The borough’s grassroots football clubs have had a second season abandoned because of coronavirus, reports ANDREW SINCLAIR
It was seemingly inevitable, but last night the Football Association declared the non-league season below the National League null and void.
It is the second successive season for the likes of Croydon FC, Croydon Athletic and Whyteleafe that has been hit by coronavirus.
New covid-19 guidelines released this week state that sporting events will not have spectators attend before May, and the clubs voted last month by an overwhelming majority to end this season if they could not have some gate money coming in by April.
Non-league clubs survive on shoestring budgets even at the best of times, but they have now gone almost a full year without the modest income that they need from ticket sales and bar takings in the clubhouse.
The leagues did restart in September, but they have been hit by postponements since two further nationwide lockdowns, with many teams not playing a league game since November.
The Southern Counties East Football League, where Croydon and Athletic play, was especially hard hit because so many of its clubs are in Kent and so were subject of strict county-wide lockdown rules even sooner.
“Taking into account the survey results and the ongoing impact of covid-19, which continues to adversely affect incomes for clubs due to restrictions on both spectators and hospitality, the FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees have reached a consensus that subject to the approval of FA Council, the 2020-2021 league season for Steps 3-6… should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season,” the FA said last night.
Unlike in 2019-2020, where a large number of games had been completed, barely a quarter of league fixtures in this latest campaign had been played.
Croydon FC, who harboured hopes of promotion back to the SCEFL Premier Division, were in seventh position in the SCEFL Division One after seven games.
Speaking to Inside Croydon, Trams manager Liam Giles expressed his frustration at seeing another season cut short.
“My preferred outcome would have been to continue the season when it was safe to do so,” Giles said.
“We have had 10 weeks without any football, so I would have liked to continue the season into the summer months to get it completed instead of a long pre-season with countless friendlies. I do, however, appreciate there are restrictions and things that could have made it difficult to continue.
“I’m not sure if it’s the right decision or not but ultimately the decision has been made.
“It’s very frustrating as we have ambitions to return to Step 5. We have worked incredibly hard to stabilise the football club on and off the field and we’re yet to see a real reward for it as we haven’t been able to complete a season.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve managed at Croydon over three seasons but yet to complete one.
“I would like to thank people for the support we have received this year and hopefully we will see people back in our stadium when it’s safe to do so.”
Part of Croydon’s difficulties in the past nine months has been the unplayable state of the pitch and the closure of their home ground, the council-owned Croydon Arena.
The Trams managed to play just one game in their new home at the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace, a dramatic 4-3 comeback win over Athletic Newham in the London Senior Trophy. There have been some noises from the London FA that they would like to play their knock-out cup competitions to a conclusion, which would be a boost for Croydon, who were set to play Peckham Town in the Trophy before the third national lockdown came in.
Croydon Athletic had a far trickier time of it in the SCEFL Premier Division, losing three on the bounce before the league was suspended, finding themselves 18th in the table at the end of the season-that-never-was.
Chairman Paul Smith felt voiding the season was the appropriate course of action. “We haven’t played a first-team game since October and it was clear that there would be no return in time for this season to be completed. The principle of our league season is that all teams play each other twice to determine the top and bottom – to have imposed a reduced structure would not have been satisfactory. It is the right decision.
“It is also important that we know now. We can now plan for the rest of the season and for the first team to start their next season’s campaign for 2021-2022. That certainty is welcome at any club.”
Smith was hopeful that their youth teams will be able to resume action sooner. “This decision doesn’t mean that our under-18 team or junior teams are curtailed. Grassroots and junior football may well continue and we will be looking at this closely.
“We will be liaising with our friends at Balham FC, whose first team and under-18s share with us at the Mayfield Stadium. We have been in touch throughout this lockdown and had positive discussions but we are disappointed that their first season with us has been ended in this way. However, we have already laid plans for next season and are working well together.”
It remains to be seen what sort of financial effect another abandoned season has for the non-league clubs, but Croydon Athletic have confirmed that they’ve already secured further support from the FA that will ensure they are “able to get through and be raring to go next season”.
Whyteleafe, who played just six games in the Isthmian League South East Division, have also had their season left high and dry.
One element left on the table is a restructuring of the non-league pyramid.
This has been mooted for a while but plans have been put on ice since the start of the 2019-2020 season. So although this season has ended early, both Croydon clubs could be in same division again when the next one kicks off.
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