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Tributes / Rab Duffin (1947 – 2023): influential and well-respected character in Shetland football

Rab Duffin with the Parish Cup.

SHETLAND football lost one of its most influential figures recently, with the passing of Rab Duffin from Brae.

Rab’s contribution to his beloved Delting Football Club, and to the wider game in Shetland over almost 40 years, cannot be overstated. He joined Delting FC around 1984 and was part of a small group that set about reforming the club, with the priority to establish a juvenile development structure. He was influential in creating the under 11s, 13s, 15s and 18s teams around the mid 80s. The first team Rab coached was at under 13s level and, to give an idea of the era, it included the Clubb twins, Duncan and Neil.

Rab’s passion and knowledge of the game, as well as his patient manner, made him a very popular coach with his players. In 1986, he organised the club’s first trip outwith the isles for the under 13s, with games against Maud, Auchterellon and Aberdeen FC (pictured). The way the trip was organised said a lot about Rab’s principles and approach to juvenile football. He always felt that players should be able to take part regardless of their ability levels or their family’s financial resources. So over the years he always encouraged fundraising to help keep costs to parents as low as possible.

As well as being a key figure in local football, Rab also became influential at a Shetland-wide level. In 1985 he became the club’s representative on the Shetland Junior Football Association and was to go on to be President in 1992.

During that time, he worked closely with two other Shetland football stalwarts, Davie Riddell of Thistle and Frankie Gilfillan of TSB. Davie had high praise for Rab as a coach, saying that his teams were always well organised and competitive. He felt that Shetland football entered a progressive stage when coaches such as Rab took teams to compete in Grangemouth, Manchester, Huddersfield and even as far as Holland.

Frankie said that he had many good memories of years spent on the opposite touchline to Rab and that his dedicated work, with both Delting and Shetland juvenile football, was second to none. He highlighted Rab’s keen sense of fairness and the fact that, win or lose, he was always the first to congratulate the opposition.

Rab’s positive influence on Delting FC went beyond coaching; he also drove the community mini-bus to get players to games to save parents having to take cars, and was groundsman at the Brae pitch, spending countless hours over the years cutting the grass, lining and replacing divots.

In the early 1990s, Rab became one of the driving forces behind the Northern Sports Development Trust which was set up to try to build a new artificial pitch in Brae. Through significant fundraising efforts the trust raised £125,000 towards project costs, with the pitch opening on 25 June 1994.

Funding of £130,000 was also raised to build the changing rooms and that included a grant of £45,000 from the new National Lottery Sports Fund. Rab was very proud to travel to Edinburgh in March 1995 to accept the grant on behalf of the trust, the first Lottery funding to be awarded to a Shetland group. It’s fair to say that the synthetic pitch changed football in the north mainland of Shetland, with many generations enjoying games and training sessions over the years.

Although Rab never claimed credit, he played a big part in building the foundations for the senior Delting team’s successes in the early 2000s. Pretty much all of the players involved had been coached by Rab at some point. He was also proud of the fact that six Delting players, who he’d coached as juniors, were in the Shetland squad that won the Island Games in 2005.

Over the years, Rab coached every age level in Delting FC, so it was fitting that he finally got the chance to manage the senior team after a few successful years with the reserves. Undoubtedly his senior coaching highlight came in 2018 when he was in charge of the team that lifted the Parish Cup after beating Southend on penalties.

Rab was a member of Delting Football Club for nearly 40 years and chairman for almost twenty five of those. It is remarkable to think that he devoted more than half his life to the good of the club and his community. All voluntary effort and given willingly. He will be sorely missed by everyone at the club and in the wider community who knew him.

  • Rab Duffin – Mr Delting FC, 26 January 1947 – 24 October 2023

On behalf of Delting FC Committee

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