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Orkney versus Shetland: One of football’s oldest rivalries

Ask any football fan to name an intense rivalry, chances are the words ‘Orkney’ and ‘Shetland’ are unlikely to be part of their answer.

However, with a history that dates back to 1919, the Scottish island rivalry is up there with the best in terms of pedigree. Total Football caught up with Mike Lynch, secretary of Orkney-based Kirkwall Hotspurs (whose reserve team is pictured after last season's 7-1 win in the Reid Cup final).

Lynch explained that matches between the two islands are just as fiercely contested as any between Rangers and Celtic.

“Both islands look forward to the games greatly, a victory means everything," he said. "Training leading up to the Milne Cup is pretty full-on and both sets of players do their utmost to earn the win”.

The Milne Cup, first held in 1919, is an annual tournament in which the two teams compete against each other. The games are held alternately at Orkney’s Pickaquoy Centre and Shetland’s Gilbertson Park. Historically, Shetland are the more dominant of the two teams with 48 victories to Orkney’s 30.

The last Milne Cup, contested back in July, was an even contest with Shetland scoring in the final minutes to secure a 1-0 victory. Neither island is a member of FIFA or UEFA which increases the importance of matches against each other. The rivalry was once voted the 11th biggest in football.

Lynch said: “It’s not just the seniors here, I’ve worked with kids that are eight or nine years old and they understand just how much the competition means”.

International success

A rare international success saw Shetland take the 2005 Island Games but the team were unable to defend their title due to the competition being held in Rhodes – the soaring temperatures rendering football practically impossible for the cold-hardened islanders.

Due to the cooler temperatures, Orkney’s football season runs from April to September. Lynch is the secretary of Kirkwall Hotspurs FC who play in the A League of the Orkney Amateur Football Association, though the club has teams in each of the four leagues from juniors all the way up.

With a population of about 19,000, Orkney has more than 800 registered players at various age levels.

Hotspurs finished a disappointing sixth out of nine with just four wins in 14 games this season. Despite their failings in the league, Hotspurs achieved some success in two of the many cup competitions the island boasts.

“We last won the league in 2007, but this year we won two cups”, said Lynch.

“The juniors came from behind to beat Thorfinn 2-1 in the Stagecoach Dr Gordon Cup, and our reserves battered Holms Reserves 7-1 in the final of the Reid Cup”.

The Milne Cup

Lynch explained that despite the league being very competitive and well supported, attendances soar for the Milne Cup.

“For a cup final or a big game like that, we get about 100 coming to watch us.

“On Milne Cup day, there’ll be about 4,000 in the crowd, which makes it a great occasion”.

Despite each side’s will to win, and the highly competitive nature of every game, both sets of players put their differences aside after the game.

“All the players go for a meal and a drink together – it is all part of making it a great day for everyone and keeping the rivalry alive”, Lynch added.

So whilst it may be no Rangers versus Celtic, it seems for now at least, one of Scotland and football’s oldest rivalries is alive and kicking. 

By Chris Smith

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