As of last week, I can now lay claim to being the owner of an Orkney Rugby Sevens winners medal. In the 10 years since I was first elected as Orkney’s MSP, this may not be my proudest achievement but it is, by some considerable distance, the most unexpected.
During a weekend that saw Orkney’s hockey ladies win the Scottish District Cup for the third time, defeating Shetland 3-0 in the final in Glasgow, and Orkney’s Sportsperson of the Year, Rachael Sutherland leading Scotland to a dramatic victory in the European Pool Championship, my cameo appearance on the Picky infield was scarcely a stand out performance. Little wonder, perhaps, given it was the first time I had taken to a rugby field since my involvement in Erlend’s narrow defeat of Einar in a scrappy KGS inter-house match circa 1984!
Nonetheless, I felt enormously privileged to be part of a team, led by former Orkney rugby development officer, Bruce Ruthven, that was assembled to represent Hearts & Balls, a charity that has provided invaluable support over the last two decades to anyone in Scotland affected by serious rugby injury.
My involvement with Hearts & Balls started after a rugby accident in 1996 tragically left my younger brother, Dugald paralysed from the shoulders down. This truly life-changing event for Dugald and our family was difficult enough to come to terms with, but would have been immeasurably worse had it not been for the support he and we received from within the wider rugby community, including here in Orkney.
From the outset, Hearts & Balls has been more than simply a source of funding, vital though that is. It also provides advice, guidance and someone to talk to who understands what injured individuals and their families are going through.
Unsurprisingly, the charity has enjoyed unbelievable backing over the years. From stars of the Scottish game such as Ian McLaughlin, Finlay Calder and John Beattie through to grassroots clubs the length and breadth of Scotland, all have helped raise money and, equally importantly, awareness of the work that Hearts & Balls does.
Given the part that Orkney Rugby Club has played in these efforts, as well as their support for Dugald, it was fitting that a Hearts & Balls ‘select’ team should be invited to participate in ORFC’s 50th anniversary Sevens tournament. To then go on to beat Orkney in the final may be considered a little ungrateful, even if they did show some charity to their hosts by throwing me on towards the end of the match: without question, the longest two minutes of my life!
All in all, though, it was another hugely successful weekend for ORFC and I am grateful to the club and its President, Rodney Spence for allowing Hearts & Balls to be a part of it. Thanks also to my fellow H&B ‘trialist’, Stephen Kemp for sponsoring the team. If you would like to find out more about what the charity does, please visit www.heartsandballs.org.uk
Finally, let me acknowledge others who have shown a fair degree of fortitude lately. Putting yourself up for election at any level is never easy and all those who did so in Orkney deserve real credit. I offer warm congratulations to the successful candidates who will now serve on Orkney Islands Council over the next five years and also pay tribute to those who are not returning this time round, whatever the reasons.
Looking ahead, more fortitude is likely to be needed as there are some daunting challenges awaiting the newly-elected Council. An unprecedented squeeze on local authority finances, thanks to a Scottish Government budget passed earlier this year with the support of Green MSPs, and continuing uncertainties following the Brexit vote, are certainly not helping. Nevertheless, I look forward to working with the new group of councillors where I can in order to help promote Orkney’s interests