Whyteleafe pitch in with plastic as Farleigh wait on the FA

Doyen of football reporters, BRIAN GRANVILLE hails the new season and forecasts the fortunes for what used to be grassroots clubs

NON-LEAGUE NEWS: The countdown on satellite television tells you that the Premier League will begin in just a week. But for supporters of teams who do not pledge their allegiance to those 20 clubs, the season is already upon us. Since the last ball was kicked back in April or May, these fans have been preparing themselves for it all to start again. They await that first shrill on the whistle in anticipation of success.

They used to play on grass: the new artificial surface at Isthmian League club Whyteleafe

They used to play on grass: the new artificial surface at Ryman League club Whyteleafe

For most teams outside the top flight and in Scotland, the league season gets underway tomorrow, while for others it started last Saturday – Croydon Athletic enjoyed a 3-2 league win at Chessington and Hook.

With a new plastic pitch beneath their feet, Whyteleafe begin their season back in the Ryman League Division 1 South with a home match against Ramsgate. Whyteleafe had a shock in their last encounter, when they lost to Beckenham Town 3-0 in the Southern Counties East equivalent of the Community Shield, but John Fowler’s team will know that it is league points that are most important. Their team is predominantly the one that secured promotion last term and they will be eager to prove themselves.

There will be purists who say that football isn’t football if it isn’t played on grass, but that won’t worry Whyteleafe. Thirty years on from the disastrous experiment with Astroturf pitches at four Football League clubs, the technology is very different and the game is embracing it at all levels. Will it give The Leafe an advantage?

Another local team who are starting in pastures new is Croydon FC. Last season they finished mid-table in the Combined Counties League but the FA’s leagues committee decided that they should enjoy a sideways move to compete this season in the Southern Counties East League (formerly the Kent League).

Croydon have been in this league before. For three seasons between 2006 and 2009 they competed in the Kent League, having been relegated from the Ryman League before that. Then, they had some success, finishing third in their first season before two mid-table finishes. Their last game in that division, however, was winning the final of the Kent League Cup and they’ll be wanting to use that as a benchmark for this season, too.

Croydon open up with a home fixture against Deal Town, who finished last season in 13th place and with only Sevenoaks Town shipping more goals. Trams club chairman Dickson Gill’s Croydon may enjoy some good results in their new division, but given the disruption they have endured in recent times – including losing the majority of their squad to Whyteleafe last year – they will do well if they are in the top eight by the season’s end.

Croydon's non-league sides are set for the new season

Croydon’s non-league sides are set for the new season

The Rams, Croydon Athletic, are away again this Saturday as they travel to play CB Hounslow United seeking to maintain their 100 per cent away record. They have their sights firmly on promotion this season, despite all the distractions of the off-the-field work in getting back to their Mayfield Road.

The other “CR” post code team in Croydon Athletic’s division is Farleigh Rovers, who drew last week with Ash United. Farleigh Rovers finished a good mid-table last season, and should be capable of repeating that kind of performance.

For them, though, the question is will that be good enough? The FA is hovering in the background with questions about whether the Foxes’ ground meets the required grading. If it does not, relegation could follow.

It would be travesty if the FA blazers decide to carry out the threat. Farleigh are not stopping another team being promoted, and their loss would have a knock-on effect for a division that is already only 16 teams strong. It is a worrying time for a club which is well-run and well-able to compete at their level. Farleigh travel to Staines Lammas tomorrow.

Next weekend sees the FA Cup get underway. It may seem only five minutes since Arsenal were lifting the trophy at Wembley, but the 2014-2015 competition needs to get underway. Croydon FC will make the trip to Arundel for their first attempt at cup glory while AFC Croydon Athletic will take on Erith and Belvedere. Neither of these teams will progress much further and both could fall at the first hurdle, but this competition is important, nonetheless.

The players all look forward to playing in the FA Cup. A few may even dream that they might secure the eight – yes, eight – wins needed to have a chance of following Crystal Palace on their journey to the Emirates.

Most important for the clubs, a win in the FA Cup means prize money.

If either the Trams or the Rams manage to get through their Extra Preliminary Round tie then they with collect £1,500 from the prize fund. A win in the next round, when Whyteleafe enter the fray, will see the victors secure £1,950. To teams at the bottom of England’s footballing pyramid, these are significant sums of money when gate receipts for a normal league match are unlikely to reach three figures.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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