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Friday 18th March 2022 ko 19.45

Scottish Lowland League

CALEDONIAN BRAVES 1 (Forrester 90)


Att 219

Entry £6

Programme £2

If October’s Scottish Hop was held in the midst of a fuel crisis, you could argue so was this, except this time round the issue was cost rather than availability. I filled up ready for the trip north a day or two before departure and winced!

Normally my modus operandi was to check the hoppers on to the GroundhopUK coach at Hillingdon station then head to the first ground on the event to make up programme packs. Usually I’d have my wife Robyn for company, but she been called into work at short notice, and would fly from Gatwick to Edinburgh arriving during the first game. Fortunately the coach was travelling firstly from Cardiff to London and had Welsh Football editor Dave Collins aboard, who’d courier until GroundhopUK owner Chris Berezai would meet the coach at Birmingham Airport.

That allowed Bedfordshire Hop organiser Craig Dabbs and I something of a head start. That was no bad thing because although the our hotel was at Bothwell, adjacent to Caledonian Braves, the programme pick-up was at Inverkeithing, another hour north-east. It was certainly shaping up to be a long day! Still there was the memory of the hop game at Ballast Bank and the thought that those who’d chosen to turn up their noses at it have lost out, Inverkeithing have moved.

We got there early enough to have lunch in North Queensferry, I do recommend Rankin’s cafe; the food is excellent and there’s the possibly unique opportunity to indulge in a little trainspotting from underneath the Forth Rail Bridge. It also allowed a little time for reflection.

We’d already had a few issues. The first involved Caledonian Braves and their programme, which may well be first full issue they’ve ever done. Chris had spoken to the club in the days before the event and it seemed that there would be no programme for this game and that the hosting would add up to little more than the game being played.

The lack of a programme would be unacceptable to us and more importantly our ticket holders, so I travelled up with a box of “Back-up” programmes Chris had got produced in the event a Braves one didn’t materialise. In the end their programmes did turn up back at the hotel as arranged, albeit late, but nothing was lost in that. The “Back-up” programmes ended up being distributed to those with a prebooked ticket for the game. I suspect this may well have be the first and only hop where there were more issues of the programme than there were games!

More worrying was that Hill of Beath had been let down by their courier, DPD. We travelled back to the hotel a box of programmes light. We made up the packs as best we could and all the credit in the world should go to Haws programme editor Dave Edler who gave up hospitality tickets at that night’s Dunfermline vs Morton game to get his club’s programmes to us, just after the coach arrived. He ended up attending all the games on the hop and his presence and thoughtfulness was much appreciated.

That Dunfermline game did present everyone with a interesting dilemma. East End Park is a classic of the Scottish game so noone could criticise anyone for opting to head there rather than the Braves. The only caveat I’d make is to ask would I travel from Oxford to Scotland to tick of Dunfermline as a one-off game, and would I do the same for the Braves?

The Braves are an interesting, perhaps controversial club. The club’s genesis was the Edusport Academy founded in 2011 by Chris Ewing with the aim of helping talented young French footballers to develop their skills in football and the English language, and gain opportunities with British professional clubs. The club entered the South of Scotland League playing at Annan Athletic winning the league in 2017.

They changed names and moved to the formerly named Bothwellhaugh Pitches in 2019 which were renamed Alliance Park and 2 stands added. Its fair to say that the club’s background isn’t straightforward, and I can think of one ultra-traditionalist who made it quite clear that he’d rather the hoppers do anything other than visit the Braves.

While he’s entitled to his opinions I cannot and will not think in such black and white terms. And while in the days before the hop we may have had serious reservations on how the club was going to host they did a more than competent job. The pie stall proved popular, as any catering would when the clientele have been driving for most of the day! Truthfully I found Braves thoroughly charming and Alliance Park more than just a caged 3G pitch.

The issue the Braves have is they have virtually no supporters, in fact the programme did comment that ..” our main challenge is developing a local fanbase” That meant that the vast majority of the crowd were groundhoppers and although we were all happy enough at the attendance I do wonder how many extra we’d have got if their hadn’t been the lure of SFPL football in Fife?

I think just about everyone enjoyed the Scottish Hop’s visit to East Peffermill Playing Fields so I approached the game about as neutral as I could be under the circumstances. But no matter your allegiances I think you’d be hard pushed to consider that the game should have been anything other than a home win. Braves had most of the possession and most of the chances but looked to have been caught by the classic footballing sucker punch. Only a delicious curling free kick in stoppage time gained them a point that if they’d have taken more of their chances would surely have been all three.

Nevertheless if the the aim of a host club should be to enhance your visitors’ view of who you are and what you stand for then I’ve little doubt that Caledonian Braves managed that. Sadly I couldn’t afford to linger afterwards, I’d got the call, Robyn was waiting for me at Edinburgh Airport. It was a long day wasn’t it?