Orcadian Column, 6 June 2024

6 Jun 2024

It’s 39 years since my last involvement in a Junior Inter County football match at the Bignold - a scrappy 0-0 draw, unlikely to make any JIC showreel. The abiding memory, for me at least, is of my back post header being cleared off the line by a Shetland defender in the final minutes. It’s amazing how much mileage I’ve got out on a goal I never scored, as this column further demonstrates.

Memories from 1985 came flooding back on Sunday, however. as I ran the line during the latest clash between Orkney and Shetland’s young footballers. Once again the game ended in deadlock after a late Shetland equaliser cancelled out Thorfinn Scott’s earlier strike for a home side who dominated the second half.

In the end, the draw prevented a mighty impressive Orkney squad securing a clean sweep following victories in the athletics, hockey and swimming and ahead of a final win in the netball. It feels wrong to single out any one performance, but Orkney’s swimmers surely deserve special mention having overcome their Shetland counterparts in the pool for the first time since 1997: so long ago, in fact, that my ‘non goal’ was still a relatively recent memory!

So congratulations to co-captains, Fraser Burton and Ava Luke and the entire Orkney squad on an historic Stuart Cup triumph. Credit too, however, to a Shetland squad who will be hurting but should take pride from ensuring all five competitions were closely contested with keen sporting rivalries and lifelong friendships being forged along the way. Thanks, also, to the coaches and volunteers on both sides who made it all possible and have whetted the appetite ahead of next year’s Island Games in Orkney.

Such a display of volunteering was very timely at the start of Volunteer Week, which saw me pay a visit to the Employability Hub on Albert Street in Kirkwall on Monday. I had the pleasure of meeting young people involved with the Connect Project who told me about their experience of volunteering, including helping distribute meals with the Salvation Army, landscape gardening and a project to address teenage isolation. As well as developing their own skills and self-confidence, this volunteering makes a real difference to our local community and the certificates I handed out were richly deserved.

Orkney Blide and Men’s Shed, like Connect, make a similarly positive contribution locally, tackling social isolation, supporting better mental health and empowering their members to take decisions. It was wonderful, therefore, to see them both team up for a project to build a new garden shed for the Blide, which was successfully installed on Saturday afternoon. I felt very privileged to be asked to ‘cut the ribbon’ at the formal unveiling and thoroughly enjoyed spending time chatting over coffee to those involved.

The garden itself is a special place, ideal for socialising but also for quiet contemplation. So much so, in fact, that it was almost possible for me to forget there is an election happening, despite having spent the morning delivering leaflets around Kirkwall for Alistair Carmichael.

It’s a campaign that hasn’t started well for the dominant force in Scottish politics over the past two decades. First Minister and SMP leader, John Swinney has become hopelessly entangled in the fall-out from former Health Secretary, Michael Matheson’s attempt to falsely claim £11,000 in expenses for personal use of his ipad while on a family holiday. Instead of accepting the sanction handed down by parliament’s Standards Committee, Mr Swinney sought instead to attack the committee. This has not played well with the public, nor indeed with his Westminster colleagues who are up for re-election.

This week has hardly begun more auspiciously, with reports emerging that the SNP government may have to return hundreds of millions of pounds to the EU having failed to spend the funds on projects to support employment, skills development and social inclusion. Mr Swinney appears to be dogged by many of the same problems that undermined Humza Yousaf. From the public’s perspective, arguing that “I’m a bit less chaotic than my predecessor” sounds about as convincing as “I nearly scored a goal in a Junior Inter County football match against Shetland”.

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