Friday, March 01, 2013

Seemingly, it was ever thus.

Reporting on what happened in shinty matches is easy stuff; the ball went in the net - it was a goal. Not too much of a mystery there except of course for the fact that occasionally the goal judge mis-reads the situation and takes action. The other stuff - the commentating, opinion stuff  is more tricky - not least because the shinty world is a small one and everybody involved in it wants to be there and has the good of the game at heart.
The Wing Centre firmly believes that to be true - and having grown up in and lived in small villages for almost all of his life, he knows that though people occasionally don’t see eye to eye and hold firmly to different opinions about how things should be done, fundamentally they all  in the same pro-shinty boat. The thing is that in these days of immediate communication, as was pointed out at the recent EGM in Fort William, what is said stays said - and it can hang like an albatross round the neck of the sayer both in and out of context. In the end the plus point might be  that as we become aware of that , in the future we’ll all become more sophisticated in communicating-either that or more  careful.
That being the case there are two issues that have popped up in shinty recently which have the potential to cause hassle. The first of these is the impending changes to the league structure. Glen have been unambiguous on this subject. You can check the club website. The Wing Centre was taken by what the Sunday Herald guy said last weekend :
“For the last three years shinty’s top tier has provided an intense level of competition for the sport’s leading clubs with the destination of the trophy not secure until the final Saturday of the season. However an imbalance elsewhere in the sports league structures has prompted shinty’s governing body, the Camanachd Association to ring the changes for next season. Not surprisingly, the Association’s decision to reduce numbers in the present Premier League from 10 clubs to 8 and to introduce a further tier of national league shinty at the level below the elite grade has not met with universal approval. Such is the concern in some quarters that moves are afoot to have the decision challenged at the Camanachd Association’s AGM in April.”
Like everyone else the Wing Centre will have to await developments, if any.
Has this caused the second of these issues - the movement of an undoubtedly class player-Caberfeidh’s Kevin Bartlett- from a regional club to a club in a higher division? Maybe or maybe not. Only the individual affected can tell because ,like it or not, the restructure might mean that the player in question would run the risk of playing in shinty’s third tier next season if his side did not make it up to the new national league.
Generally speaking many people feel that this sort of thing should not happen in shinty- though it has done for some considerable time. Glen lost keeper Tommy Mackenna to Kingussie way back in the dark ages: Glen then profited from Boleskine’s Billy Mackay and “Toots” Fraser and nearly pulled off a major in the process losing out in the MacAulay final of ’77 to a Kyles super team.
Kingussie picked up Fort’s Eck Sutherland: Kincraig players of ability have always been tempted to turn out for both Badenoch big teams. Fort William have profited at the expense of both Lochaber and Ballachulish while Invergarry have provided a range of class players to sides throughout the Great Glen over the years. Why- long before Davie Glass moved, ‘Shiel had picked up boys from Lochbroom.
Before the Bartlett move, the most recent high profile transfer - and this perhaps is the most directly comparable move - was the signing of Fraser Inglis by Kingussie from Oban Camanachd earlier in the decade. You cannot blame any player for wanting to win trophies  because that is really what it’s all about. In most cases after a season or two, the lads go back to their former clubs and help in the development of the game but the real problem is not the ambition of an individual no matter how disappointing that is for a club.
It’s down to a lack of players in the heartland which is caused by- who can really tell? If we were talking about a decline in puffins or grey seals, the first thing that would happen would be that we would get some serious research into the decline. Why has shinty not expanded into areas next to its obvious heartland? For the whole of the last century up until present Cabers have been the only shinty side to survive in Easter Ross. Why? The population of the Black Isle and the Alness /Invergordon area has rocketed over the past half century but Shinty has failed to colonise the area? Why?
Everyone knows that as the population of villages changes incoming families with kids over the age of P5 or P6 hardly ever embrace the indigenous sport. What is it about the perception of shinty that makes newcomers shy away from it?
The truth is we don’t know the answer to any of these questions- and unless some social science dept. in a University makes an effort to find out we will never actually know.
We could have a guess though - we might guess that the public and business community have bought into the football con; we might point to the fact that, apart from in a very few places, shinty is given low status in the school curriculum and that fact is regarded with complacency.
We might also guess that at certain times, parents look to encourage their kids into sports out of which they might make a future career however long a shot that might be.
One of the main challenges to shinty is the seemingly unstoppable rise of football which has strengthened in the north just as it has declined elsewhere in the country.
Indeed such is the appalling state of Scottish football that within half an hour of where the Wing Centre lives there are two Premier League football clubs (second and third behind Celtic at the moment) pretending to be community friendly, hoovering up youngsters and discarding them at 14, 15 ,16, 17, 18 or occasionally 20. There are to all intents and purposes with one or two exceptions, few genuine Highlanders playing in either first team: nor do many Highlanders have a prospect of playing. These clubs are businesses run for the benefit of shareholders though perhaps for the sake of community relations it is time that Roy Macgregor used some of his cash to give his players some media training. Why so?
Nothing is more irritating than the words “Up here”?  These are the guaranteed opening words of any interview given by a Caley or County player. It would help if they could learn to edit them out. Perhaps these guys ought to realise where their employment is coming from and be a little less patronising to their new communities. However, that is by the by.
Where though does all this leave us? As always with too few shinty players at the grass roots level. That has to be true if the movement of one quality player can destabilise a whole club.
How do we fix that?
Perhaps if some community minded businessman could fund three shinty development coaches in Easter Ross for the same buttons that the football coaches get, then things might improve. The Highlands would certainly be a better more authentic place.
In the meantime, though one feels for the predicament of Cabers, good luck to Kevin Bartlett with his shinty career. If he had the guts to make the move - and that would have been the hardest thing - he’ll have the guts to play at the top level. Cabers shouldn’t be too hard on him ; he is a talented fellow and this Glen over here and the Strath beside it  are full of guys who were also  talented and won next to nothing of note in long shinty careers. Who can blame him? Then when he’s finished his playing career he’ll be able to put something back and help with the kids. Hopefully, back at Cabers.
The pictures of Kevin in his international strip are courtesy of Neil Paterson (

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