NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Stranger things have happened, but as our football correspondent BRIAN GRANVILLE reports, there can rarely have been a time when the two local sides were enjoying such a buoyant start to the season
Speak it softly and savour it while it lasts, but:
we are top of the league!
One month into the new season and Croydon’s non-league teams sit in the top two places in the Kent League – these days branded as the less-than-snappy “Southern Counties East Football League Premier League”.
This is little short of transformational for Croydon’s clubs.
Top of the pile, with four wins from their first five games, including three valuable away victories, is AFC Croydon Athletic, founded just four years ago and who were only promoted to this division last season after enduring the traumas and scandals that the club’s predecessors had suffered under its previous ownership.
And just one point behind them, unbeaten in their opening fixtures and with an impressive goal difference is Croydon FC, a side who might have been relegated last season had the usual two clubs suffered the drop.
Athletic, under new manager Kevin Rayner, have had the benefit of Warren Mfula’s prolific scoring, the striker contributing six goals so far this season.
Croydon FC, under stalwart Dickson Gill, have had winger James Fray and striker Jeff Duah-Kessie in dominating form so far in the league.
Chevan Xavier collected his first goal for Athletic when he opened the scoring at Crowborough Athletic at the weekend, while Mfula doubled his side’s lead, and Athletic held on for the win despite conceding a late penalty.
Crowborough travel to South Norwood and the Croydon Arena tomorrow evening to play Croydon FC (7.45pm kick-off), when the borough’s longest established non-league side has the chance to leapfrog their local rivals at the top of the division.
Croydon had gone into their game at third-placed Cray Valley on Saturday as league leaders, and they controlled the game early on. But the unlucky Harry Brockham turned an awkward incoming free kick into his own net in the 63rd minute to give the home side the lead. Four minutes later, Cray’s goalkeeper was placed under so much pressure by Duah-Kessie that Tristan Toney put the keeper’s parry into the net to preserve the Trams’ unbeaten league record.
Athletic are in action at Mayfield Road tomorrow night, against Fisher. It is the first of three consecutive home games for the Rams, which could see them increase their advantage at the top of the table.
Athletic’s recent run of success has seen Croydon council leader Tony Newman jump on the bandwagon with gushing messages on social media – the Rams’ club chairman is Newman’s old friend and former council colleague, Paul Smith.
Newman has been keeping it quiet that he is a lifelong Fulham fan. But then he has a bit of a track record of supporting non-local teams: Croydon FC are based in Woodside, the council ward he represents; Newman’s new-found football enthusiasm is being brandished for a club which has its roots in Wandsworth and Norwood, and which now has its home ground in Thornton Heath.
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