Thursday, December 31, 2009

Writes and Wrongs

It has been three weeks now since the Wing Centre last poked a mouse or tapped a keyboard. But then there has been no shinty at all though it would appear from the edicts coming out from Alton Towers there is plenty politicking going on. Perhaps more about this anon but there does seem to be more than a suggestion that some matches are going to be scheduled on weeknights next season- and so it looks like no more whists or prayer meetings for the guys who live in the Glen for a while - and given how we are going to have to fill in the gaps left in the teams, it looks as if the Boys Brigade will have to change its meeting night as well. The Wing Centre thinks this is all wrong himself and the MacTavish Cup will be devalued but doubtless it will go ahead and we will have to try to make something out of it even if the message to the new First Team manager has to be “It’s shinty Jim - but not as we know it.”
Since the Wing Centre made a resolution at the start of December not to mention the interesting finale to the Premier League season in case upset was caused in any remote part of the indigenous sport’s far-flung parishes, he was left with little to look forward to except Zandra’s Sixes. They of course had to be cancelled because of the existence of 10” of snow on the field - and so there was nothing for it but to thumb though his well worn collection of Shinty Year Books and other tomes to do with the ancient game. Most of these have been so well thumbed as to be falling to bits (message to Hugh Dan: Bring out a new edition of “Shinty!” now.) that he was grateful that this past year or two saw the addition to his library of two books which deal in some measure with the camaraderie of the caman.
The first is “Do you Say ‘Sir’ To Your Father” by Brian Denoon and is in fact subtitled “Tales and Memories of the Great Glen” Brian is a former pupil of the Glen School and has of course a strong connection with the ancient sport - as does of course his book. Apart from playing the game at school and with Aberdeen University – he wrote an interesting piece on his University Shinty days for the Yearbook of 2006 - he was for a time the Shinty correspondent for the Scotsman and then Scotland in Sunday.
Apart from being an excellent general read Brian’s book touches on shinty in some detail in two sections. In Chapter 9 –entitled “Shinty and the Lay Preacher “ he writes about Shinty in the Glen where his father picked up the game, not in his native Balnain as one would have supposed but down in the Glen School under the tutelage of Hugh “The Broch” Fraser. He then goes on to describe the matches between the two halves of Fort Augustus and how on one occasion the goalies mam stepped in between the posts when her son burst up field to clear the ball and of course tribute is paid to his first shinty hero, the incomparable Willie Jack captain of the North select winning team in 1939. Willie was later wounded during the War and when Brian got to see him play it was clear his best days were behind him but “he still possessed amazing skills and that economy of movement which is the hall mark of all true artists.”
Chapter 20 also takes us back to the indigenous sport and interestingly to its relationship with football. The chapter is entitled “Clash of Cultures” and it deals with a challenge football match in the 1950s between the Glen boys and the Fort lads. Shinty was the sport of both communities at that time but a new minister had introduced football to the Glenners by way of a civilising influence. This challenged the Fort lads who knew that to play the game you kicked the ball but as to rules, the fact that Fort attempted to start the game with 12 players tells its own story. More telling still was the other fact that when the ref blew to set the game in motion, Brian trotted up to full forward and the rest of the Fort lads lined up shinty style - wing back, wing forward, full centre ,buckshee back- to the consternation and derision of opponents and spectators alike. Now that situation is unthinkable today and by that fact alone tells its own story of cultural imperialism – but enough of the soapbox.
Not to be missed too are the illustrations by former Beauly player Niall Maclennan including a neat drawing of a shinty club and ball which would be reproduced here if attempting to scan it would not damage a classic sure to appreciate in value. Oh - and the Treasurer wrote the foreword so what more do you need by way of recommendation?
The book is published by Ardvreck Publishing printed in Inverness by ForTheRightReasons Community Print and retails for £9.99. Last time the Wing Centre looked you could buy it in Drum Post Office from Mr Cockburn and in Waterstones - but try the PO first.
The second publication worth a look is “Fort Augustus Shinty Club: A Short History” by Alister Chisholm which came out in 2008 having been published by the South Loch Ness Heritage Group and priced at £3.
Of course, Alister is a Boleskine man through and through but his interest in shinty is not constrained by narrow parish boundaries and by dint of diligent research he has produced a detailed, well illustrated account of Shinty in Fort Augustus from 1880 until the club finally folded in 1983-1984. It is a book well worth its place on the shelves of connoisseurs of the caman and while it might be the case that Big Al has flogged the lot anyone who would like a copy should get in touch with the man himself. Of course the folding of the Club did not mean the game was all up for shinty in the Fort as the presence of Fort lad Shaun Nicholson in the Scotland squad will testify. Fort’s loss has been to the gain of the Garry and Boleskine as well as to an extent the Glen.
The illustration? There is Brian (front row second from left) outside Kings College with the rest of the Aberdeen Uni side in the late 1950s. Guess who is back third right? Yes it’s our own Vice President and former Glen star John Alec Mackenzie.
And third from left in the back row? Don Cumming, player,Glen committee member and manager of the Glen side that made it to the Camanachd Final in 1988. Now there's a story!

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