The Islands of Fire: My Initial Delve into Shetland Islands Football

Introduction

For previous blogs on the island football series, please find the links below:

In addition, please check out Picture House‘s YouTube channel, as they have lots of excellent videos of games being played in the Scottish Highlands and Islands:

https://www.youtube.com/user/PictureHouseCinema

 

As I have mentioned in previous blogs on this site, I am fascinated with football clubs and leagues that are played on islands. Having naturally been somewhat isolated from the football scene on the mainland, I am always interested to see what the football culture is like on such islands, and which teams are the strongest in their respective island leagues.

In this edition of the island series, I am venturing up to Scotland’s furthest frontier, to a group of isolated islands situated 110 miles off the coast of Caithness, 50 miles northeast of Orkney, and 190 miles west of Norway. A group of islands whose capital is nearer to the Norwegian coast than it is to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, and has the majority of its history looking towards the Scandinavian peninsula for their inspiration, rather than the Scottish mainland. An archipelago where its ancient Viking culture and presence is at its strongest and celebrated, whilst having some of the finest Neolithic sites in Europe.

It’s time to investigate the mystical Shetland Islands

 

The Shetland Islands

Shetland (formally Zetland), the Shetland Islands, Hjaltland in Norwegian, or Sealtainn in Scottish Gaelic are a subarctic archipelago located off the northern coast of Scotland. There are about 100 islands which form the Shetland island chain, although only 15 of them are inhabited, culminating in a total population of around 23,300 people living on Shetland. The largest and most populous of the islands is known as ‘Mainland’, which is the fifth largest island in the British Isles, and the third largest Scottish island.

The islands’ capital, Lerwick / Leirvik, is located on the east coast of Mainland, opposite the island of Bressay, and is home to around 7,000 people. It is usually the centre of the islands’ famous Up Helly Aa fire festival, which runs from January to March every year, and is celebrated on the many islands to mark the end of the Yule season, and is one of Shetland’s attractions.

Sharing a similar history with their southern neighbours, the Orkneys, the islands were originally occupied by Mesolithic, Neolithic and Pictish tribes, before the islands were colonised and then annexed to the Norwegian crown in 875. They became part of the Norse vassal Kingdom of the Isles, with the Orkneys and Shetlands being known as the Norðr-eyjar or North Isles of the Kingdom. Extensive Norse settlement can be clearly identified in the place names on the islands, which are typically Viking in origin. For example, Lerwick comes from the Old Norse Leirvik, meaning ‘bay of clay’.

Shetland became part of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1472 as part of the dowry when Margaret (the daughter of the Norwegian and Danish King Christian I) was betrothed to James III of Scotland. Traditionally, the islands’ main source of income came from the fishing industry, with access to the North Sea, North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean fish stocks within reach. However with oil reserves found to the west and east of Shetland, it has provided a much-needed alternative source of income for the island, with the petroleum industry providing a mass amount of income and employment for the population.

Flag_of_Shetland.svg
The flag of Shetland, adopted in 2005. It uses the colours of the flag of Scotland, but in the form of the Nordic cross to symbolise the islands’ Scandinavian links.

The name Shetland, comes from the Old Norse words hjalt (‘hilt’) and land (‘land’). Eventually as the Old Norse/Norn language was replaced by Scots on the islands and Hjaltland became Ȝetland, with the Scots letter yogh, having the same pronunciation as the Norn sound /hj/. With the yogh letter later being discontinued, it was replaced by the similar looking ‘z’, hence Zetland becoming the name of the islands (and giving the ZE postcode for Shetland). It wouldn’t be until 1975, when the name of the islands reverted to its current spelling.

Even though the islands are considered part of Scotland, and thus under the auspices of the Scottish Football Association (SFA), Shetland does have a representative football team for the islands, which is organised by the Shetland Football Association. The side is not affiliated with FIFA or UEFA, or even CONIFA (although they would surely be an acceptable member should they wish to join CONIFA in the future) but play in the Island Games football tournaments. Most players selected in these squads play for teams in the Shetland A League / Premier League.

 

Shetland Football League

Brief History & Structure

As with many other northern European football leagues, the Shetland football season is played within the same calendar year, and throughout the spring and summer months. The season starts with the Highland Fuels Cup in early April, before the league campaigns start in early to mid-May, with everything being concluded by the middle of September. This is before the rough Autumnal weather conditions start affecting the archipelago.

Shetland FAThe Shetland Football Association (SFA) runs Scotland’s most northerly amateur football leagues. Founded in 1919, the organisation currently runs three leagues within the Shetland football system. The top league is the A League or Ocean Kinetics Premier League, and this has the main first teams for the clubs within Shetland. There is also the B League, which is for the reserve sides only, whilst the Works League is just for works or factory teams. All the leagues are separate from each other, with no promotion or relegation between them. For the process of this blog, only the Shetland Premier League will be focused upon.

The A League, or Shetland Premier League, currently has eight teams competing within the league, who play each other home and away resulting in a fourteen game league campaign for every Premier League team. Obviously the team with the most points at the end of the year, wins the Shetland League title, whilst no teams are relegated from the league. New teams can be accepted to join the league via a vote between the current teams.

Throughout the season, there are a number of cup competitions that are played on the islands which involve Shetland Premier League teams:

  • Highland Fuels Cup: This is the first cup competition of the season, being played in April.
  • Madrid Cup: The second cup competition of the season, which is played during May.
  • Manson Cup: The third cup competition, played throughout June and into July.
  • Fraser Cup: The fourth cup competition, played in late June and early July.
  • County Shield: The final cup competition of the season, played in late August and early September, towards the end of the season.

 

Past Winners

This is the list of Shetland A League / Premier Division champions since 2000:

2000: Thistle
2001: Whalsay
2002: Delting
2003: Delting
2004: Delting
2005: Delting
2006: Delting
2007: Delting
2008: Delting
2009: Whalsay
2010: Whalsay
2011: Whalsay
2012: Spurs
2013: Spurs
2014: Spurs
2015: Celtic
2016: Spurs
2017: Whitedale
2018: Whitedale
2019: Spurs

Delting FCSince the turn of the new millennium, there have been six different winners of the Shetland Premier League. Delting have been the most successful in the 21st century, winning a consecutive seven league titles between 2002 and 2008, bookended by Whalsay league victories in 2001 and 2009 – two of their four league championships since 2000.

WhitedaleThe second best performing side, and best from the capital clubs, has been Spurs by winning five titles from the last eight years, and are the current defending champions. Lerwick’s other clubs, Thistle and Celtic have only achieved two league titles between them this century, with Thistle’s sole victory coming in 2000 and Celtic’s ending Spurs’ league run in 2016. Finally Whitedale have been one of the strongest sides in recent times, having won the league in 2017, and successfully defending their trophy the year after.

From the teams in the Shetland Premier League, only Ness United and Scalloway are yet to lift the trophy in the 21st century.

 

2020 Shetland Premier League

The teams who will be competing in the 2020 Shetland Premier League are the following:

Shetland Football Map
The locations of the 2020 Shetland Premier League teams on the Shetland Islands.
  • Delting FC
  • Lerwick Celtic
  • Lerwick Spurs
  • Lerwick Thistle
  • Ness United
  • Scalloway FC
  • Whalsay FC
  • Whitedale FC

Whalsay FCThree of the Premier League teams are based in the capital of Lerwick, with all but one team playing on Mainland. Only Whalsay plays on another Shetland island, the island which the club takes its name from. They are also the most eastern team in the league, whilst Delting are the most northerly and westerly in the league, situated up in northwestern village of Brae. Finally Ness United are the most southerly team in the league, playing their games in Boddam on the southern end of Mainland, and not far away from Sumburgh Airport.

 

2019 Shetland Premier League

2019 Shetland Premier League Table
The 2019 Shetland Premier League table. [IMAGE: Shetland Football]

Lerwick SpursIn the Shetland FA’s centenary year, it would be Spurs who would claim the 2019 Shetland Premier League after going through an undefeated league campaign. Winning twelve and drawing two of their fourteen league games, the Lerwick side won the title by a winning margin of nine clear points. The Milkbags’ two draws came within just their first six league games, drawing 2-2 to Ness United and 1-1 to Whitedale, before winning their remaining league games. Spurs’ success was built upon their strong defence, which conceded just ten goals throughout the season (the best in the league), whilst scoring a fantastic forty-four goals (an average of 3.14 goals per league game).

Ness UnitedRunners-up Ness United, had the best attack in the league, scoring forty-five goals from their fourteen league games, and just clinched second place from Celtic, who finished a point behind in third position. Whilst 2018 league champions, Whitedale, were a further three points behind in fourth place – thirteen points from the top of the league.

ScallowayIt would be close in the bottom half of the table with only four points separating fifth position from eighth and last place. Scalloway and Whalsay both finished on twelve points, but the Yellow and Blacks’ superior goal difference proved the decisive factor in finishing in the higher position. Whalsay were the joint worst scorers in the league, alongside Thistle who finished a point behind them in seventh spot. Both teams only scored twenty goals from their respective league campaigns.

Delting FCHowever it would be Delting who would finish bottom of the pile in eighth position. The Delts’ defence being their obvious achilles heel, by conceding fifty-three league goals from fourteen games (a very porous average of 3.79 goals per league game). Languishing three points adrift at the bottom of the table, they only won twice and drew twice, to earn themselves eight points from the entire league campaign.

 

Cup Competitions

Ness United picked up the first silverware of the season as they demolished Thistle 5-0 at Harbison Park in Whalsay, to win the Highland Fuels Cup in mid-April. Jamie Wilson and Stuart Farmer gave Ness a 2-0 lead over the Jags at half time, before a further three goals in the second half from Farmer, Stuart Copland and Declan Adamson gave the Reds the first of their three cup wins from 2019.

Lerwick SpursSpurs hammered their town rivals Celtic, by heavily defeating them 6-1 at Gilberton Park, to lift the Madrid Cup. Four goals from Connel Gresham, whilst additional goals from Ronan Grant and Paul Molloy gave Spurs the trophy for the seventh time in ten years. James Aitkin scored an 85th minute consolation goal for the Hoops, who were 0-6 down at that point of the game. Spurs also won the Fraser Cup, beating Ness United 2-1 at Fraser Park in the middle of July. Spurs won their fifth Fraser Cup in a row through a Paul Molloy double, with Dan Forsyth replying for the Reds. As a result, it meant Lerwick Spurs ended 2019 with a league and two cup treble-winning season!

Ness United managed to claim the Manson Cup by beating Whalsay 3-2 in a thrilling encounter held at Clickimin 1. Ness opened up a 2-0 lead through goals from Jamie Wilson and Dan Forsyth, before goals from Danny Thomson and Neil Laurenson brought the game back to 2-2. However an own goal would ultimately be the deciding factor between the two teams, giving the Reds their second cup success of the year.

Ness UnitedFinally, Ness United won their third and final piece of silverware for the season, in the middle of September, by claiming the County Shield once again at Gilberton Park. After defeating Celtic and Whitedale in the previous rounds, they comprehensively won the cup by beating bottom side Delting 4-1. Jamie Wilson scored a hat-trick for the Reds, with Dylan Leishman getting Ness’ other goal, whilst Dylan McKay scored the Delts’ only goal of the game.

 

Shetland FC

Shetland FAShetland Football Club was founded in 2013 by the Shetland FA to allow Shetland-based players a chance of playing further games against teams from the Highlands and Islands in the winter football schedule, outside of the regular Shetland football season. The goal of this was ultimately to improve the standard of football on the archipelago through regular football against tough opposition on the Scottish mainland and other islands. To demonstrate their ability to travel to fixtures (as well as cutting down on teams having to travel north) Shetland FC had to play their ‘home’ matches on the Scottish mainland, and thus groundshared with Thurso FC at their Sir George’s Park ground.

North Caledonian FA LogoJust like their Orcadian equivalents, they sought entry to the North Caledonian Football League’s cup competitions, and were accepted into the cup competitions for the 2013-14 season. Their first appearance came against Thurso FC in the North Caledonian Cup, beating their hosts 4-3 on penalties after drawing 1-1. Alas their expedition in the North Caley Cup ended in the following round, getting defeated 2-3 by Golspie Sutherland at Thurso. They would suffer defeat to the same opponent in the semi-finals of the Jock MacKay Cup, this time losing 1-3 on penalties after both clubs drew 1-1 in regular time.

Lewis & Harris FC LogoThe following season was a much better season for the Shetlanders, reaching the semi-finals of the North Caley Cup before losing to the Lewis & Harris representative side 1-2. However they finally gained some success in the Jock MacKay Cup, reaching the final of the competition after defeating Golspie Sutherland and Alness United en route to the final. There they faced Thurso FC once again, and it required extra time to settle the game after the tight match finished goalless after 90 minutes. However it would be captain Leighton Flaw’s penalty which would be the difference, giving Shetland a 1-0 victory and their first trophy!

They were unable to defend their trophy the following season due to travel problems, but managed to reach the semi-finals of the Football Times Cup in the 2016-17 season, before having their run ended by Invergordon by a scoreline of 1-2. Gary Sutherland scored the only goal for Shetland. The Blues competed in the cup competitions for a number of seasons more but have since been missing from the North Caledonian cup competitions in past couple of years. Their last cup appearance came in April 2018, when they lost to Saint Duthus 0-1 in the quarter finals of the Jock MacKay Cup.

Orkney FCWith the Scottish lower league pyramid restructure potentially happening in the future, it would see the North Caledonian League filter into the Scottish football pyramid. As a result, it could be possible to see Shetland FA appear once again in the cup competitions, and even apply to become a full-time member of its league, like Orkney FC has. The potential of rising through the Scottish pyramid, and playing in the Scottish Cup, being a huge lure for the Shetland FA and its players.

 

Highland Amateur Cup

Brief Description

SAFA Logo

The Highland Amateur Cup is an annual football cup competition run by the Highland Executive branch of the Scottish Amateur Football Association. All teams that are affiliated to Highland Associations are eligible to enter the cup competition. Therefore this competition covers one of the largest geographical areas for any district amateur cup competition in Scotland.

Currently, the affiliated Football Associations to the Highland Amateur Cup are:

  • Caithness AFA
  • North West Sutherland AFA
  • Inverness and District FA
  • Skye & Lochalsh AFA
  • Lewis & Harris FA
  • Uist & Barra AFA
  • Orkney AFA

All Shetland FA clubs are eligible to take part, but due to the travel distances clubs must undertake, they have rarely entered the competition throughout its long history, but have been more forthcoming in recent years.

 

Shetland’s History in the Competition

Lerwick SpursAs mentioned above, Shetland’s participation in the competition has been sparse at times, although it has increased in the most recent editions of the competition. There has only been one appearance of a Shetland club in the final of the Highland Amateur Cup, and that came in 2018, when Lerwick Spurs reached the cup final.

In the 2018 final, they came up against the side with the most Highland Cup victories, Pentland United. In their eight previous finals, the Caithness AFA side had only lost one final in 1999, winning their other seven finals, and five after the 1999 defeat. It would be a tough opposition to overcome if Spurs were to become Shetland’s first Highland Amateur Cup winners. The Milkbags certainly gave their opponents a difficult game, and it would prove to be a close encounter with the game ending 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Pentland United 2Sadly for Spurs, Pentland managed to score the critical goal in extra time and hold out long enough to win their eighth Highland Amateur Cup after 120 minutes of gameplay. A sickening end for the Shetland team, but evidence that Shetland teams could potentially do well in the competition. Perhaps there will be a winner from Shetland sooner rather than later!

 

2019 Results

WhitedaleFrom the Highland Amateur Cup, below are the results of the Shetland clubs who competed in the 2019 edition of the knockout competition. Last year’s defeated finalists, Lerwick Spurs, looked like they could go far in the cup competition once again after heavily defeating Orcadian side Isles United, fellow Shetlander side Scalloway and another Orcadian side in Kirkwall Hotspur in the previous rounds. They would come up against fellow Shetland Premier League side Whitedale, who managed to defeat Orcadian side Firth, and Lewis & Harris League side, Carloway.

Staxigoe UnitedIn the all-Shetland Third Round draw, it would be Whitedale who came out on top, beating Spurs by a single goal to become the last Shetlander side in the competition. In the quarter-finals, they would face Staxigoe United (Caithness AFA Division One), and it would be a five-goal thriller. The hosts would go 2-0 up before Whitedale brought the game back to 2-2. Sadly it wasn’t to be for Whitedale as a late Staxigoe winner took them to the last four of the competition, and ended the Shetland Premier League’s participation for another year.

Quarter Finals

Staxigoe United 3 – 2 Whitedale

Third Round

Whitedale 1 – 0 Lerwick Spurs

Second Round

Carloway 1 – 6 Whitedale
Lerwick Spurs 7 – 1 Kirkwall Hotspur

First Round

Whitedale 9 – 0 Firth
Lerwick Spurs 5 – 1 Scalloway

Preliminary Round

Lerwick Spurs 11 – 0 Isles United

 

Milne Cup

The Milne Cup is an annual tournament played between the representative teams of Shetland and their southern neighbours, the Orkney Islands. First started in 1919, the game was traditionally played on New Year’s Day, however since 1963, it has been played in the better conditions of July. Originally played on the 1st of July, it has now been moved to the last weekend of July since 1993, and the Milne Cup games alternate between the two locations each year.

In the cup’s illustrious history, Shetland have won the cup twenty more times than Orkney with Shetland having 53 victories in comparison with Orkney’s 33 wins. Shetland are also the current holders of the Milne Cup, having regained the cup on home turf after a tense and closely fought contest in the summer of 2019.

Orkney AFA v2The Orkney captain, Thorfinn Stout, put the defending Milne Cup holders ahead in the first-half, but Shetland grabbed a leveller deep into added on time as Ryan McFerran agonisingly headed into his own net. With nothing deciding the two sides after normal and extra times, the tie ultimately went into a penalty shootout. Apparently it was the first time the illustrious competition would be decided by spot kicks.

In the end, it would prove to be jubilous for Shetland at Gilbertson Park, as the hosts won their 55th Milne Cup by winning 5-4 penalties, after a 1-1 draw being played over 120 minutes.

 

2019 Inter Games Football Tournament

2019 Inter Games LogoThe Shetland Islands normally compete in a combined representative team the bi-annual Island Games multi-sport event, which is competed for by teams from the various islands around the world. Normally the football tournament is an integral part of the Island Games schedule, however due to the 2019 Island Games’ host, Gibraltar, not having enough football pitches to host the football tournament, it was not added to the official Games. Despite this problem, because the football tournaments are one the most popular sports at the games, it was decided to hold the matches elsewhere but with the results not being part of the official Island Games medal tally.

It was decided that the Welsh island of Ynys Môn / Anglesey would host the ‘Inter Games Football Tournament’ in June 2019, and so Shetland sent across just their male representative team to compete in the tournament.

 

Men’s Team

Shetland Island Games AssociationThe Shetland men’s team were placed in the three-team Group C, alongside strong Channel Islander team from Guernsey, and the unknown quantity of the Saint Helena team. In their first group game, they hammered their middle Atlantic opponents, subjecting them to a 6-1 defeat. A first half brace from Calvin Leask, was followed by goals from Joel Bradley and Richard Arthur to give Shetland a 4-1 lead at half time. A further two goals from Arthur completed his hat-trick and confirmed the 6-1 scoreline.

In their second group game, they came up against Guernsey, and it would prove a tougher encounter. The Shetlanders found themselves 0-2 down at half time, before a Calvin Leask penalty reduced the arrears early in the second half. However, they were unable to find an equaliser, meaning they would finish second in the Group C table, behind Guernsey. It meant a nervous wait to see if they would qualify for the semi-finals as the best performing runners-up, but thankfully they scored more than fellow runners-up Jersey and Hitra, to qualify for the semi-finals.

2019 Inter Games - Group C Men
Men’s Group C of the 2019 Inter Games Football Tournament. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

In the semi-finals, they came up against Group A winners, and hosts of the tournament, Ynys Môn. Playing in front of 1500 people at the Cae Bob Parry in Llangefni, the Shetlanders suffered a close 1-2 defeat against Anglesey, with a 58th minute goal from Ronan Grant being the consolation from the game. This meant they went into the bronze medal playoff against the Isle of Man, who had been defeated by Guernsey. After an energy sapping schedule, it would be the Manxmen who had the most remaining energy by thumping their northern opponents 5-0 at Gwalchmai to give them the bronze medal. The Manx side scored four goals in seven minutes towards the end of the game to give Shetland a result their excellent performance did not justify.

A sad end for the Blues, but it meant they finished in a very respectable fourth position in the tournament, and also placed higher than their island rivals, Orkney, who could only finish in eighth position!

2019 Inter Games Football Tournament Placements
The final placements for the men’s tournament in the 2019 Inter Games Tournament. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Conclusion

cover-page-001_origA massive thank you for reading my blog on football on Shetland. After writing about football in Orkney, it was logical to research football on Shetland, and I thoroughly enjoyed researching about the league and its teams. Fantastically, there is a book available on Shetland which celebrates the centenary of the Shetland FA, and details a lot of history and information. Please contact the Shetland FA Facebook page for further information about purchasing the book.

Hopefully by reading this blog, it will encourage you to venture up to Shetland either on the aeroplane to Sumburgh Airport (the main airport of Shetland, situated on the southern tip of the Mainland), or the ferry from Kirkwall / Aberdeen to Lerwick, and check out their superb football league system. Not to mention all the amazing neolithic historical sites, as well as its amazing Up Helly Aa festival, which looks like an amazing event to spectate and attend. Certainly researching and writing this blog has made me want to visit the Shetland Islands in the near future, and catch some league football on the islands there. Also a perfect opportunity to catch some summer football in the years ahead!

If you have any comments on football on the Shetland, experiences playing, or watching games there, or even if you follow a specific team from the Shetland isles, I would love to read about them. Either mention them below in the comments box, send a tweet on Twitter to @The94thMin or put it on my Facebook Page, it would be great to hear your comments. Also if any of you spot any errors in the above information, please let me know and I’ll update the information above accordingly.

Finally, I am currently in the depths of doing a charity challenge of staying sober for the entirety of 2020! It’s not been easy as I coming near to completing a fourth month (and being stuck indoors) but I am hoping to raise a lot of money for the mental health charity, MIND. So if you would like to see how I am progressing in my challenge, or even be kind enough to add a donation, the link is here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/the94thmin2020 

Dakk!

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