NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Croydon FC fear dire consequences over the poor lighting at their council-owned ground, while Athletic try to get over a crucial game where six players were sent off. ANDREW SINCLAIR reports
Croydon FC’s brightish start to the season is under threat of a black-out if something is not done, urgently, about the dim floodlights at Croydon Arena.
Sources at the club say the situation is approaching “crisis point”.
Clubs at all levels of the football pyramid, even Croydon’s relatively lowly Tier 10 in the Southern Counties East Football League Division One, are required to play their matches in conditions where the players can at least see the ball, and each other. And ever since the clocks went back to Greenwich Mean Time last month, there’s been a need to use floodlights for all competitive matches, even Saturday afternoon 3pm kick-offs.
But according to one senior club official at the Trams, despite repeated requests to the operating company that runs the council-owned Croydon Arena, nothing has been done to replace dead or faulty bulbs on the grounds’ floodlight pylons.
“It is now reaching crisis point,” one source at the club has told Inside Croydon.
“The two track pylons behind the goals appear to have adequate light. But those covering the field of play do not. And there seems to be no interest in actually rectifying the problems.”
There has been an issue at the Arena since mid-summer, when the venue was being prepared for use by the public, including the athletes of Croydon Harriers as well as Croydon FC’s footballers, for the first time since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.
The venue operators, Greenwich Leisure Ltd, who manage all the council’s sports centres and pools, were warned in the summer that the current array of working lights would be unlikely to pass muster even for the light gradings operated in the SCEFL. If a ground does not comply with the league’s standards, the ultimate sanction is for the club to be kicked out of the division.
After months of delays, the football club was told that the work on the floodlights would be done before the end of October. When the work was not carried out, GLL claimed that the bulbs needed had not arrived.
“They’re taking the club for more rides than London Transport,” the club source said.
“We are now a few more weeks down the line and still nothing.
“The situation is going to come to a head when a referee either refuses to start or abandons a fixture because of inadequate floodlighting on health and safety grounds.”
On the pitch, Croydon have slipped to fifth place in the table after a run of four league games without a win, a sequence which finally ended last weekend with a morale-boosting 3-0 win against Meridian.
Trams boss Liam Giles said: “There wasn’t a really any relief with the result, as it was a game I expected us to win, but I was relieved to get a clean sheet because it’s been some time since we last had one.”
A bright spot during that difficult run was the form of Richard Pingling. The former Burnley and Wimbledon winger’s six goals in three games took his tally for the season to nine goals in 13 league games.
But Croydon will have to continue their promotion push without Pingling, though, as he’s accepted a move to eighth-tier side East Grinstead.
“It’s always going to be a blow losing such a good player and someone who is in such good form,” Giles said. “Personally, I feel he should have stayed until at least Christmas, continuing to score goals and getting his numbers up, as he should be attracting bigger moves than the one he’s taken, with all respect to East Grinstead.”
With injuries to key players a continuing worry, Giles has been introducing some yunger players into his first team, as well as organising some transfers of his own. Kay Conteh and Owen Davies have been drafted in to provide extra defensive depth, while Eldi Baze looks to be both a replacement for Pingling and one of their most fascinating additions. After moving to London from Albania to study, Baze has already found his stride with Croydon, scoring against Meridian and picking up two assists in his first four appearances.
Croydon’s game against table-toppers Stansfeld in early December could shed more light on the Trams’ promotion hopes.
Over at Croydon Athletic, what looks like turning into a season-long relegation struggle has not been helped by a referee abandoning a match earlier this month after a “fracas” broke out on the pitch involving the majority of players from both clubs’ squads.
The normally calm Rams boss Kevin Rayner was left “fuming” following the abandonment of the game at Raynes Park Vale on November 13.
“An incident happened in front of their bench. Their player started it and, being honest, our right-back retaliated and he should have been sent off,” Rayner said.
“However, within seconds the whole of their bench were on the pitch. Eventually, the ref decided to red card six players. In truth, it could have been 20.
“It was a ridiculous situation and unfortunately we now have four big players sat at home as a consequence.”
The game was 2-2 with Raynes Park at the point that the referee scrapped the fixture, a scoreline which if it had stayed that way to 90minutes would have given Athletic a vital point in their relegation battle.
Having taken only one point from their last three league games, Rayner’s men sit 18th in the Combined Counties Premier Division South, just four points above the relegation zone.
Their next game, at home this Saturday against a Banstead Athletic side rooted to the bottom of the table, is the definition of a six-pointer.
Athletic might struggle to get much from their next three games, which are against three of the division’s top five clubs.
“Saturday is a big game and unfortunately we will have four or five missing,” Rayner said. “We’ve only lost once to a side in the bottom 10 and I’m sure we’ll get up the table soon. We’ve been better at home and we haven’t lost since August at home, so we need to keep that going.”
Rayner will be hoping for more of the kind of performances produced in midweek in the Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup. Athletic were leading 3-2 at half-time in their second-round tie against Ascot United, but were already down to nine men.
The Rams not only held on, but actually finished 5-3 victors, sealing their spot in the quarter-finals of the competition thanks to a Man of the Match performance from goalkeeper Christian Klass.
Balham will have the chance to join Croydon Athletic in the last eight of the Challenge Cup when they meet Badshot Lea in their second-round game on December 8.
Athletic’s groundshare partners have risen to 14th in the league table after three wins from their last six games. They have also booked their spot in the last 16 of the Surrey Senior Cup thanks to a 4-2 win over Knaphill.
AFC Croydon Athletic
Sat 27th Nov: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Banstead Ath (H)
Tue 30th Nov: Surrey Senior Cup v Lingfield (H)
Sat 4th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Knaphill (A)
Sat 11th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Horley T (H)
Sat 18th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Redhill (A)
Mon 27th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Beckenham T (H)
Sat 4th Dec: SCEFL Div 1 v Stansfeld (A)
Sat 11th Dec: SCEFL Div 1 v Chessington & Hook Utd (H)
Sat 18th Dec: SCEFL Div 1 v Snodland T (A)
Sat 27th Nov: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Frimley Green (A)
Sat 4th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Walton & Hersham (H)
Wed 8th Dec: Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup v Badshot Lea (H)
Tue 14th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Banstead Ath (A)
Sat 18th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Horley T (H)
Mon 27th Dec: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Cobham (A)
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