Rams are heading back home after their FA Vase showdown

NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Croydon Athletic face Chessington in the FA Vase tonight in what could be one of their last “home” games that has to be played away. BRIAN GRANVILLE reports

As we enter the third month of the season, one of our local teams, AFC Croydon Athletic, is still waiting to play its first home game.

Despite having played the opening 10 games all away from home, things are looking good as they sit second in their division and on a run of five successive league victories.

Whyteleafe's travelling fans: following local non-league sides often requires dedication

Whyteleafe’s travelling fans: following local non-league sides often requires dedication

The club seems confident that football will return to their Mayfield Stadium home ground within the next few weeks. The major pitch work is now complete and the clock is ticking to the opening game.

Athletic are due to play their first “home” game today. For this, they will use the home of Colliers Wood United as the venue for their FA Vase game against Chessington and Hook United (7.30pm kick-off). Athletic have already beaten Chessington this season, with the odd goal in five. Since then the Rams have risen up the table while Chessington now prop it up. But cup football is notorious for being a leveler, so nothing is being taken for granted.

The Wibbundune Ground that will host this game is not totally unfamiliar to Athletic, as they played there last season in the FA Cup. The result was a disappointing one but it got worldwide notoriety when a player was sent off for dropping his shorts to the referee. Don’t expect a repeat however.

Croydon FC, meanwhile, are finding life in the Southern Counties East League a little testing. They currently sit 16th but have games in hand against most of the teams around them. Their last match saw them travel to league leaders Erith and Belvedere and come away with a creditable 1-1 draw, so their head coach/chairman/chief cook/bottle-washer Dickson Gill will be hopeful that they are turning a corner in their new division.

Off the field, the Trams are also active in generating sponsorship to go with a new look and highly informative website. Having expanded the club with a reserve team as well as a youth and Sunday side, they seem to be building for the future. They still have one eye on what Croydon Council may decide over the proposal to build a secondary school adjacent to Croydon Arena, and the potential improvements such a development could bring to the stadium.

Whyteleafe seem to be going from strength to strength. An unusually dry September avoided any threat of a repeat of their August Bank Holiday disaster when their game on their new all-weather pitch had to be postponed because of rain.

The question before the season was whether the “plastic pitch” would give them an advantage but there is no evidence of that so far. They have secured nine points from their opening six home games while away from Church Road they have 16 points from seven games.

Whyteleafe have risen to all challenges when playing away this season

Whyteleafe have risen to most challenges when playing away from home this season

They are no doubt still getting used to the facilities themselves, which are operated by a Astrosoccer4u. Assuming they have overcome the difficulties that caused the postponement in August then the real benefit will be seen over the coming months as they play games when all around them succumb to the weather.

Farleigh Rovers’ excellent start to the season has hit the skids as they have lost three of their last four games and slipped to fourth place in the league, two points behind Croydon Athletic having played a game more.

Rovers have an enticing encounter this weekend with Bedfont and Feltham, who are so far unbeaten in the league and sit just below the Foxes with games in hand. Three points from this crunch encounter could be the kick-start Farleigh’s season needs.

Croydon, who were beaten in the first qualifying round of the FA Vase, take on Woodstock Sports at Croydon Arena. The Trams will overtake Woodstockin the league table if they secure the win.

Whyteleafe have a derby to look forward to as they take on Redhill at their Church Road ground and will be looking to despatch the bottom-half team to consolidate their position in the play-off places even at this early stage of the season.

Over the last three years, Whyteleafe, Croydon and Farleigh Rovers have all had the experience over boarding a plane to play one of their fixtures. Not something that is common at this level of football. The rise of Guernsey FC through the Combined Counties League and into the Ryman League has been an interesting experience.

Back-to-back promotions for Guernsey were halted in the Ryman League play-offs last season and it appears that some of the novelty has worn off on the island and their attendances have slipped, but they still seem to attract between 800 and 1,100 to a game and that is more than everyone else at this level.

But for the rest of their league opponents, the costs and logistics of a flight to the Channel Island is a regular feature of non-league terrace conversation. The round-trip for a Saturday 1pm kick-off with a 7am rendezvous at Gatwick can be a strain for some teams, not to mention the impact of a midweek fixture on players who also have full-time jobs.

Why is this worthy of mention now? Because their neighbours on Jersey seem to want to follow suit. Jersey FC seems to be the brainchild of Craig Cullkin, the former manager of the Jersey national side. He has gauged business support for the idea and is now in the process of finding out if the Jersey public are behind the venture, too. Jersey FC could easily be competing in the Combined Counties League next season.

There is a question about whether the island is selling itself short. Several years ago the Jersey FA seemed to make it clear that their aspirations were toward UEFA and I am sure a few of their officials will have looked enviously as Gibraltar (with a significantly smaller population) marched out to play Poland in their first European championship qualifier. But Culkin seems determined to follow Guernsey into the English club football pyramid.

Coming to Croydon

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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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