Gutted! But Athletic look for quick return to Mayfield Road

The fire to the Croydon Athletic clubhouse is being treated as arson

The fire to the Croydon Athletic clubhouse is being treated as arson

NON-LEAGUE NEWS: AFC Croydon Athletic could return to its Mayfield Road home ground by the start of next season in August, in spite of the fire which completely gutted the clubhouse at the Keith Tuckey Stadium last week.

References to Athletic as a “phoenix club” took on added meaning following the fire, which police and the fire brigade are treating as arson.

The clubhouse was completely gutted and will need to be replaced before the council-owned sports ground can be brought back into use.

AFC Croydon Athletic was formed last year after a roller-coaster couple of years which had seen its predecessor, once a park football club, make a meteoric rise to the upper reaches of the Isthmian League, only for it to emerge that this was done with cash from club owner Mazhar Majeed who was exposed by the News of the World at the centre of one of the biggest sports betting scams ever to rock international sport.

Majeed’s businesses were closed down, he was jailed; the club chairman committed suicide; tax inspectors moved in and hit the club with a massive tax bill, locking the club out of its ground; and once the money ran out, the club’s semi-pro players and coaching staff walked out, seeing the side withdraw from the league a year ago, unable to fulfil its fixtures.

But fans formed a new club and recruited players in the summer to start all over again, playing their matches at Croydon Arena, in the hope of a return to Mayfield Road.

The first step toward that happened last month, when the lease to the ground was finally returned to owners Croydon Council by Jenna Manji, the sister-in-law of Majeed who was listed at Companies House as the director of the previous Croydon Athletic club.

When the council and AFC officials visited the ground in December, they found that the clubhouse, with its changing rooms and bar – much of which had been built by the club’s supporters – had been trashed, with its piping and cabling wrecked, and it would require substantial repairs to bring it back into use. With the ground’s rent unpaid to the council for a year, there was no expectation that the club’s former owners would make good the damage to the ground or clubhouse.

The fire damage seems likely to be covered by the council’s insurance.

Optimistic: Paul Smith

Optimistic: Paul Smith

“My position is that we very much want to move back to Mayfield Road,” Paul Smith, AFC Croydon Athletic’s chairman, said. “It was clear even before the fire that this would require a substantial investment.

“But we could be back as soon as August for the new season, it all depends on how quickly things move now, in terms of the investigation and a handover to the club,” Smith said.

With the former club having brought the ground up to the standards required by the Isthmian League, the standard of the pitch and stands is significantly better than that required by the new club’s current playing level.

But they will need changing rooms and the other facilities that were to be found in the clubhouse.

“The fire was very upsetting to many of the older supporters, many of them had helped to build the clubhouse,” Smith said. “There was a strong sentimental attachment.

“But now there’s no point in being anything other than pragmatic about it. There was a big frustration at the length of time it had taken the council to get the lease back from the previous owners,” said Smith, who is also a Labour councillor for West Thornton ward.

“We’re talking to the council now about returning to the ground as soon as possible. We’re very optimistic, things are going well on the pitch, and considering we started the season with nothing, not even a cone to run around in a training session, we’re delighted with the progress we’ve made.”

Last Saturday’s match at Warlingham was perhaps not exactly what Smith had in mind, as when a  fight broke out in the stands, players joined in, leading to the bulk of the match’s 11 yellow cards – five of them for AFC players. “It was nothing that you wouldn’t see on any Saturday night in Croydon,” Smith said, his side having won the game 1-0 with a 15th minute goal by Colin Harvey.

Croydon FC’s improved standing in the Combined Counties League Premier Division was clear in a masterful second-half performance at Croydon Arena last Saturday, as they brought league leaders Egham Town’s seven-game winning sequence in the league to an end with a 4-2 win.

Egham’s Jamie Read, picking up a rebounded shot in the 36th minute, scored his 16th goal of the season and had the top team 1-0 up at half time.

It could have been two if not for Trams fans’ favourite Francis Ameyaw making a quick one-handed save from a Brendan Matthew header.

In what was Croydon FC’s best second half performance of the season, Croydon’s four-goal haul started with Sean Rivers heading home. Egham, though, went ahead again in the 56th minute with a spectacular 25-yard drive by Matthew after beating a couple of challenges.

That effort was bettered for a spectacular show by Josh Cover in the 61st minute taking the ball over the keeper from 30 yards out to draw the sides level again.

Croydon now pressed forward and a brace of corners led to a panicked own goal in the 71st minute. As Egham pushed forward to recover, quick counter breaks kept coming. One of these counter attacks saw Cavell Poleon putting the contest beyond Egham in the 92nd minute.

In the Kent League Whyteleafe as expected beat Holmesdale away but it was a convincing 5-0 mauling and it could easily have been eight for the Church Road side. The scorers were Getro Kilapi (18), Sam Robbins (29), Jerson Dos Santos (33), Bently Graham (81), and Paul Scott (89). Whtyeleafe stay in third place behind the two Erith teams who are both seven points ahead atop of the league both with two games in hand on Whyteleafe.

Carshalton Athletic returned to their losing ways going down 2-1 at Bognor Regis Town and prop up the Ryman Premier Division.

Today’s matches (all 3 pm kick-offs)
Carshalton Athletic v Cray Wanderers
Farnham Town v Croydon FC
Whyteleafe v Sevenoaks Town
AFC Croydon Athletic v Worcester Park (at Croydon Arena)

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