This Saturday, the English Shinty Association welcome Tayforth to London in the Bullough Cup. We caught up with Chair of the ESA, Craig Lee-Holt ahead of the game…

Can you tell us about the significance of playing one of your first-ever home games in the Bullough Cup? How does it feel to represent the English Shinty Association on such a stage?

If history has proved anything it is that evolution always wins. This was the aptly named section in the Shinty yearbook 2022 for the English Shinty section. There has been multiple attempts to revive Shinty in the capital prior to the 2012. In 2008 London Camanachd managed muster players from over England to enter a team in the Bullough Cup and Sutherland Cup. They were drawn at home against SCOTS Camanachd at Tir Chonaill Gaels, the same venue which hosts the historic match on Saturday. A few of those players were unable to resist the Clash of the Ash. In 2012 Graham Love and Matt Mossop spearheaded this revival. I served as Treasurer in the first Cornwall committee. Despite being unaware shinty existed the prior year I became hooked. The following year both clubs agreed to form the English Shinty Association. Evolving to cement the current revival we continue to provide opportunities for expats and new players alike, continuing growth for the benefit of the entirety of the shinty world. As such this home game is a significant step for the entirety of the Shinty world and not just us. However as Chair of the English Shinty Association it has been a pleasure working with Tayforth and the Camanachd Association in enabling this fixture to happen. Having previously played for English Shinty Association in the Bullough Cup against Kyle Athletic it was such an honour and a fabulous experience. I know every member of the team has the passion for shinty like so many of us.

What preparations have been made by the team in anticipation of this historic match against Tayforth? Have you implemented any specific strategies or training techniques?

ESA has multiple clubs it draws our players from. With a 12 hour round trip for two of clubs if they visit each other it can be difficult to hold things centrally without the promise of games. Over the Easter period ESA travelled to Edinburgh and played three back to back games across three days. We have also held a centralised training clubs with many encouraged to train with their clubs. As such on the field preparation has been limited as a club. Off the field we have been organising the game to ensure Tayforth have a great time. Our main aim for the game is play competitively to encourage other clubs to travel south of the border.

How has the team adapted to the unique challenges of playing Shinty in England? What have been the key factors in your development and growth as a team?

Building a social and fun environment has been key to our success.  We now hold 4 annual tournaments with social events in addition to league games. This has enabled people to plan through out the year to attend our events. Which is a highlight for many in their social calendars. This has encouraged our players to return and bring their friends. Though our biggest challenge is educating the masses about the sport, as there are easily 10s of millions of people in England unaware of the sports existence.

What do you see as the biggest strengths of your team heading into this match? How do you plan to capitalize on those strengths against Tayforth?

Our biggest strengths are the experience of our expats combined with the enthusiasm and speed of our new players. With expats coming from Scottish unis, Kingussie, Newtonmore, Tayforth and Skye just to name a few, this experience has been vital for our free flowing attacking styling. However I expect the game will be tight at the back with very little to separate both teams.

Shinty is traditionally associated with Scotland. How has the sport gained popularity in England, and what impact do you hope to have on the growth of Shinty in your country?

As chair of the English Shinty Association its my passion to continue our growth and to work closely with the Camanachd Association as our governing body to cement this revival as the last revival in England. I believe we have barely scratched the surface of expats in England with prior shinty experience.  Through the knowledge and expertise at the Camanachd Association we hope to spread the word and improve awareness of this fantastic sport. During my tenure as chair of ESA I hope to work with the Camanachd Association to gain funding for a dedicated staff member in England to assist in our continued growth. As we are all volunteers many of us have taken leave to assist with a variety of activities.

How have you built team chemistry and camaraderie leading up to this game given the players come from all over the country? What role do you think these factors will play in your performance?

Many of us have known each other for many years now. We have enjoyed many tours of Scotland, tournaments across the UK and developed amazing camaraderie. However we hope our desire not to lose our first game at home will be the deciding factor in the game.

Finally, what message do you have for people in England who might be hearing of shinty for the first time?

For those that know me are aware from first glance I may not be the  sort of person to play sport. I’m on the heavy side however the inclusivity of every member has made me feel welcome. The camaraderie and life long memories of wild camping during tours, playing matches on beaches and many social occasions . I encourage every person in the country to give shinty a go.

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