Ambition – Respect – Community: Caledonian Braves – 22/08/2021

Caledonian Braves v Vale of Leithen @ Alliance Park

Background

Caledonian Braves are a club that have a unique story in Scottish football. Originally born as Edusport Academy, the club sanctified the idea to bring young French students to Scotland to combine their studies with football. The club joined the Scottish football pyramid in 2011 and the only way since has been up. After promotion to the Lowland League, the club had a revamp and looked to spice up their model.

The Braves emerged as a club run by the fans. An online initiative named ‘Our Football Club’ gained traction and allowed members of The Braves’ online community to have the opportunity to make decisions for their club. According to their app, The Braves have over 800 members from 30 different countries involved in these decisions after paying a light membership fee.

After having a brief chat with a few lovely gentlemen at the gate, they shared stories about how they had become disillusioned with football and following their respective ‘mainstream’ teams. They described how Edusport and later Caledonian Braves would pique their interest and bring them back to the beautiful game. They also shared how the club’s ethos on youth, development and community was a clear selling point from them. They’ve never looked back.

The club set up shop at Alliance Park, a ground located on the banks of Strathclyde Loch in Lanarkshire. With a full youth set-up and many community-based outreach programs, The Braves are hoping to tell a story on the park as well as off it. I took a visit on Saturday afternoon to watch this chapter write itself in their Lowland League fixture against struggling Vale of Leithen.

The Journey

Public transport has been my best pal over the last week. Car troubles have forced me to get back to my roots of sitting beside strangers on buses and trains and soaking in the ‘atmosphere’ of babies crying and people casually watching ‘Cash in the Attic’ aloud on their phones (true story!).

Work commitments took me to Hamilton for the morning and early afternoon, where afterwards I took a doddle round to Strathclyde Park. Thankfully the weather played nice as I avoided what felt like an unnatural amount of goose shit on the pavements. Anyone who’s ever been to banks of Strathclyde Loch will know the feeling! There wasn’t too much to slow me down though and I reached the ground with plenty of time to spare.

Facilities

Alliance Park looks a decent set-up. As you walk into the gates you are immediately greeted by the state-of-the-art artificial pitch with traditional lower league fencing surrounding it. To your right are the two small but handy stands which came to my rescue when the rain started to fall. The entire ground looks to be decorated in Braves themed merchandise with positive messaging to boot. One particular banner behind the goal read ‘Ambition. Respect. Community.’ I like it. It sends a clear message about the goal of the club and what they wish to build. A grass pitch is attached on the far side which I can only assume is for training and used for academy games

As far I see could see though, there wasn’t anywhere to get any food or hot drinks nor was there a toilet facility anywhere. Can’t imagine Alliance Park would be any fun to visit in December after breaking the seal at the pub beforehand. It seems standard to have these facilities available at most WOSFL games, and so it’s strange to see a club in division above without them.

However, with the club having the ethos it has, a clearly dedicated fanbase and a great idea behind them, I can see the Braves finding the need to expand Alliance Park when necessary. There’s certainly welcome room for it. I feel a score of 2.5/5 is fair.

The stands at Alliance Park

Atmosphere

With the rain falling, spectators flooded into the covered stands. There appears to be a nice feel to the club, with supporters chatting positively about the team’s performances and a few individuals who have sparked impressive displays. There were plenty of youth team players in attendance to grasp the feel of one day progressing up the Brave’s ladder. A few members of the Vale of Leithen committee joined us in the stands to take in the spectacle about to take place and chatted with a few home fans. As the players began to enter the field of play, a very low-key but excitable feeling emerged. The supporters were expecting to see The Braves triumph against a side stuck to the bottom of the table without a point to their name.

One aspect of the atmosphere that caught my attention was the positivity towards the opposition. Some Braves supporters actively encouraged the Vale of Leithen players if they performed something amicably. Although you would most likely not see this a mile up the road at Fir Park or New Douglas Park, a little active encouragement for the struggling outfit your team were playing was nice to see. Again, a score of 2.5/5 seems right.

Quality of the Match

The Braves started well. Their crew of baby-faced assassins seemed to surge forward in waves against a Vale side who couldn’t keep up. A superb run from midfield saw Rhys Armstrong play the ball out wide to Cameron Breadner but was fouled in the process. To his credit, the referee played a fantastic advantage to allow the winger to fire the ball across the box. It found its way to left-back Jamie Walker who slotted home to give The Braves the lead after five minutes.

Minutes later, a similar move brought a smart close-range save from Chris Peden in the Vale goal. The Braves pushed on and created a flurry of good chances. A header just over the bar and a shot off the post from forward Cole Starrs the pick of the bunch. The home side were well on top and got their just-rewards before the break. A fabulous corner from Armstrong found Jack Duncan who cannoned his header off the crossbar and down over the line. A deserved second for The Braves. Half time soon approached with the score line at 2-0. I genuinely don’t know if Chris Henry in The Braves’ goal touched the ball with his hands during the first period.

The second half got underway with the home side continuing their dominance. A shot that flew high and wide by Luke Main being all they could muster in the opening minutes. However, a nice ball threaded through the Vale defence found Cole Starrs who comfortably rounded Peden and slotted home. 3-0, and The Braves were cruising. The Vale midfield were finding it increasingly difficult to match their opponents’ quick feet, bursting pace and electric acceleration. The home side were playing with a lot of flair and freedom, and the score line was showing it.

The game appeared to peter out slowly afterwards. The Braves rarely had to get out of second gear and saw off any attacking threats Vale of Leithen had to throw at them. A real lack of attacking impetus seemed to be the away side’s problem. Their defensive sloppiness didn’t help either as a slack pass allowed Armstrong to feed Walker for his second of the game.

Vale’s afternoon was summed up when they managed to win a free kick in an immediately threatening position. Their best chance of the game though was ballooned over the fence and didn’t stop rising. Anyone who wishes to find a good early Christmas present for their football daft child just needs to search Strathclyde Loch. A comfortable 4-0 win for The Braves was the final result.

I loved watching The Braves on the attack. Their youthful, free-flowing attacking football proved too much for a Vale side who were chasing shadows for much of the game. Rhys Armstrong may as well have played the game with a cigar in his mouth and still would have played immensely. His set-piece deliveries, tantalising footwork and expansive vision created numerous chances for his team. A very impressive performance. Jamie Walker at left back also had a superb game. He consistently patrolled his side of the park and made bombing runs with and without the ball. He looks a player with a big engine and a lot of talent. A special mention must go out to midfielder Gavin Lachlan. As the most ‘senior’ member of the Braves squad at only 29, he seemed to pop up everywhere. He intercepted stray passes, played positive balls forward and was a consistent presence across the park. Every club needs a player like Lachlan to do the unattractive side of the game, and I thought he was fantastic on this occasion. The Braves sit comfortably mid table after this win, and I would expect their style of football to push them further up the league.

As a spectacle, I thoroughly enjoyed this match. The Braves played some magical football and gained plenty of plaudits from the side-lines in the process.  I would love to come back and see them play against stronger opposition and see how they fair defensively. That day will come. Overall, I was treated to four terrific goals and some of the best football I’ve seen all season. A score of 4/5 seems fair.

Pricing

The Braves are the first team on my travels to offer free entry. Their only request was to download the club’s app on your phone. I felt like this was an incredible idea. It builds interest through social media and sticks to the club’s online community background. The app itself Is easy to access, simple to use and provides mountains of information. There is even a streaming service to watch club games live if you’re unable to make it to Alliance Park. I really hope to see more clubs provide initiatives like this.

The Braves also accepted donations, which I gladly gave. 5/5 is no question.

Final Score

The Braves end with a score of 14/20. I had a great time watching this fledging young side and sincerely wish them all the best for the future. In years to come, we may see other clubs using the bricks Caledonian Braves have used for their foundation. Community spirit and youth development are at the height of the club’s agenda, and it’s something we all love to see.

– Connor

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