Football memories: best and worst matches

Portree Juniors celebrate winning the Skye and Lochalsh League in 2016. Photo credit: Willie Urquhart.

Usually, at this time of year, the Free Press sports pages would feature reports, analysis, and comment from the football leagues across the west Highlands and islands. While that’s not possible under the current circumstances we thought we would instead invite some players and managers from past and present to take a walk down memory lane and share their recollections of their best and worst matches.

This week we have two well-known figures from the Skye and Lochalsh league as Sleat and Strath manager DL MacKinnon reflects on a feisty encounter with a north east farmer, while former Portree Juniors coach Phil McCaherty basks in the glory days of the 2016 season.

DL MacKinnon, Sleat and Strath manager

DL MacKinnon was engaged in a battle he’ll never forget during his playing days with Turriff Thistle. Photo credit: Adam Gordon.

Worst match: “The dates are iffy, but my worst memory and my greatest lesson in life was when I was 20 years old and playing for Turriff Thistle. It was a Saturday afternoon and the game was a supposed friendly against Rothienorman.

“Back then I was a hard man, or so I thought! I was up against a burly young farmer-type at centre-half. I had a couple of robust challenges with the lad and he warned me that next time he was having me! Two minutes later he came in from behind and elbowed me in the head, I shrugged it off and instead of walking away I turned around and said: ‘You ain’t big enough to put me down, kid.’ The next thing I knew, the birds were tweeting around my head and my front teeth were missing!

“The game was abandoned and I had to go to the emergency dentist that afternoon and had months of repair work afterward. He had to pay my dental bill and a £100 fine. Torquil Mackenzie – a name I will take to my grave!”

Best match: “I can’t remember how far back it was but it was a while ago — it was a cup final up in Uig against Portree. The game went to extra-time – we had Bruce Neil and Paul Flynn sent off but ended up winning something like 5-3.

“I remember John ‘Spod’ Macleod scoring a goal and running up the touchline with his hands cupped over his ears to the once noisy Portree support who had given him dogs’ abuse during the game. That lives long in the memory!”

Phil McCaherty, former manager of Portree Juniors

Best match: “It won’t come as a surprise to learn the best match was the title-winning game on 13th August 2016, for many emotional reasons. We had a great campaign that year and had won 13 out of 13 games with only three matches remaining. We had to go to Kyleakin away on this date and they were the only team who could catch us in the title challenge.

“It was a really nice summer evening and we had a strong team out, although leading striker John Murphy was unavailable through injury which meant young James Pringle played upfront with Craig Brown.

“Kyleakin got out of the blocks quickly and we found ourselves 2-0 down early on in the match in front of a big crowd. We settled after that and played some decent stuff but Kyleakin, as usual, were well marshalled by Michael Taylor and we had difficulty in creating clear-cut opportunities. However, with 20 minutes to go, coach Ian MacLeod and I decided to put youngsters Ian Morrison and Angie MacPherson on each touchline to give us pace and width. The freshness seemed to galvanise us and with 15 minutes to go, we pulled a goal back through Craig Brown. It seemed the whole match swung on that goal, we picked up some real momentum and Brown scored again to equalise. Then with five minutes to go, we were awarded a penalty with two Kyleakin defenders tackling Brown as he broke into the box. Craig dusted himself down and scored the penalty in off the post – we were delirious on the sidelines. We saw out the game for our first-ever title and then won the remaining two games to make it 16 wins from 16 matches – it was a campaign never to be forgotten!”

Juniors celebrate a famous victory against Kyleakin. Photo credit: Willie Urquhart.

Worst match: “It was my first game in charge, and funnily enough, it was also against Kyleakin. In those campaigns it was always the case that the first game of the season in the Bagshaw League pitted the reigning champions against the team which finished bottom the season before. The bottom club then had to play the runners-up from the previous season and so on, so it was very difficult for the clubs at the bottom to gain any early momentum.

“We went down to Kyleakin with a whole bunch of youngsters against the likes of Scott Graham, the Nisbett clan, Darren Wainwright – who were all top players in the league at that time. We lost 11-0 and I swear if it wasn’t for our young goalie Calum Montgomery making one save it could have been 12. But in essence, that is where I started from in management. We had great lads and not once did they let their heads go down in those early challenging years.”

Article by Adam Gordon