GIVING IT STICK: Documentary that set out to capture the soul of shinty

Kingussie v Newtonmore in the MOWI Premiership. Pic Tern TV/BBC,Neil G Paterson

By Keith MacKenzie

There might be an absence of live shinty action to enjoy at the moment, but fans of the sport could feast on a new TV offering aired this week on BBC Scotland.

Giving it Stick, which aired on Tuesday and can be watched again on the iPlayer, follows the fortunes of Kingussie and Newtonmore – and through the prism of that great Badenoch rivalry the programme examines why the sport continues to be the soul of so many Highland communities.

Director Greg Clark said he wanted to chronicle the stories of grit, heartache and triumph – as well as to shine a spotlight on the day-to-day lives of the amateur players and volunteers who are the lifeblood of the game.

Kingussie captain Savio Genini shows off the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup to the capacity crowd at The Dell, Kingussie. Pic Tern TV/BBC,Neil G Paterson

There is deliberate focus on the physical demands of the sport, but viewers also get an insight into shinty’s social importance and how it has helped forge a sense of identity in those who live in the districts where it is played.

Contributions come from key players in both teams – as well as familiar club stalwarts like Russell Jones and Brick MacArthur – during a season which would end in an historic triumph for Kingussie, who lifted the Camanachd Cup on home turf to cap a grand slam winning campaign.

Following the time he spent with the teams during a period of seven months last year, director Greg said he had become a real shinty convert.

“When you follow sport it’s not all about the sport – but the drama within it,” he told the Free Press this week.

“It’s a soap opera for men in a way. You hear all the stories, ‘they’re the establishment club and we’re the rebels’; ‘They said this about us last year’; ‘This time we’ll show these primadonnas’

“But at the heart of it all is community and it’s about identity, family, culture and tradition.”

Having previously directed the award winning Real Kashmir FC and Return to Real Kashmir FC documentaries, Clark was lured to shinty by former Herald sportswriter Kevin Ferrie, who now commissions factual stories for TV.

He said he had observed a rawness at the heart of shinty which he thought all those invested in the sport should not be afraid to embrace.

“There’s no doubt shinty is a character building game,” he added. “It’s tough and physical and it teaches you that if you get knocked down, you get back up and you go again.

“These are values which don’t necessarily fit with the modern values we’re supposed to seek today.

“I’m not talking about the sense of ‘toughen up and be a man’, but in shinty it’s about people being resilient, self-reliant, sociable and confident.

“ It’s the essence of sport. It’s not about the money, but because these guys just love to play.

“If you look at Savio Genini (the Kingussie captain) we meet him and find out that he’s never left his home village and he has no intention of leaving to live anywhere else.

“At first impression you might think that’s a bit sad, but then when you see what he gets from shinty, and what it means to him – you can see why he stays.

“Other people watching will think that they’d love to stay in places like that too.”

Giving it Stick is available at BBC Scotland on iPlayer