Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

As I write this all the teams have played at least one match at the World Cup, with hosts Russia and Uruguay becoming first to qualify for the last 16 from group A.

On the whole it has been a decent tournament so far, helped by a few shocks along the way and some memorable goals, although perhaps the less said about the commentary and punditry the better.

Few would have expected Germany to lose to Mexico, or Argentina to be held by Iceland. One of the most remarkable performances in the latter game came from Kari Arnason, recently deemed not good enough by Aberdeen but still able to do a pretty fair job on shackling Lionel Messi.

The introduction the Video Assistant Referee system, or VAR as it is commonly known, has caused a few talking points. There was the decision to allow Diego Costa’s first goal for Spain against Portugal, and also to award penalties to France and Sweden against Australia and South Korea respectively.

These “assistants” are apparently not even at the game. They are sitting in a office somewhere in Moscow, but bizarrely kitted out in full referees’ uniform!

Why on earth they didn’t disallow Switzerland’s equaliser against Brazil is beyond me, however. Everyone seemed to notice Steven Zuber’s push on his marker before making room for himself to head the ball home.

Everyone that is except the boys in black in Moscow. The ITV panellists were unanimous in their opinion that the goal should have been ruled out. Even Roy Keane, who used to think decapitation was just about permissable, appeared to agree with the others.

Okay, so we will mention the commentary and punditry. Apart from Keane and Slaven Bilic – I loved it when he said he couldn’t really care less about whether the Swiss leveller should have been allowed or not – there is really no-one who comes with an opinion which makes you think.

Most of the time they are prattling on about how far England are likely to go, even when the focus is on an entirely different group. And surely it is high time Gary Lineker was pensioned off. His pathetic attempts at puns, which could have been written by a five-year-old, had their day a long time ago.

Meanwhile in our office “World Cup Sweepstake”, which requires the entrant to basically predict the results all the way through the competition, things aren’t going too badly. Despite obviously getting the Argentina/Iceland and Germany/Mexico games wrong, plus a few others, I remain in contention on the leaderboard.

So what about the last 16? I will still stick with the Germans and Argentinians as surely they must improve. My line-up is: Russia v Portugal, Spain v Uruguay, France v Argentina, Croatia v Denmark, Brazil v Sweden, Belgium v Japan, Germany v Switzerland and Senegal v England.

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There has already been a healthy entry for our competition to name Shetland’s greatest football team of the past 60 years, but potential selectors still have a week and a half to make their minds up.

The main prize, a return trip for two people with car and cabin courtesy of NorthLink Ferries, is definitely not to be sneezed at. And there are also leather footballs from Cee & Jays Intersport for the runners-up.

So whether you are a subscriber to the theory that the best players all hung their boots up decades ago, or you believe the standard of today is much better than yesteryear, get your thinking caps on and have a look at the details above. If the price of a stamp puts you off just email your entry to

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Even those who detest cricket most may have raised a modest eyebrow last week when the Scottish team shocked England with victory in a one-day match at Edinburgh.

Readers, whether they follow the game or not, may be interested that there was actually a player in the home side’s ranks with Shetland connections.

A glance at the Scottish team sheet may suggest possible contenders – how about Michael Leask, Mark Watt or even Dylan Budge for instance?

But it was none of those. The cricketer with roots connected to these parts was none other than the man of the match himself – batsman Callum MacLeod whose magnificent 140 not out was largely responsible for Scotland’s thrilling win.

MacLeod’s father Donald attended the Anderson High School in the late 1960s and early 70s. He was a goalkeeper himself, playing for the Ness United team in the Shetland under-18 competitions.

He went on to make somewhat of a name for himself as a photographer, working for The Press and Journal and The Scotsman at times before establishing his own business.

MacLeod (junior) has obviously usurped any success attained by his old man, however. Even before his recent moment of glory he has been an established international batsman, making several centuries at one-day level.

He has been good enough to play grade cricket in Sydney, which is no mean feat, has had stints at English counties Warwickshire and Durham and has just signed a contract with Derbyshire.

It is going on half a century since I last saw Donald MacLeod, but I know a certain former Whitedale goalkeeper who keeps in touch. If he happens to read this he’ll maybe pass on congratulations from me, and I’m sure a few others, to the family.

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Two weeks ago I suggested that having clubs competing in a local league structure could be of great benefit to preparation for junior inter-county sports such as hockey and netball.

While there is no regular junior league set-up in the isles for hockey, it has been pointed out that in netball this exists for primary school-aged players upwards.

The sport appears to be thriving at the various age levels, with under-13 and under-17 squads regularly competing on the mainland with success.

The Anderson High School team has also regularly sent a team to compete in the Scottish Schools Open competition, where they have performed with distinction over the past few years.

The AHS team also plays in division one of the senior netball leagues, while a feeder team called “Hotfooters” was created to provide easier access for youngsters to join the league.

According to the organisers there have been over 1,000 competitive matches in Shetland and 32 competitive matches away from the isles for juniors this season in various leagues and tournaments.

Coach Sanna Aitken says: “Of course it is disappointing that we lost the junior inter-county this year … the girls were really gutted.

“As a coach, I am delighted that the netball continues to be really competitive [with] an incredibly high standard of match demonstrating the hard work and success of the sport and junior set-up in both isles.

“I am confident when saying the loss was nothing to do with any weaknesses in the local league structure. It just didn’t go our way on the day. Only two years ago it went Shetland’s way where we won on Orkney’s home turf. It’s always a great competitive game.”

I am happy to set the record straight on this.


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