27th May 2020
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Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

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There has been much talk over whether highly paid sportsmen and women, especially footballers, should be giving up a substantial part of their income during the coronavirus crisis.

The Players Together scheme, launched by Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and other English Premiership players, is designed to give help to the NHS and is admirable.

In Scotland the first club to take the initiative was Heart of Midlothian, which revealed over a fortnight ago that it would be asking all staff to consider a 50 per cent pay cut.

Experienced forward Steven Naismith immediately stated he would be willing to forego half of his wages. Considering his past record as a caring individual, including his efforts to help the homeless, that was not really surprising.

But apart from manager Daniel Stendl, who waived his salary, others at the Edinburgh club appeared reluctant to follow Naismith’s example. Reports later suggested that no other Hearts player would be asked to take more than a 30 per cent reduction.

Also last week it was claimed that Scotland manager Steve Clarke had accepted a 10 per cent cut, simply meaning his salary would go down from £400,000 to £360,000.

In England the men’s and women’s international bosses Gareth Southgate and Phil Neville apparently agreed to take 30 per cent less. In the former’s case he would still be pocketing £2.1 million while Neville would get £210,000.

At club level south of the border the situation is very inconsistent. Some managers, such as David Moyes, Eddie Howe and Graham Potter have volunteered to take a cut while Pep Guardiola donated a million euros to help fight the outbreak in Spain. There was a terrible poignancy to Guardiola’s generosity a few days later when it was reported that his 82-year-old mother had died as a result of the virus in Barcelona.

But while most Premiership clubs have placed most non-playing staff on some kind of temporary leave, some receiving 80 per cent of their salary through the government’s job retention scheme, the situation with the majority of players is still unclear.

This is a difficult situation and UK health minister Matt Hancock ruffled some feathers when he suggested that well-off footballers should consider doing more to help.

Some journalists have even criticised Hancock, saying he was completely out of touch with what was actually happening. That was unfair. The minister was not speaking about the game in general, where players at lower-level clubs are paid a pittance compared with those at the top. He was merely highlighting the fact that many could easily survive with no pay at all for the foreseeable future.

To put this in perspective, most players at Premiership level are earning several million a year, an increase of roughly two and a half times what they took home six years ago. A high proportion are on more than £50,000 a week.

At the top of the tree are Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea and Man City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who are on over £19 million and £18 million respectively.

Even a player I confess to never having heard of, Tanguy Ndombele of Tottenham Hotspur, is reportedly bagging £10.4 million a year.

In the Championship the average annual pay is considerably less, around £250,000 a year or £5,000 a week. And in the lower League Two it drops to £800 or £900 weekly, not all that much above the national average.

During the current situation all these figures need to be taken into consideration. We should have no issue with lower-paid players still getting 80 per cent of their wages for doing nothing. They, like everyone else, still have bills to pay.

But for the multi-millionaires to grumble about being hit is about as hard to take as the coronavirus pandemic itself.

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No decision has yet been made about whether the football leagues in the UK will be completed, whenever the action begins again.

In Scotland it has been proposed in some quarters that the title should just be handed to Celtic, as the Glasgow side had an almost unassailable lead when play stopped.

Now a director of the other half of the Old Firm has suggested that if that happened, their rivals would only be able to claim “eight and a half” in a row if they were crowned champions.

Personally I feel that this season’s scheduled fixtures should be played out, however long it takes. Only then should the 2020-21 action start, even if it means a shortened campaign.

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There are currently eight premier division football clubs in Shetland, all of which have been in existence for different lengths of time.

Scalloway are the oldest, dating back to 1899, with Lerwick sides Celtic and Thistle being able to trace their beginnings back to the early part of the 20th century.

Spurs and Ness United both emerged during the 1950s, with Whitedale, Whalsay and Delting joining the senior league more recently.

Someone suggested to me that a best XI from each could be selected, to give players and supporters something to ponder over during the current period of uncertainty.

There will no doubt be controversy over this, but that’s what opinion is all about. If anyone would like to submit their thoughts, or their own ideas of what their respective best sides would be, feel free to send them in.

Next time I will give you the line-ups, in alphabetical order, from the past 60 years. Different formations may be used, depending on how many defenders, midfielders, or forwards are worthy of inclusion.

Email me at j.tait@shetlandtimes.co.uk if you have any suggestions.

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