A chance meeting with Huntly boss Allan Hale at Cormack Park and the backing of his Aberdeen star brother led to Caiden Imbert-Thomas agreeing to turn out for the Highland League Black and Golds.
Imbert-Thomas, who is the younger brother of new Dons striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, has signed on at Christie Park, with the 23-year-old attacker joining on a two-year deal.
Londoner Imbert-Thomas explained he was at Aberdeen’s training ground for Emmanuel-Thomas’ medical and Huntly gaffer Hale happened to be close by.
He said: “My brother went to go sign his contract and do his medical. During it, I had a phone call, but it wouldn’t go through because of the signal at Cormack Park.
— Caiden Imbert-Thomas 🤷🏽♂️ (@caithomas7) May 18, 2021
“So I messaged the number, which was Allan – although I didn’t know that at the time – to say: ‘I’m at Aberdeen’s training ground right now, the connection’s bad, so I’ll call you when I leave’.
“Five minutes later, I got a message back saying: ‘I’m here as well watching an under-18s game’, so it was a bit of a coincidence that we were both there.
“So when we were leaving, I went outside and we had a few words. Everything seemed alright, but obviously I didn’t know too much about the Scottish leagues and the standards.
“I did a bit of research when I got home and the Highland League didn’t seem too bad, so two days later we had a Zoom call where Allan had a powerpoint of all the things they are wanting to do with the team and it was decent.
“The fact someone reached out to me, because of a referral or whoever spoke to him about me, it was meant to be and a good starting point for my career – somewhere good for me to get my head down and focus.”
Imbert-Thomas has now trained and played a couple of pre-season games with his new team-mates at Huntly, ahead of the Highland League kicking off on July 24.
He says his football career up this point has been one where things haven’t quite worked out.
While Emmanuel-Thomas, 30, came through at Arsenal and played for England at age-group level, before turning out for a host of Championship clubs in England and for teams abroad then arriving at Aberdeen via a season at Livingston, his younger brother is still chasing his break in the game.
At youth level, Imbert-Thomas watched team-mates be picked up by the likes of West Ham United and Charlton Athletic, and later had trials himself with Dagenham and Redbridge, Colchester Town, Scunthorpe and Norwich City. However, he didn’t land a deal at any of those clubs and was left disillusioned with the game.
Imbert-Thomas – who has worked in warehouses, construction and retail while playing part-time – rediscovered his passion for football at non-league level, starting with a spell at Isthmian League Premier Division Leatherhead in Surrey, with his most recent club Hullbridge Sports, where he spent the last two campaigns.
With a renewed desire to make it as a professional footballer, he decided to move to the north-east with Emmanuel-Thomas in order to remove any distractions. He hopes a successful spell in the Highland League will enable him to move up the levels in Scotland or elsewhere.
Imbert-Thomas said: “He (Emmanuel-Thomas) has always said to me, when you are of the level to be somewhere, I’ll help you, but you need to be at that level.”
He added: “When he got the move to Aberdeen he was going to be up here on his own.
“At home, we go out together, we eat together – we’re close – so he just said if I wanted to move up it wasn’t an issue and it would make sure I could focus on football and giving myself the best opportunities.
“I’ve had to show him the level I’m at. Going on 5Ks with him and showing him I’m at the level to get into clubs.
“He said in Scotland I can go and make a name for myself and hopefully climb the ladder. He knows a lot of managers will go and watch games, and said: ‘You’ve got two years’. The house is here, he’s driving, Allan said the club will help me out with driving because I don’t know the area.
“It takes me away from the distractions back home. I can run on the treadmill and go to the gym during the day, then train in the evening.
“It’s hard and I’d prefer to be full-time, but I wanted to hit the ground running and Allan was there with the offer. It was very hard to turn down.
“I’ve seen the style Huntly want to play this season and it will suit my game a lot. They like to keep the ball on the floor and use the wingers, get in behind, get bodies in the box and that’s what I’m good at.”