At a time of rising sea levels, the low-lying island of Sanday confounded climate science last weekend by sitting a few inches higher in the water as the entire population headed off to the Picky for the Parish Cup final.
It was Sanday’s first appearance in the final since 1988, following an impressive cup run where they were rarely anything other than underdogs. After 31 long years of agonising near misses and bitter disappointments, it was not an occasion that anyone with a Sanday connection appeared willing to miss.
This was epitomised by one member of the Sanday team, Edrian Skea, who made the 30,000km roundtrip back from Australia to take his place amongst the substitutes, sadly at the expense of the local MSP! Perhaps as remarkably, Edrian was joined on the bench by a veteran of the 1988 final, Ivan Leslie, whose appearance near the end was met with rapturous applause.
So from north of the Galt to south of the Equator, they came in their droves, sporting blue Sanday tops that staff at Trek & Travel had worked day and night to get ready in the days leading up to the game.
Together with a large and vocal contingent from Stromness, the Sanday supporters helped create an atmosphere that sent shivers down the spine. As the players walked out at the start, a few looked visibly taken aback by the noise and the spectacle.
After dominating the Parish Cup over recent years, Stromness began as strong favourites. They have some outstanding players, who have served not just Stromness but Orkney well over recent years and in man of the match, Owen Young they boast one of the most talented players the county has produced for many years.
In other words, not the sort of team you want to be handing a three goal lead mid-way through the first half. Unfortunately, that is just what Sanday did, conjuring up memories of the defeat to St Ola in that earlier final.
On the touchline, I remember feeling numb. All the talk beforehand about the importance of self-belief and not being overawed appeared to have been forgotten.
Yet the crowd never let the noise levels drop and, feeding off that, Sanday slowly began clawing their way back into the game. Showing enormous character, fight and no little skill, they started matching their opponents and forcing them backwards. Even the disappointment of missing a penalty was soon shrugged off as a well-worked goal just before half time handed Sanday a lifeline. When a second goal was scrambled home early in the second half, the cheers must have rattled the windows of the Start Point lighthouse.
Stromness always carried a threat, however, and eventually restored their three-goal advantage, despite the heroics of Sanday’s keeper, Michael Moodie and some last ditch defending by Douglas Drever. Sanday still had the last word, though, when Gavin Skea headed home a corner in the dying seconds to make it 5-3 to Stromness.
It brought to an end one of the most entertaining Parish Cup finals, played out in front of a raucous but good-natured crowd of all ages. In short, it encapsulated all that is so special about this competition.
As Corinthian, The Orcadian’s football correspondent in the 1950s put it, “one sees players who no longer take part in league football, ex-county stars and youngsters …, as well as those who take part in this one competition, all turning out when the honour of their respective parish is at stake, and play themselves to standsill. Many hard knocks are given and taken, all in good part”.
As the final whistle sounded on Saturday, Sanday supporters ‘invaded’ the pitch to congratulate and commiserate in equal measure. Stromness were worthy winners, and will be the team to beat in the years ahead, but Sanday, both players and supporters, did themselves and their island proud.
I have a feeling that even after everyone returns home north of the Galt, Sanday may sit a little higher in the water for a while yet. What is not in any doubt, however, is that the experience has only whetted the appetite for more! Same time, same place next year?