Sport can still raise spirits as the safety-first show goes on

Coronavirus crisis grips city

by Paul Chalk                                                                                                                         Saturday, March 28

ON the face of it, my Alive and Kicking sports show on Friday was unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. I rattled through two hours of sports chat and had two terrific interviews lined up for our listeners.

John Robertson and his players delivered food packages to the elderly.

 Former pool world champion, Inverness-based Gavin Phillips, and ex-footballer Mark Holmes, who runs his own football academy, had spoken to me on phone interviews earlier in the week. Decisions then had to be made about whether the show would be off air for the first time since a two-week break last summer.

 The station, which is a charity run by volunteers such as myself, exists mainly to serve the community from which we broadcast, with Dingwall as its base. However, the message from the government to protect ourselves from the potentially deadly Covid-19 virus is clear – stay indoors except for essential travel. 

 My interviews were in the diary and ready to be carried out on Tuesday, but that was also the morning after the PM outlined the restrictions. The show really was in the balance and the station’s managing director and I weighed it up and opted to get Friday’s Alive and Kicking show broadcast live as usual. 

 All presenters already knew that added safety measures were in place for broadcasting from the studio. For example, no one would be in the studio other than alone and there was to be a one-hour window between departing presenters. 

Like many workplaces, some folk had already self-isolated and were out of the running, with safety first as it certainly always should be. 

 Some presenters – and I’m not one of them – have the facilities to record their shows from home and place it ready to play out at the appropriate time. For me, a trip to Dingwall was my only option. However, before even entering the studio, the order was to wash my hands. I was armed with a wee bottle of hand gel too, so I doubled up. 

 Inside, as expected, I found Dettol spray and wipes to use before and after using the equipment. The wipes dealt with the desk, keyboards and screens, while the spray in particular was used in the foam covers for the mics. Once I was in my seat, around 20 minutes before my show started, I got all my jingles, music and the 7pm news bulletin ready to put into position on the computer.

The hot seat from which Paul broadcasts after a difficult week of preparation.

 I’ve been asked how I cover two hours worth of sport when sport locally and nationally has shut down amid the crisis with no real indication yet when football will resume. I play music too and there are adverts to play, as well as two news bulletins, so that means it’s the remaining time to be filled with content. My interviews alone on Friday lasted just over half an hour in total but there were other talking points.

 I also covered wage cut proposals at Caley Thistle and Elgin City, with the latter’s 67 per cent far more eye-catching than ICT’s 20 per cent for some of its employees. I discussed the brilliant effort of the players at North Caledonian League side St Duthus from Tain, who scrapped their end-of-season knees-up to pass the £1500 kitty directly on to two local NHS practices. And I highlighted the brilliant Shinty Memories project which, especially now when staying indoors in more important than ever, offers people struggling with isolation and mental health issues to use images to recapture golden memories of their beloved sport. 

 Brora Rangers winning the Highland League title by agreement of their rivals last Saturday night was also discussed. The runaway leaders were miles clear of the rest before coronavirus hit, so they now wait to find out what happens next. 

Brora, like the rest of Scottish football, are waiting on the SPFL to decide upon this. They, in turn, are, waiting on guidance from UEFA. Don’t, therefore, expect to find out any time soon where our domestic football picks itself up.

 I was due to be at Hampden last Thursday for Scotland v Israel in the Euro2020 play-off semi-final, however as manager Steve Clarke said we’ll be inside that sold-out national stadium when it is safe to do so, roaring our team on to hopefully what is now the Euros of 2021. This Saturday I’d have been at Perth for Caley Thistle’s Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup final against Raith Rovers, but again we can simply look forward to that happening when the time is right.

 Sports clubs are uniting to stay involved in their local communities amid this global health crisis. Nairn County were quick off the mark on that front, helping those most in need as the coronavirus first emerged here. Last week, Caley Thistle manager John Robertson and his players delivered food packages to elderly fans in the area, while Ross County’s management and captain Don Cowie phoned elderly fans to ask if they needed any assistance. 

 On Twitter, County co-boss Steven Ferguson also kick started an over-70 keepy-uppy challenge whereby as many players from all over were asked keep the ball in the air for 70 kicks or more, linking into those aged over 70 being classed as vulnerable at this time. All this helped to raise spirits and there will be more of that to come as we get through this together.

Alive and Kicking may well take a sidestep from live broadcasting for now, but rest assured that I’ll get as much news to you via the Alive and Kicking Facebook and Twitter pages. Please do follow and interact. 

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