MARCUS TYLER wraps up the local non-league football season, and reports on how significant re-organisation will affect local clubs
Croydon FC have undergone a transitional, and transformational, year, as a new broom swept through the club in the guise of chairman, Martin Burr, and their partnership with local football academy the Kinetic Foundation.
That partnership enabled The Trams to draw on the highly successful production line of exciting young footballing talent that Kinetic has identified and developed. In just six years since Kinetic was formed, they have seen more than 25 players become professional footballers with league clubs.
The result for Croydon FC this season was a youthful team, awash with raw talent which earned them a creditable fifth place finish in the Southern Counties East League, football’s ninth tier.
It was a mixed bag of results in the Cups – reaching the quarter-final of the London Senior Cup probably stood out, where SCEFL rivals and cup-holders Cray Valley saw them off 3-2; Cray Valley went on the contest the final again (where they lost 4-1 to Balham).
Lauris Chin was Croydon’s 20-goal-a-season striker. The arrival of Ashley-Paul Robinson, who scored seven goals for the club yet only joined a month before the end of the season, bodes well for next season.
The team did flirt with a promotion run at the mid-point of the season but tailed off. On reflection, coach Harry Hudson will be reasonably content with the top-five finish – amassing 65 points and winning 20 games.
Local rivals Croydon Athletic saw their form tail off as the season drew to a close – their 13th-place finish in the Southern Counties East League representing a so-so year after their record-breaking finish last season.
It local rivalries count for much at this level, it was honours even in Croydon Classicos with The Rams avenging an early season 2-0 defeat to The Trams with a 3-1 victory in December.
Athletic reached the third round of the SCEFL Challenge Cup, narrowly missing out on a place in the quarter finals losing 3-2 to Crowborough Athletic.
Their top scorer race was Luis Viera-Medina, with 16 goals in the league and Cup. Emanuel Oloyede scored 14 goals.
The area’s most senior club, Whyteleafe, enjoyed a comfortably solid season in the Isthmian League South, finishing eighth, just outside the play-off places, winning 20 and drawing 13 of their long, 46-game league season.
Coaches John Scarborough and Paul Dale will be pleased with the way their players have progressed over the season. Stability is something that Whyteleafe have found – an ingredient which is much-needed at this level of English football.
But a strong supporter base and well-run club can be exposed – spare a thought for Dulwich Hamlet, one of the biggest clubs in non-league football with a long and proud history, who finished the season locked out of their Champion Hill ground as a result of business decisions of property developers.
Four times winners of the FA Amateur Cup, Dulwich had not won the Isthmian League title since 1949. But having finished the season as division runners-up, last week the homeless Hamlet had the last laugh over their ground’s owners, as on a broiling Bank Holiday the south Londoners managed to win a promotion play-off on penalties.
So 125 years since the club was formed, Hamlet will spend next season in the National League South for the first time in their history.
Next season promises to be one of change all-round for local non-league clubs.
The Football Association has announced its reorganisation down as far as Step 4, where Whyteleafe play in the Isthmian South division. The re-jig has been devised to reduce the size of the divisions, so that there are fewer midweek matches: the snowy weather in February this year saw some clubs with horrendous fixture back-logs, and part-time players being expected to take days off work as the clubs tried to squeeze in three, sometimes four, matches in a week.
So from August, the Isthmian League – currently a Premier Division with North and South feeder leagues – will have three regional divisions of 20, rather than 24, clubs.
The three Isthmian regional leagues will now be divided into North, South Central and South East; South Central will have the most transferred teams, including some from outside the current Isthmian League structure.
Whyteleafe find themselves in the South East division, with lots of trips into Kent to visit the following teams: Ashford United, Cray Wanderers, East Grinstead Town, Faversham Town, Greenwich Borough, Guernsey, Hastings United, Haywards Heath Town, Herne Bay, Horsham, Hythe Town, Phoenix Sports, Ramsgate, Sevenoaks Town, Sittingbourne, Thamesmead Town, Three Bridges, VCD Athletic, Whitstable Town.
Reorganisation details for Step 5 – where Croydon Athletic and Croydon FC play – will come later in the month.
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