Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

The World Cup has had its share of exciting matches, apparently none more so than the France victory over Argentina on Sunday which I unfortunately missed.

My own match predictions were sadly awry, although I did somehow manage to get six out of the eight quarter-finalists correct in the office sweepstake/prediction league.

The success of England in Tuesday night’s penalty shootout against Colombia appears to have stirred emotions and talk of a repeat of 1966 has now emerged.

I thought England were worthy winners, especially as some of the antics of their opponents were a disgrace. There is no doubt the English are cute enough to take full advantage of the introduction of VAR system with three penalty kicks so far despatched by captain Harry Kane.

Penalising defenders for holding at corners and other set pieces is, I have to say, a major step forward. This has been going on for far too long in most levels of football, and thankfully the days of pundits uttering the words “part and parcel of the game” will now be over.

Grabbing someone in a bear hug is not football – never has been and never will be. I recall a European match some years ago when Glasgow Celtic should have had about six penalties but the referee gave none.

What this needs now is for officials to be in accordance with one another. But sadly, and I can envisage a few whistlers spluttering over their cornflakes at this, the words “consistent” and “referees” are an oxymoron as far as I’m concerned.

On the subject of the English progression in the tournament, it has once again thrown up the perennial question of whether Scottish people should support their oldest rivals.

There are no doubt many north of the border who would find the prospect of England winning the World Cup a terrifying one. They could even be in the majority. A recent poll suggested that only 15 per cent of Scots would support the English while 28 per cent would back anyone playing against them.

The same survey found that only two per cent of Scottish National Party voters would get behind England, although I actually find that figure quite high.

It does appear to be the case that Scottish football followers have nothing against English players, many of whom they actually admire, but it is those in the press and the media who they reserve their anger for.

I sincerely hope that England do go all the way. I have always supported them when Scotland are not involved, and in recent years that has become the norm.

A few issues do bother me, such as the constant gormless look on Kane’s face and the insistence of manager Gareth Southgate on dressing as if he was taking part in the World Snooker Championships. Someone should tell him that waistcoats are the most pointless item of clothing known to man.

But hey, most of it is good. I particularly enjoy the ITV panel and even Ian Wright is growing on me!

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It is just over a month since the tragic death of former Aberdeen footballer Neale Cooper and I would like to add my own tribute to the many which have been paid to such a popular man.

The late Neale Cooper made a memorable trip to Shetland.

At just 19 he was the youngest member of the 1983 European Cup Winners Cup side which defeated Real Madrid in the final at Gothenburg in Sweden.

Along with that memorable triumph he was in the team which won two Scottish league titles, four Scottish Cups, a league cup and the European Super Cup, all achieved before he was 24.

He later played for Aston Villa, Rangers, Reading, Dunfermline and Ross County, where he later became manager.

It was in the summer of 1999, when Ross County were invited to Shetland as guests for Scalloway’s centenary celebrations, that I had the privilege of meeting Cooper.

There was a gala dinner in the village hall after the friendly match where County defeated Scalloway 8-2, and he agreed to give me time for a short interview. But not until after his speech, he said, which he was dreading as he hated speaking at formal events.

Sadly the evening dragged on somewhat, with various Scalloway luminaries spending rather more time on stage than was really necessary, and it was approaching 1am when Cooper eventually got his turn.

I decided to give up on the interview that night, and maybe catch him the following day after a game against a Shetland XI in Lerwick.

As I was wandering along the embankment at Gilbertson Park prior to the match I heard someone calling my name, and was surprised to see Cooper running towards me.

He was full of apologies about the previous evening, although he had no justification, and he said he would speak to me immediately after the game.

The match ended 2-2 and Cooper was generous in his praise for the opposition. Shetland were “as good as any top Highland League side”, he said.

The two-day visit had been excellent both from a football point of view and a social one, he added. “It’s been fantastic. We had a great welcome from Scalloway and it was an honour to be invited to their centenary celebrations. I’ve never been to Shetland before and I only found out last week that my mother had been here 40 years ago.”

Following Cooper’s untimely death, and the loss of the first of the Gothenburg greats, there have been many kind words. Colleagues, writers and others have pointed out what a humble, friendly and likeable character he was.

They are absolutely correct. I’ve meet a few well-known footballers over the years but I have no difficulty in stating that Neil Cooper was the nicest one of them all.

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Cyclist Chris Froome is now free to go for a record-equalling fifth Tour de France win after his anti-doping case was sensibly dropped.

The Team Sky rider had been under investigation by the sport’s world governing body Union Cycliste Internationale but proceedings were closed on Monday.

Froome, who is bidding to move level with Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain as the only five-time winners of the tour, has been under intense pressure since an amount of the asthma treatment salbutamol was found in his system.

Get off this guy’s back and give him a break, I say. Just because he’s the best cyclist in the world does not mean he’s benefiting from a performance-enhancing drug.

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With all the buzz of the World Cup an annual competition in southwest London has almost been forgotten about.

Yes, Wimbledon is in full flow once again and the British competitors are as usual struggling to make it into the second week.

Andy Murray was probably sensible to withdraw, citing that he was not quite ready for five-set matches after his hip operation. There were signs at Queens and Eastbourne, however, that he may be able to scale the heights once more.

There is of course a capable replacement in Kyle Edmund, who is seeded having reached the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year.

Edmund’s half of the draw looks fairly open, and he could well still be involved come Monday. But of course anything can happen, and by the time you read this he could be gone. Let’s hope not.


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