Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

The debate continues over whether the Scottish Football Association should persist with Hampden Park in Glasgow for international fixtures when the contract with the stadium owners ends in just over two years.

The alternative of moving to the rugby headquarters at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, which is capable of holding 16,000 more fans than its Glasgow counterpart, has been put forward.

Another possibility would be to scrap the idea of a national football stadium altogether and use either Celtic Park or Ibrox for big games and other grounds around the country such as Pittodrie, Easter Road or Tyncastle for friendlies.

I would have no problem with either suggestion. Hampden Park, especially since the ground was redeveloped, simply cannot create the best atmosphere because of its layout. Three-quarters of it only has one tier, which is raised at too shallow a gradient for the benefit of viewing. Also the stands behind the goal, separated by the vast expanse of “no man’s land”, are useless for creating any atmosphere.

Murrayfield is capable of generating a tremendous aura for fans, but only when it is a full house. Rugby matches involving the Edinburgh team, even the recent encounter with Glasgow which attracted 25,000, usually leave a ghostly feeling around the place.

The best atmosphere at any Scottish games in recent years has been at Celtic Park, which can hold just over 60,000 and is angled in such a fashion as to provide very good viewing all round.

The three competitive ties I witnessed at Parkhead all ended in victories, starting with the World Cup qualifier in 1997 when Austria were despatched 2-0 courtesy of a double from Kevin Gallagher.

Nine years on the Faroe Islands were the visitors for a European Championship qualifier, when Hampden was double booked because of a Robbie Williams concert, and a comprehensive 6-0 win was recorded.

More recently in November 2014, when the ground was unavailable following the Commonwealth Games, the Republic of Ireland were seen off in another European qualifier.

The only reverse I took in at Celtic Park was the friendly against England a few days after the Irish victory. Sadly that occasion was spoiled, not so much by the 3-1 defeat but by the section of supporters who were more interested in shouting abuse about the Queen at their English counterparts and expressing their preference for independence.

There has been a suggestion from some quarters that Hampden could be revamped again with the ends somehow squared off and brought in towards the action. Personally I would rather see the money spent on something which would have a more positive long-term benefit. Hampden has had its day. Murrayfield and Ibrox/Celtic Park would do just fine.

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Sixteen years ago this newspaper ran a competition where entrants were asked to pick their greatest Shetland football team, based on those who played during the 40 years from 1962 to 2002.

We have decided to run the competition again to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the annual senior inter-county clash for the Milne Cup.

This time the selection will cover 60 years so anyone who played between 1958 and the present day will be considered.

There will no doubt be changes from the team chosen in 2002, which was (4-3-3 formation): Terry Johnson, Tom Burgess, Ian Manson, Alex Watt, Michael Johnson; Jim Leask, David Clubb, Ian Irvine; Michael Williamson, Bert Sinclair, Ernie Smith.

Many others have made their mark since then, including those who played for the gold medal-winning team in the 2005 NatWest Island Games.
The competition will be similar to last time, and the person whose line-up most closely resembles that chosen by our panel of experts will win a prize.
Lists of players will be provided and an entry form included in a forthcoming edition. Look out for that and get your thinking caps on.

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Staying with local football the Ocean Kinetics Premier League action has begun, with an impressive opening-night victory for champions Whitedale over last season’s surprise package Ness United.

Whalsay, Spurs and Celtic also started strongly with wins over Delting, Thistle and Scalloway respectively.

As far as Ness are concerned, hopefully they can regroup quickly and all the promise shown in 2017 is not lost.

Whitedale, meanwhile, have a massive game tomorrow against Kirkwall Thorfinn from Orkney in the Highland Amateur Cup. They will certainly need to be at their best if they are to make it to the open third round.

Spurs are of course in the same qualifying group and face rather unknown Orkney opposition in the form of East United.

However far the Shetland teams progress, hopefully the local association and everyone concerned will realise the benefits of taking part in this competitition, and next year there is enough interest to play the first and second rounds up here.

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Strength competitions are not really my thing but you have to admire the exploits of Shauna Moar who is now ranked second in Scotland in the women’s open class.

No doubt taking inspiration from brother Dhanni’s performances in recent years, she showed her power at Motherwell at the weekend (see story above).

Lifting a 170kg deadweight, cleaning and pressing a 70kg axle and running a 200kg yoke down a 10-metre course is seriously impressive. Probably twice as much as even the most youthful male members of our newsroom could manage.

Moar is somewhat of an all-rounder, being a member of the Shetland rugby team which won the BT Women’s North League last year at their first attempt and could well consolidate second place when the current season finishes.

Best of luck to her in the Britain’s Strongest Women final when it comes round in August.

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Mark Williams’ superb victory in the final of the World Snooker Championship gives hope for a sport which plenty of former fans had given up on in recent years.

Viewers have been turned off by various aspects of the game, among them the behaviour of Ronnie O’Sullivan who sometimes shows a lack of respect for his opponent and the succession of emotionless and robotic Chinese players.

Both Williams, and his opponent in the final John Higgins, demonstrated everything that is good about snooker – breathtaking pots and excellent break-building allied to steely determination and great safety play. The sportsmanship displayed was also laudable, but this was a general feature of this year’s tournament.

I cannot forget the moment when at a crucial point in the semi-final Williams’ opponent Barry Hawkins was snookered, then the pink ball rolled slightly which would offer a clear path to a red. Nobody apart from Hawkins appeared to notice but he alerted the referee who repositioned the ball and he had to negotiate the snooker.

That kind of honesty is such a refreshing contrast to other sports where cheating appears to be commonplace and even considered acceptable.

In the commentary box former greats Steve Davis and John Parrott both considered this year’s final to be possibly the greatest ever. I would not disagree with that – for sheer drama it is probably only bettered by Dennis Taylor’s legendary win over Davis in 1985.


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