The borough’s longest established non-league football club is threatening to withhold its hire fees from Croydon Council over the poor state of the pitch at Croydon Arena.
Officials from opposition clubs who have played Croydon FC in the opening week of the season have described the state of the pitch as “not up to the standard required at our level of football”, and “a danger and a risk of serious injury to our players”.
Croydon FC are charged £250 per match for ground hire, but the club was savage in its criticism of the state of the pitch at their own home ground in its programme notes ahead of its FA Cup tie on Saturday.
“It’s not fit to play a game of tiddly winks on,” was one remark following Saturday’s Extra-preliminary Round match between Croydon and Tunbridge Wells, which ended in a 2-2 draw – with a replay in Kent tomorrow night.
The previous week, when Lordswood were 2-1 winners of the opening league fixture of the Southern Counties East League season, played at the Arena under broiling August sun, their players and the match referee and linesmen could not even have a shower after the game because the facilities were not working.
Richard Styles, the Lordswood manager, said, “That was the worst pitch for a first game of the season I have ever experienced.”
Most footballers expect their pitches for the start of the season to be at their prime, well-seeded, watered and lush with grass after a summer of careful attention by groundkeepers.
Croydon Arena, of course, is used through the summer months for athletics meetings and other events. Yet even Croydon Harriers have been forced to complain about the neglected state of facilities and equipment at the council-owned venue following a recent track meeting staged there.
Since April, the management of the sports facilities has been in the hands of contractors Greenwich Leisure Limited, who operate without irony under the trading name “Better”.
The drought-like conditions through the long, hot summer have obviously not helped the state of the Croydon Arena pitch. But with no hose pipe ban in force, there appears to be no excuses for the infield area at Croydon Arena not to have been well-watered, re-seeded over the summer and for divots and holes in the pitch to have been filled and rolled.
“It is in terrible condition, really awful,” Styles said. “There are holes and there are mounds without grass on them. I had four operations on my knees over my career, and watching that game I had a real fear of injury to our players, their knees and ankles, when we played on it.
“Croydon is a very big club in our league, and they always have lots of young, skilful players. Playing on a pitch like that can’t help them at all. It must be really de-motivating for them.”
Stephen Tyler, the Croydon FC programme editor, remarked on Saturday that other grounds owned and operated by other councils are maintained to a much better standard. “Why can Croydon not do the same?
“My view is that the council just doesn’t care as sport wins them no votes. The history of the game in this borough is littered with sports grounds that have been built upon and lost forever.”
With no prospect of an immediate improvement, the possibility of withholding the hire charges – amounting to £750 after three games in the space of a week – because the council has failed to deliver adequate facilities is even being considered.
Playing in the SCEFL Premier Division does carry with it some minimum standards in terms of ground facilities, and after the Lordswood league game and Tunbridge Wells cup match, Styles suggests that Croydon Arena may be subject to an urgent review. “If you can’t provide showers on one of the hottest days of the year for the referee… you know the officials are going to be the first to put in a complaint.”
On Saturday, Croydon fought back from being two goals down against the doctors, architects and lawyers of Tunbridge Wells, thanks to a pair of strikes from Tre Daley, his second just three minutes from the end of normal time forcing tomorrow night’s replay.
Another of Croydon’s non-league teams is already safely through to the next round of the cup.
Croydon Athletic won an FA Cup tie for the first time in the phoenix club’s history, beating a sub-standard Rochester United 5-0 through goals by Abbas Agoro (2), Sam Butler, Junior Kaffo and a last-minute own goal.
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