For Croydon’s non-League football, that means it’s already time to dream of Wembley, even before last season’s FA Cup finalists have kicked off there again in this season’s Charity Shield.
Both Croydon’s clubs face tough FA Cup away trips to the Kent coast for Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs against fellow teams from the Southern Counties East League Premier Division. Starting the season with the FA Cup is not all-together popular with some of the teams, and is a controversial topic among their supporters.
Croydon FC’s expectations are high, despite being smashed 7-0 when they last travelled to Whitstable Town in the league back in March. The Croydon Arena-based club goes in to this FA Cup extra preliminary backed by a new board and management structure.
Kinetic, through their charity the Kinetic Foundation, have taken over and new chairman Martin Burr is working with a strong first-team management structure of Harry Hudson, Adam Knight and Calum McFarlane, with John Cumberbatch returning after steering Croydon from relegation last season. Andy Hillburn, who was key to keeping the show on the road after the departure of club legend Dickson Gill mid-season, remains on the board to give a little bit of continuity.
Kinetic intend to draw talent from their youth football business and blend it with established players to transform the club’s status. “It has been an amazing off-season and I am grateful for all the hard work that has been acheived by the current staff and the volunteers,” Burr said.
The club has had good cup form in recent years to bolster confidence. A 6-0 pre-season win in the rain against a Barnet XI on Wednesday night also helps.
One player who has not stayed on though is long-standing goalkeeper Francis Ameyaw, who has gone across the borough to join Croydon Athletic’s squad, where he hopes to be their Pink Panther. The keeper’s garish all-pink kit was much mocked by the Athletic fans when Ameyaw last played against them in the non-league derby last term.
A local online poll has AFC and FC on level pegging to be placed higher in the league this year, with expectations very high at the Croydon Arena.
Players have been in training three times a week since mid-June and there have been many more pre-season friendlies than usual. There is talk of promotion in a year when non-league restructuring might lead to two, rather than just one, teams going up to a larger Isthmian League in 2018-2019.
A 5-0 friendly drubbing at the hands of Isthmian side Corinthian Casuals, though, suggests that promotion talk may be premature in a league that is very difficult to exit.
The council-owned Arena is also still a difficult venue at which to make a success of things. Though the entrance and turnstiles give a good impression after the investment that came with the new secondary school built next door, the remoteness of the pitch behind a running track gives the place a desolate, East German communist-era football feel.
Croydon Athletic, by contrast, have a tight, friendly-feeling ground at Mayfield Road. They have not had much recent success in the FA Cup, with chairman Paul Smith, a former councillor, patiently rebuilding the club to be a strong league side.
They hope to change their FA Cup experience tomorrow at Sheppey United, who finished just one place above them in the league last season. Just three wins in eight friendlies suggest they face a tough task out on the Isle tomorrow.
Though they have lost last season’s leading scorer from the squad, Kevin Rayner’s side does already have some silverware safely in the club cupboard having held on to the Johnny Johnson Memorial Cup on Monday, when three first-half goals from Nahum Green, Ehis Izokun and Jamal Jimoh saw a Bromley XI overcome without reply, suggesting that goals will not be a problem this season.
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