Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month … Strathendrick

Balfron High School partnership delivers a way forward and a positive future for state school rugby

The Strathendrick Boys U18 squad plus friends and family after their recent narrow defeat in the National Schools' Plate Final at Hive Stadium. Image courtesy: Lynne Seaton
The Strathendrick Boys U18 squad plus friends and family after their recent narrow defeat in the National Schools' Plate Final at Hive Stadium. Image courtesy: Lynne Seaton

A PULSATING contest ended in disappointment for Strathendrick/Balfron HS Under-18s, but neither the players nor the club at large will allow last week’s National Schools’ Plate Final narrow defeat to Queen Victoria School overshadow the overall achievements in recent years of a rugby organisation which views silverware as a by-product of building from the bottom up with a focus on fun and inclusion, rather than as an end in itself.

Strathendrick Rugby Club – which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year – has paddled resolutely during the last decade and a bit against the general tide of decline in the grassroots game, to deliver steady yet stellar growth in their player membership through a combination of hard work and a commitment to community spirit  It can now boast of being the largest participation club in the region, with growth largely driven by its partnership with nearby Balfron High School, utilising joint resources to deliver better access and rugby experiences for young people.

The school has undergone a rugby transformation from initially having only a single boys competitive team to now running eight full teams (five boys and three girls) playing weekly conference fixtures. All of this has been made possible by a dedicated parent/volunteer coaching team of around 40 individuals covering all age groups.


Nomination process launched for ‘Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month’

Men’s U18 6Ns Festival: Scotland get off to a winning start against Georgia

Women’s 6N: Scotland’s record winning run ends at hands of France


There have been on-field successes. Strathendrick/Balfron won the Glasgow Warriors Schools Festival last summer competing against 28 other state schools, while the under-14 boys and girls teams won the SP Network Glasgow Warriors Schools Championship in 2023.

But perhaps more telling is that the club was also recognised last year by the SRU when handed Community Club of the Year Awards for both Caledonia and overall Scotland at the 2023 Scottish Rugby Community Recognition Awards.

Meanwhile, the Boys Under-18s tour to Sweden last summer – when they won the ‘Viking Cup’ by beating the best teams from across Sweden – is an excellent example of how on and off field energy can feed off each other.

Strathendrick midi teams have recently toured far and wide, from Italy, to New Zealand, France, to the Republic of Ireland,  Northern Ireland, Wales and to Northern England. In 2024, the club will be sending five different age-groups on tour, including a girls tour to Sweden to take part in the Shield Maiden’s Cup.

Moreover, Strathendrick’s Annual Charity Mini Rugby Festival typically involves invitations to 14 clubs, 900 players and has over 2000 attendees altogether, making it reputedly the largest mini rugby festival in Scotland.

“We’re based in Fintry [population 717 in the 2011 census, sitting under the shadow of the Campsie Fells, some 16 miles south-west of Stirling] but serve several local villages, which all vary in size, and we have quite a lot of farming in the area as well, so it is a real mix but a real community whereby every village is linked into the next one,” explains club stalwart Steven McCooey. “It is very much the case of lots of little villages making one big club, and that is replicated with the primary schools in each village linking into Balfron High School.”

 

The Strathendrick Boys U18 squad plus friends and family after their recent narrow defeat in the National Schools' Plate Final at Hive Stadium. Image courtesy: Lynne Seaton
The Strathendrick Boys U18 squad plus friends and family after their recent narrow defeat in the National Schools’ Plate Final at Hive Stadium. Image courtesy: Lynne Seaton

 

As ‘Head of Rugby’ at Strathendrick, McCooey overseas the under-18s sections of the club, from primary one upwards for both boys and girls, and he stresses that the key to the club’s success is that the focus reaches well beyond the meat and veg of training and matches.

“It is about club development,” he says. “So, that’s looking after the extra-curricular programme and everything in between. They are all the bits which make us great. It is all the outreach stuff we do – food-banks, kit recycling and so on – it’s just co-ordinating that, which formalises that side of the club.

“I started off as a volunteer 12 years ago when I turned up with my son. I’m from Wigan originally, and I am a long way from home, so that community aspect really appealed to me because it reminds me of where I came from. I just love the bit with this club which is about bringing people together, regardless of age, ability, experience and so on.

“A few years before I arrived, there were a few pioneers who led the charge,” he continues. “Our junior section was composite teams – S1 to S3 all in together – so we started chipping away at that, got it down to an S1 and S2 composite team, and then soon became standalone teams.

“It was really a vision that we needed to do something more energetic so that we could move away from relying on people to give up their valuable time to help us out and build instead something which made people want to be part of the club and part of something special.

“We recognised that we could achieve that through working with Balfron High School, which is the only high school in the area, we’re now running teams from primary one through to seniors, for both boys and girls. The primary ones to primary threes are magical – it is like herding cats but the numbers are brilliant – and that leads into a complete player pathway which takes boys in particular through to under-18, then into our senior under-20s programme which helps the transition into adult rugby, and then hopefully into the senior 1st XV.”

 

An aerial shot from the 14th Strathendrick Annual Mini Rugby Festival, believed to nowbe Scotland’s largest mini festival. Image courtesy: Jeremy Pemberton-Pigott
An aerial shot from the 14th Strathendrick Annual Mini Rugby Festival, believed to now be Scotland’s largest mini festival. Image courtesy: Jeremy Pemberton-Pigott

 

McCooey is particularly keen to highlight the progress in growing women’s and girls rugby in recent years. From almost a standing start, Strathendrick/Balfron HS now runs four girls teams.

“Growing the girls side of the club has been a real focus – I’d say a real passion – and we now have that complete pathway as well,” says McCooey.

“When I first started, I noticed that there was a point where the girls had to leave the club to seek rugby somewhere else, and that was just a real no-no as far as I was concerned. So, we had to put that pathway in place, and it has taken time, but now we are at the stage where no girl needs to leave the club, they can start in primary one with mini rugby, we even have an under-10s girls’ team which is quite unorthodox, then we have standalone girls under-12s, and the under-14s and under-16s teams have just been brilliant.”

On that front, 17-year-old Murrin Thomson recently picked up the Young Person’s Award at the Caledonian Midlands Community Recognition Awards ceremony, for her efforts as a figurehead pupil when it comes to promoting and enhancing girls’ rugby at Balfron High School/Strathendrick.

“Murrin is entrusted to visit primary schools and deliver both curricular and extracurricular activity, all to a very high standard,” said McCooey at the time. “Further work during health weeks ensures she provides opportunities for all P1 to P7 pupils. To help promote pathways from school to club, Murrin plans and assists in the delivery of festivals. She leads a team of ‘Rugby Activators’ providing quality opportunities which provide a positive rugby experience. From volunteering, to playing, coaching to planning, Murrin is a standout candidate.”

‘If the boys have it then the girls should have it as well’

“In the past, we tended to rely on persuading netballers or girls from other sports to play rugby, whereas we’re now moving into the arena where if you asked the girls in our teams what their first sport is, they will reply that it is rugby,” says McCooey. “And I think that is a trend in the national picture now, which is really important because we are not poaching from other sports but generating our own players, our own energy and our own enthusiasm.

“What we do well as a club is entwine our rugby with a strength and conditioning programme, and we do that with the mums and the family. It is really important to demonstrate that the sport is healthy, being part of the team is healthy and to get rid of as many barriers as we can. If we can show the girls that their mums are doing it as well, then it works both ways, because the girls say: ‘If my mum can do it then so can I’, and vice-versa with the mums saying: ‘If my daughter is doing then I’d like to do it as well’. That has been a massive partnership we have built with a local gym – Gym 63 – which is female-led and female-delivered.

“We’ve grown the number of female coaches, which is great, and one of the keys is being very focussed on the fact that if the boys have it then the girls should have it as well. They shouldn’t be an afterthought. Our girls section is the quickest growing section in the club, and I’ve no doubt that’s down to the environment we’ve created. We’ve worked hard with the SRU and other clubs to create a sructure where the girls can have weekly games every single Sunday, whereas in the past we didn’t have that level of consistency, and people need that routine.

 

Strathendrick won the first Glasgow North Region U16 Girls Aspiring League in 2022-23.
Strathendrick won the first Glasgow North Region U16 Girls Aspiring League in 2022-23.

 

Another landmark moment in growing the breadth of the rugby offering at Strathendrick saw the club play its first women’s 15-aside full-contact (blended in hybrid fashion with touch) match against Waysiders/Mid-Argyle earlier this month.

“A lot of that was driven from the touch rugby section we started towards the end of Covid, which offers women a chance to dip their toe in, even if they don’t want to or are not sure about playing full contact,” says McCooey. “That links in every year with Tartan Touch, which has been a massively successful programme for us.

“We are still on the journey to see what this senior women’s team is going to look like. Will we be a team which plays monthly, every second week, or even every week? It will take time, like everything else we have done, but we’re at that point where we can say we have fielded a women’s team, and we’ve actually got another game lined up in April as well. At the start of the season, if you had said to me that we’d have a women’s team who have played two games then I don’t think I would have believed it.”

Meanwhile, the senior men’s 1st XV currently sit mid-table in West League Two and, appropriately enough, have one of their own as head coach.

Ciera Campbell is Ms Strathendrick,” beams McCooey. “Her parents have massive roots in the club, she was a Balfron High School pupil, she came through our pathway as a player, she was a modern apprentice with the club and school, she’s coached varying age-groups and she was the natural fit to take over the senior men’s side back in 2021 [when she was still only 24]. Our team is very reflective of being a young team and that’s down to the way Ciera has harnessed that group of boys who she has had a huge influence over.

“I can’t say for certain if she is the only female head coach of a senior men’s 1st XV in Scotland at the moment, but I’m not aware of anyone elsewhere being appointed.”

 

 

So, basically, this is simply an uplifting story about a good community club which gives as many people as it can an opportunity to play rugby in an enjoyable environment.

“It is so much more than that,” McCooey replies, without missing a beat. “It is about the friendships at the side of the pitch. Ciera and Mike Bastock , our webmaster, take a lot of photographs of the various teams all the way through from minis to senior, and I often think that they show that it is not just about what is happening on the pitch, it is the friendship at the side which they capture, when we are all sharing the experience and having fun together.

“It is that social aspect in those pictures which I often think is really special because it shows the connections which have been created through the rugby pathway we have developed.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

“Success is different for everyone,” he adds. “For some clubs, you measure it through silverware. But, for me, success is participation and retention. The fact that we now have young people able to come through Strathendrick and never have to leave the club – they can play from the age of five through to 55 and beyond – is a great bit of success.

“A massive sign of success is that people want to be part of the club: they invite other family members and friends to come to be a part of it as well. So, success for me is when that child or young person turns round and says that they want their son or daughter to play rugby and they want Strathendrck to be the place for them to do that. I think that shows we have done something right there.

“It goes back to lifelong participation, so that whether it is through playing, coaching, officiating, we can keep people in the game.

“We’ve got a lot of social members, then young people who are away at university or with work who dip back in and out, but our player base is about 100 for the minis, about 110 for the midis and girls is up to about 100, so by the time you add in the seniors we are up around the 400 mark – and on top of that, we’ve got a massive army of around 50 volunteers who kindly give whatever they can weekly,” McCooey reveals when pushed for a figure.

“But it is not about putting a number on things, and I don’t think that should be the focus when it comes to future planning – it is just to keep on growing what we’ve got and to continue making sure here is opportunities for absolutely everyone.”

 

  • If you would like to nominate a club to feature in our ‘Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month’ series then please contact rugby@breadalbanefinance.co.uk.
  • Each successful entrant will receive a rugby-related reward to the value of £500 – kit, equipment, coaching or any other rugby related investment – as well as having an opportunity to tell their story through an in-depth feature on The Offside Line.

 

  • Launched in 2013, Breadalbane Finance is a commercial finance broker, partnering with business owners who want to borrow money for any purpose. Breadalbane Finance goes to the lender market on the client’s behalf to source the right lending product with the right deal that works for the client’s goals.
  • Built on long-standing trusted relationships – both with clients and their advisors – to date Breadalbane has helped 1,500 businesses secure over £500m of funding all over Scotland in a broad range of industries.
  • For more information on how Breadalbane Finance can help your business, contact: Jamie Lindsay on 0131 281 5343 / jamie@breadalbanefinance.co.uk

Breadalbane Finance link up with TOL as ‘Official Community Partner’

About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

5 Comments

  1. A great club working with schools and community teaching skills and how to both win AND lose with respect. Stunning location too.

  2. Inspirational. Shows that with vision, enthusiasm and innovation clubs can build from small beginnings to become a pillar of the community. Looking forward to future accounts of what others are doing. We’ll done to the sponsor for their support.

  3. What a brilliant uplifting story that is, just proves the players are there IF you can get them onboard/ interest them 👍

Leave a Reply

Please be respectful in your replies. Abusive language is automatically blocked. Your email address will not be published.


*