NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL: Forget transfer deadline day, for the area’s amateur clubs, this weekend is one of the biggest of their season.
By ANDREW SINCLAIR
There’s a wave of fresh optimism down at Croydon Arena this week, as Croydon FC, the borough’s longest established non-league club, picks itself up from the third break-in at their clubhouse in just six months.
As well as the encouraging levels of support from the south London football community – National League side Dulwich Hamlet are the latest to make a generous donation towards the repair fund after their midweek game – things have been looking very good on the pitch, too, and after a promising pre-season campaign, the Trams were buoyed by a 4-0 opening league victory over Rochester United last Saturday, with Andy Somo scoring a hat-trick and goalkeeper Adam Ballard saving a second-half penalty.
Buoyed by that, on Saturday Croydon start their FA Cup campaign.
Yes, it’s only August 10, and before some of the Premier League sides have managed to kick a ball in anger, but the Trams will be on the cup trail, playing in the Extra Preliminary round where they will take on Southern Combination Premier Division side Horsham YMCA at Gorings Mead in sunny Sussex.
The Trams have a good recent record in the FA Cup, progressing to at least the Preliminary round for the last six seasons. Their best run in that period came in the 2015-2016 season, when they beat Sutton Common Rovers, Tunbridge Wells and Molesey before falling to Brentwood Town in the Second Qualifying round.
Despite enduring a difficult campaign last season, when Croydon won just three league games and were relegated from the Southern Counties East League Premier Division, Liam Giles’s side will go into the game at Horsham with renewed confidence.
Even the celebrated third round of the Cup in January seems a very way long way off at this stage, never mind talk of Wembley, but the borough’s non-league sides do not under-estimate the importance to them of the FA Cup, in terms of much-needed hard cash as much as the competition’s much-talked-about “romance”.
Although the money on offer at this early stage of the competition may seem like the small change from a Premier League player’s night out, it can make a real difference to a club for the whole season. The winners of Saturday’s Extra Preliminary round ties pick up £2,250, and their progress guarantees them at least a further £960 in the next round. The losers, meanwhile, receive just £750 and are forced to postpone their Wembley dream for another year.
Replays still figure at this stage of the competition and are scheduled for next Wednesday, August 14 if required. Croydon – whose best FA Cup run was 40 years ago when they made it to the Second Round proper in 1979 – will be confident of their chances at Horsham, who they beat 2-1 away in their only previous cup tie, in 2005. Horsham have failed to progress from the Extra Preliminary round in five of the last eight seasons. They lost 4-1 on the opening day of the season to Little Common.
For the winners of Saturday’s match, a home tie against Egham Town or Lancing awaits in the Preliminary round on August 24.
It’s been a bit of a traumatic week for local rivals Croydon Athletic, who had to abandon their league game at Mayfield Road on Tuesday night because of a serious injury to Jordan-Boateng Anderson, who had to leave the ground by ambulance.
Fortunately, Anderson was well enough to be out of hospital by yesterday morning, but the shock of the sight of paramedics on the pitch will have been unsettling for all.
The Rams have a home cup tie on Saturday against Hellenic League Premier Division side Virginia Water. Since the club was reformed in 2012, last season was their best FA Cup run, with Kevin Rayner’s side beating Rochester and Hanworth Villa before losing in the First Qualifying round to Uckfield.
Athletic started the new season on Saturday with a draw, Jon Paoluccio and Khalid Babikir scoring in the last 10 minutes to help the club twice come from behind to snatch a point away at Bearsted.
Saturday’s winners will travel to Isthmian League South East Division side Herne Bay in the next round.
One local side who will have one eye firmly on this weekend’s proceedings are Whyteleafe, who enter the competition at the Preliminary round away to either Cray Valley Paper Mills or Chatham Town.
Whyteleafe, managed by former Croydon FC boss Harry Hudson, had an FA Cup campaign to forget last time round, being expelled from the competition in the First Qualifying round after fielding an ineligible player in their replay win over Corinthian-Casuals.
They have yet to begin their league campaign, and have their final pre-season game on Saturday, when they host South Park at Church Road, where they will be aiming to bounce back from last weekend’s 6-0 defeat in a friendly against Worthing.
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