to keep his comments to a minimum, and refuse to answer subsequent questions from the media, as the alternative would likely have done nothing but amplify the cock-up which the SFA has made over this whole situation.

Plenty of opinions have been expressed over this shambles, and many supporters would have preferred a different outcome, but it is probably better that everyone now gets behind McLeish and gives him a chance.

He may have walked out on the Scottish job in favour of Birmingham City a decade ago, but over the past few weeks McLeish’s behaviour has been exemplary.

Being third choice behind Michael O’Neill and Walter Smith has not prevented him from accepting the position. He probably doesn’t need the money, he knows a substantial segment of the Tartan Army have not forgiven him, and undoubtedly flak will come his way if things don’t go to plan.

What would need to happen quickly now is that McLeish identifies whether Celtic captain Scott Brown is willing to commit himself to another qualifying campaign, and not pick and choose his matches.

He should also get on the phone to Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, who qualifies for Scotland, and do his best to convince him that his future lies in the dark blue shirt.

Then he could sound out Norwich’s promising on-loan goalkeeper Angus Gunn, whose father Bryan was a team mate of McLeish in his Aberdeen days.

Although Gunn has been selected by England at younger levels, the manager could remind him that the current three Scottish international keepers are all in their mid-30s.

If McLeish is successful on even one of those counts, and he gets a decent backroom staff appointed, there is no reason why the fans should not give him their support.

As far as the SFA goes the position of chief executive remains to be filled, following the resignation of Stewart Regan. Personally I would favour someone who knows the game over the kind of bland pen-pushing type they usually go for.

How about a former international player like Pat Nevin, an educated man but also one who displays common sense and gets to the point when it is necessary?

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In Six Nations rugby all eyes will be on Murrayfield tomorrow, where the Scottish team will attempt to register a first win over England in eight years.

Following the disastrous opening defeat to the Welsh at Cardiff, the Scots certainly redeemed themselves the following weekend by beating France.

However, that win was as much down to the visitors throwing the game away as the home side’s performance. The French conceded penalties with incredible generosity, and Irish referee John Lacey finally wised up in the last quarter to the fact at least one of their back row forwards was spending most of the match offside. No way will the English be so charitable.

There is little chance of Scotland winning tomorrow, such is the confidence, dominance and power of this English side. But an upset cannot completely be ruled out. If the Scots play out of their skins and the visitors are slightly below par, maybe there could be a glimmer of optimism.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the words of English coach Eddie Jones, a toxic character who resorts to mind games to throw his opponents off guard, came back to haunt him.

Prior to the Welsh debacle Jones described the Scots as “big darlings” who like to move the ball from side to side. And before his own side’s game with Wales he questioned the “bottle” of inexperienced fly half Rhys Patchell. But for a disallowed try he could have embarrassed himself somewhat over the latter comment.

Perhaps Scottish head coach Gregor Townsend should remind his players of Jones’ brand of contempt before tomorrow’s encounter.
To use the famous phrase uttered by former Newcastle football manager Kevin Keegan: “I will love it if we beat them. Love it.”

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With the Winter Olympics now entering the final stages, one of the biggest talking points has been over Scottish speed skater Elyse Christie who has again endured a harrowing competition.

Similar to the last games at Sochi in Russia four years ago, Christie failed in all her three events over 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres. On each occasion she either crashed or was disqualified. When you consider her achievements over the last eight years of competition, which reached a pinnacle with an overall world title in Rotterdam in 2017, Christie’s Olympic perfomances are somewhat baffling.

Suggestions have been made that Asian skaters, who are generally the best in the world, are out to get her. She was certainly abused on Twitter and Facebook after an incident at Sochi which resulted in a South Korean crashing.

That is surely too far-fetched to be believable, but you have to wonder what it is that causes Christie to perform so miserably when it comes to the Olympics. She has said she intends to return for the 2022 competition at Beijing in China, but anything could happen between now and then.

A complete contrast can be made with Scotland’s other big Olympic hope, curler Eve Muirhead, who displays an impressive steelness when faced with extreme pressure.

Muirhead and her women’s team will be involved in a semi-final today and a potential final on Sunday. You wouldn’t bet against them.

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Best wishes to councillors Allison Duncan and Stephen Leask, who are off to London this weekend for the EFL Cup final to watch their beloved Manchester City against Arsenal.

I’m sure, however, that many neutral fans took great delight when the megabucks City team were knocked out of the FA Cup on Monday by League One side Wigan Athletic, thus ending any hopes of a quadruple trophy success this season.

The sending-off of full back Fabian Delph was harsh, but even with 10 men City still enjoyed over 80 per cent of possession and could have won the game several times over.

City manager Pep Guardiola was in conciliatory mood after the defeat, congratulating the opposition. But his behaviour at half-time was appalling, rushing over to berate his Wigan counterpart Paul Cook. It wasn’t Cook who got Delph sent off, even if he made his feelings pretty obvious when the tackle went in.

Lavish praise has continually been heaped on Guardiola, mainly for the exciting way his team go about their business. No disrespect to the man, but he has unlimited resources at his disposal.

Put him in charge at a struggling team for a while, for instance Sunderland who appear to be in freefall. Then we’d see how good a manager he really is.

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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