NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Any dreams that Croydon FC might have had of an FA Cup run taking them all the way to Wembley next May, however fanciful, have been cruelly snuffed out before a ball is even kicked in the new non-league season.
It is the second cruel blow that the borough’s oldest non-league club has suffered in a week, on top of the realisation that they won’t be able to play any fixtures at their home ground at least until October, because of uncertainty from Croydon Council over when – if ever – Croydon Arena will reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.
The Trams’ fans got the bad news about the FA Cup on Monday, as they have effectively been squeezed out of the world’s oldest knock-out cup competition by rising demand.
With so many clubs from Tier 10 applying to play in the cup, the FA had to conduct a ballot of entrants likely to play in their extra preliminary round – due to be played in the first week of September. And when all the numbered balls had been drawn from the velvet bag (or whatever it is that the FA officials use for this process at their Wembley offices these days), Croydon FC was not among them.
It is a fate that Croydon have rarely suffered before, and was determined by their failure to win promotion out of the South East Counties League first division in the aborted 2019-2020 season.
Last week, Liam Giles, the Trams’ manager, spoke warmly about the FA Cup, saying it is “massive for this level of football”.
He was expecting a cup tie on Tuesday September 1 to be Croydon’s first fixture of the new season, following the frustrations of the covid-19 curtailed previous term. “It’s adding a bit of extra excitement that our first game is in the FA Cup,” Giles said, before Monday’s disappointing news.
It is a little more than 40 years since Croydon’s proudest day in the club’s history, when they reached the FA Cup second-round proper and, in front of nearly 10,000 fans at Selhurst Park, they got a draw against Millwall in December 1979. Millwall won the replay at The Den.
The last time Croydon missed out on playing in the FA Cup altogether was season 1971-1972.
Croydon Athletic, the borough’s other non-league side, and their new groundshare tenants Balham FC, are both in the draw for the extra-preliminary round, which will take place on August 18.
Because of the pressures on the season caused by coronavirus, there will be no replays in FA Cup qualifying round ties. And the impact of the pandemic has been felt in reduced prize money, too: Athletic and Balham’s prize money, if they were to win their first cup-tie, will be less than last season, at £1,125.
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