Multi-tasker Gill is dreaming of FA Cup giant-killing at Arena

BRIAN GRANVILLE, our non-league football reporter, is up for the cup today

FA CupNON-LEAGUE NEWS: South Norwood’s Croydon Arena is hosting what will likely be Croydon FC‘s biggest game of the season this afternoon.

It is the first qualifying round of the FA Cup against Burgess Hill Town.

There are four qualifying rounds, before the FA Cup’s first round proper in November, with the glamour of January’s third round, including the giants of the Premier League and clubs in the Championship, a tantalising six games away. Barring replays, of course.

Croydon FC’s road to Wembley started at the height of summer in the extra preliminary round at Arundel. There followed an emphatic 4-1 derby success over Epsom and Ewell in the preliminary round, the reward being today’s lucrative cup tie.

The Hillians, as the Sussex club are known, are the early leaders in the division above the Trams in the Isthmian South League.

In these lower non-league rankings, today’s game is the equivalent of a Rotherham United v Chelsea giant-killer’s dream.

The contrast in the size of Croydon and Burgess Hill can be seen in the crowds following the teams. Croydon’s typical attendance of 50 compares with the 717 people who came into the Hillians’ Green Elephant Stadium (yes, that is what it is called) for last Saturday’s Non-League Day.

A crowd bolstered by a contingent of Brighton fans saw Burgess Hill power to the top of the table with a 3-1 win over East Grinstead.

Dickson Gill is Croydon’s multi-tasking chairman, manager and financier. This is as grass-roots as football gets – in the past, the Trams have manned their turnstile with their deputy chairman.

The FA Cup gives Gill the chance to dream of Wembley again, just days after the relative disappointment of a 1-0 defeat to Phoenix Sports in the non-league focused FA Vase.

Croydon FC chairman, manager and chief bottle-washer: the multi-tasking Dickson Gill

Croydon FC chairman, manager and chief bottle-washer: the multi-tasking Dickson Gill

That loss was a frustrating one for Gill, after a four-game unbeaten run, especially bearing in mind that Croydon were 3-2 up with just minutes to go on Saturday and on their way to the next round of the Vase until Phoenix scored a last-gasp equaliser.

As happens too often with Croydon, the team was late in getting to the Barnehurst ground for the midweek replay. “The traffic killed us and the referee was a pain in the arse,” Gill said. “He rushed us through it so we didn’t have a proper warm-up – so we were slow starters.”

Not that Gill was that impressed by the referee’s second half performance,

“I never blame the referee for the goals going in because he didn’t score, but he made a lot, a lot of bad decisions today.

“He ruined the game because they were taking the piss. They’re experienced players, they’re not getting the ball, slowing the game down. The referee said he’ll warn them, but he didn’t. When they kicked the ball away, he did nothing.

“That didn’t cost us the game, but it didn’t help towards it.”

For the financially hard-pressed Croydon FC, success in these early rounds of the FA Cup is important. The football club has to pay Croydon Council £220 for each match played at the run-down Arena. Along with £130 in referees’ fees, the gate receipts come nowhere near covering the match day costs.

The club has already taken £1,500 prize money from its extra preliminary round win and £1,925 from its preliminary round win. £3,000 of winnings is at stake today.

Promotion this season out of the Kent League (formally now known as the “Southern Counties East League”) looks unlikely for Croydon, with just seven points from five league games so far. So a giant-killing effort is doubly important for today in the world’s oldest cup competition in which Croydon has its own proud history, having survived to earn a replay against league opposition in Millwall in the second round in 1979.

Whyteleafe look capable of progressing in their FA Cup first preliminary round game today. They host a non-league club with a more recent story of cup glory: fellow Isthmian South League Hastings United last year went all the way to the third round before being felled by Middlesbrough 4-1 at the Riverside stadium.

John Fowler’s Whyteleafe team are thriving in the Isthmian after last year’s promotion from the Kent League and are favourites to progress today. The Leafe are unbeaten since their trip to millionaire team Guernsey in mid-August and smashed East Grinstead 5-0 at home on Tuesday in front of a 136-strong crowd.

AFC Croydon AthleticCroydon Athletic face their longest league trip of the season today, to Alton Town in their level 10 Combined Counties first division match. Alton Town are struggling to come to terms with their relegation last season while Athletic have got their season well and truly back on track after their 7-3 away win last Saturday at Eversley and California.

There could be problems at Eversley, with player walkouts after the Hampshire club was denied the promotion it won last year because the Combined Counties League are unimpressed with Hart District Council, who will only allow the eccentrically named club to use its floodlights from October 15 to April 1.

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1 Response to Multi-tasker Gill is dreaming of FA Cup giant-killing at Arena

  1. Unfortunately I missed the match, which Burgess Hill Town won narrowly 3-2, but at least Croydon had some reward in the form of a relatively big gate of 105.

    I hadn’t realised that Dickson Gill had become manager yet again! This man deserves an award for his extraordinary, long-term contribution to sport in Croydon.

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