Camanachd Cup final: 80th year of BBC live at shinty final

BBC commentator Hugh Dan MacLennan and Camanachd Association chieftan Jock Turner
Hugh Dan MacLennan (left) will commentate for BBC television

The 80th anniversary of live BBC radio commentary of the Camanachd Cup final is among three celebrations awaiting shinty fans at Bught Park on Saturday.

Holders Newtonmore lifted the trophy in 1937, beating Oban Camanachd, and Lovat stand between them and a 32nd victory.

The Inverness venue will also open its redeveloped stand.

Camanachd Association president Jim Barr said: "The BBC has been a strong and valued voice for shinty since their first live radio broadcast in 1937."

The history of the broadcaster's relationship with the sport has been recounted by BBC commentator Hugh Dan MacLennan in his role as the first-ever sports writer in residence at the National Library for Scotland.

MacLennan, who launched a series of free talks on the subject in Inverness on Thursday, will again commentate on the final on BBC2 Scotland, with Paul Mitchell on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW and Gilleasbuig MacDonald providing coverage in gaelic on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal.

"Before the arrival of the internet and social media, the BBC provided the only audio and visual links across the globe serving both the local and exiled shinty families," said Barr.

"In more recent years, the BBC expertise in outside broadcast has been of great benefit in not just reporting on games but in promoting shinty as a fast, exciting, accessible modern sport."

Newtonmore were too strong for Skye
Newtonmore have lifted the Camanachd Cup 31 times and were in the first televised final

MacLennan, who is also shinty historian at the Academy of Sport at the University of Edinburgh, recalled how the relationship with the BBC had shaped the sport itself since that first live broadcast.

"It is very important in terms of the history of broadcasting in Scotland because the BBC in Scotland had not been doing outside broadcasts up until they had done one in Iona Abbey in the very same year, in 1937, and the Camanachd Association and the shinty community had been pressing the BBC to do some matches and they chose this match," he said.

"This was the first shinty match where proper numbering was attached to the players' shirts, for example.

"The simple reasoning for that was that the commentator needed to identify the players.

"So there was a fundamental change taking place, not just in the actual broadcasting but in the way the game was having to present itself."

MacLennan also paid tribute to the BBC's first shinty commentator.

"The lead commentator on the first-ever live radio coverage in 1937 was Rev Roderick MacSwan Boyd, who had played with some distinction alongside his brothers in Portree for Skye," he said.

Lovat against Oban Camanachd
Lovat beat Oban Camanachd to make sure there was not a repeat of the 1937 final

"Rev MacSwan Boyd eventually ended up playing shinty for Aberdeen University and it was when he was a minister in Alness that he was taken on board by the BBC.

"The important thing was that it was people who understood the game. He knew the game back to front."

MacLennan delved into archive material from the Boyd family and unearthed footage from the 1937 Camanachd Cup final at Bught Park.

"The 1937 match between Newtonmore and Oban Camanachd eventually ended in controversy, following a replay which involved police intervention," he pointed out.

As for this year's final, MacLennan thinks it will be one of the most closely fought contests.

"In all my years of doing Camanachd Cup finals, I think this one actually is too close to call," he added. "I don't normally sit on the fence.

"I think Newtonmore have got massive challenges in terms of their defence and how they are going to manage a Lovat team which is coming into this having won the cup two years ago and on a good run of form."

Hugh Dan MacLennan will give his talk at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on 15 November, Glasgow Gaelic School (in gaelic), 16 November, and National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, 23 November.