Former Lovat soldier ‘recruited’ for famous shinty final

A historic shinty final for the famous Camanachd Cup - where the two competing teams have met only once before - will see one from a tiny Highland village enlist the help of a ‘secret weapon’.
Picture: TSPLPicture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL

Former soldier, Alan MacLaren, was just 17 when his goal helped Lovat win the trophy – for their first and only time - against Kyles Athletic back in 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation.

Many of Lovat’s winning side had fought together and telegrams used to be sent from Lord Lovat’s Inverness-shire estate to the military to exempt MacLaren for big Shinty contests.

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Now, present day boss John MacRitchie has called on MacLaren again, weeks short of his 87th birthday, as the current generation hopes to emulate that feat of over six decades ago, against the same opponents, Kyles.

One of three survivors from that victorious side, MacLaren has been called up to speak to the players about that day in 1953 - the year post-war sweet rationing finally ended and Casino Royale hitting the book shelves.

MacLaren will also be in attendance as a guest of the club on Saturday afternoon at Mossfield Park in Oban for the BBC2-televised final, admitting the occasion will be emotional.

He said: “I think the boys are capable of doing it. It will be fairly emotional, especially if we win. It’s been a long time since the club won this trophy.”

Recalling his own experience, the right wing forward said: “Lovat were really successful after the War. The players had been in the army together and were used to comradeship.

“We took a replay to win the Cup in Fort William. I scored one goal that day and it was a lovely memory.

“I can remember standing on the field just before the captains went up, and the Cup had to be filled with whisky before Alistair MacKinnon- who is no longer with us- went up to lift it.”

He added: “I still have my Shinty medals in a box in the house. “When I bring them out to look at them, I always put the Camanachd Cup winners medal in the middle because it was the prime one to win. It was quite an honour. It still is, today.”

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Several buses have been booked to take supporters to Oban this afternoon from the village of less than a thousand residents.

Since that day in 1953 the club has never participated in a Camanachd Cup Final.

The pensioner said: “It is strange to think it has been so long. In 1953 we won a lot of trophies. I was the youngest and, even when doing national service in Germany, I would still come back and play.

“If there was a big game, the gamekeeper from Lovat Estate would send a telegram asking that I be given leave. The telegram had Lord Lovat’s name on it so no one ever refused,” he smiles.

While MacLaren, William MacLean and Addie MacKenzie are Lovat’s survivors, Kyles, too, will have a stalwart from their 1953 team at the final.

Neil Galbraith, 85, a former forestry employee, lives two doors up the street in Tighnabruaich from the only other survivor of that side, Alastair Chambers, 89.

The left half forward said: “I played in 5 finals but only won the Cup once. Lovat were a good side in 1953 but I remember we were only five minutes from winning the first match, before they took the game to a replay.

“Hopefully the final will be a good one and the weather keeps up. I’ll be hoping Kyles win, of course.”