There’s more than football

Henry Hepburn says other sports suffer at the expense of football.
Henry Hepburn says other sports suffer at the expense of football.
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To say that Scotland is a land obsessed with football is akin to proclaiming that the Romans knew how to build a half-decent road.

There’s simply no getting away from the fact that almost all sporting discourse in this country revolves around what fans still persist in calling the ‘beautiful game’.

Whilst this might seem the natural state of affairs to many Scots, it also irritates a sizable number.

Some people just don’t like sport of any description - but there are plenty of dedicated and passionate sports enthusiasts who despair at the attention and financial reward that football attracts at the expense of all others.

One such man is Henry Hepburn, a writer from Falkirk who firmly believes that the spotlight deserves to be shone on some of the other sporting past-times that give joy to thousands of people north of the border.

The 37-year-old has spent the past three years examining some of the other team games played in Scotland and assessing their health in terms of participation, facilities and finances.

The result is an entertaining and illuminating book, ‘The Beautiful Games: Scotland’s Hidden Sports’.

The sports featured range from the well-known, such as rugby, to others that many Scots have probably never heard of, like korfball.

Henry was inspired to write the book after spending time living in France and Ireland, two countries which enjoy a diverse range of sports.

“Scotland is pretty unique,” he explains.

“Not because of our national obsession with football, but because no other sport really gets a look-in – in terms of funding, crowds and media coverage – which isn’t the case anywhere else.

“That’s not a healthy situation for Scottish sport in general, or Scottish football itself.

“In France, I saw handball featured on the front page of L’Equipe, the national sports paper. And in Ireland, where my wife is from, I’ve been to a hurling final that had 82,000 people at it. Compare to that to a shinty cup final in Scotland, which might attract 3000.

“With this book, I wanted to see what else was out there. Other countries have other sports hard-wired into their national identities, but Scotland doesn’t.”

Henry is keen to stress that the book is not anti-football, and that he is a fan of the game. Originally from the north-east, he was brought up an Aberdeen fan at a time when the Dons were enjoying huge success at home and abroad. But he does admit to growing disillusioned with the state of our national game.

“I didn’t go to the most recent Scotland games at Hampden, which was the first I’ve missed in 20 years,” he says.

Henry talked to more than 100 people when researching the book, and even travelled to last year’s European korfball championships in the Netherlands, where a Scottish team had entered for the first time.

He wrote most of the book on the train when making his daily commute to and from Falkirk High station and Edinburgh Waverley.

The writer was hooked on coverage of the recent Olympics and believes there could not have been a better time for his book to come out.

“It’s a great time to publish it – the Olympics have revealed an appetite for a broader range of sport than what the Scottish public usually gets. Anyone who’s found themselves glued to London 2012 will find plenty to keep them hooked in The Beautiful Games.”

“Above all, it should be a great read, and not just for sports fans – I’ve tried to find good stories and tell them well.

“There’s been great feedback from people who wouldn’t normally be into sport.”

The book is available in hard copy or e-book format from www.lulu.com, and will be available from Amazon in the coming weeks.