On the eve of ‘Non-League Day’, when the country’s smaller clubs ask fans from Premier League sides to pay them a visit, ANDREW SINCLAIR rounds up the latest news from Croydon FC and Croydon Athletic
Robbed of a shot at their first piece of silverware in decades by an administrative error while struggling to keep their play-off push on track, it’s been a chastening few weeks for Croydon FC.
The Trams had managed to progress as far as the semi-finals of the London Senior Trophy, where they were due to play Hilltop. But they were informed earlier this month that they’d been removed from the competition for fielding two ineligible players in their January quarter-final win over AFC Cubo. It was the scorer of the late winner in that game, Richard Pingling, who proved to be one of the sources of controversy.
The London FA’s rules stipulate that if a player has played more than six games above Step 6 (Croydon’s current level) in a given season, then they are not allowed to play in the Trophy. Croydon’s officials say they were not aware of this.
Pingling began the season for Croydon but played 10 games at Step 4 for East Grinstead Town while on dual registration. The other player, Mo Dabo, had played eight times for Sutton Common Rovers before joining the Trams on loan.
Trams boss Liam Giles said that seeing his side removed from a competition he felt they had a good chance to win had been “a hard pill to swallow”.
“To be honest, it stinks,” Giles told Inside Croydon.
“It’s a poor situation that I feel the London FA have dealt with badly.
“We never cheated. It’s not like we brought in ringers for a one-off game, these are two players still with us and two players who’ve played more games for us than anyone else this season.”
Giles points out that Croydon offered to replay the game, without the two players in question and covering all the costs, but were told that they’d lost a vote and been removed from the competition. They’ve now discovered that the rule that was applied to them so strictly will be removed from next season’s competition.
“To have the chance of silverware snatched away because of a rule we were unaware of is demoralising for me and the players. Remember, we were in the semi-finals of the Hospitals Cup in the first covid-hit season, and we never got to finish that either. It’s just so frustrating to be so close again and yet so far.”
AFC Cubo, reinstated to the competition in Croydon’s place, comfortably beat Hilltop 3-1 and will now meet Lewisham Borough in the final.
For Pingling, it’s been a wretched few weeks. His season was finished when he suffered a horrible injury in a game, dislocating and fracturing his ankle, requiring urgent surgery.
This was where life as a non-league footballer gets hard: Pingling is self-employed, and so faced a period off work, with no income to help support his young family. Croydon boss Giles and the club stepped in and had a whip-round for the player – 2022 style, through a crowdfunder – and, to underline the club’s community spirit, they soon doubled their original target raising more than £2,000.
In the league, the momentum the club picked up from an unbeaten run in January and February stalled after back-to-back defeats to table-toppers Sutton Athletic and Lewisham in early March. A point from last weekend’s trip to Rochester United leaves the Trams eight points off the play-off places with eight games to go.
Having been one of the pre-season favourites to feature in this year’s promotion picture, Giles says he’d consider missing out on the play-offs “a failed season”.
He said, “I worked tirelessly over the summer to recruit what I felt was the right group to win the division. We started well but unfortunately we didn’t keep the group together and were hit with an injury crisis that saw us have 11 out from November through to January.
“I just feel like we’ve had no luck this year, particularly during the tougher moments.
“Ultimately it comes down to us. We haven’t been consistent enough throughout the course of the season.”
There are a maximum of 24 points left available to Croydon and although they have games in hand on some of their rivals, they need results soon. The first of those will have to come on Saturday, “Non-League Day”, away against Faversham Strike Force.
Non-League Day is the annual celebration of all that’s great about grassroots football, with fans encouraged to take advantage of the international break for the Premier League to watch their local sides in action.
Every side wants to pick up a win on a day typically marked by higher attendances but Giles is also looking for something else – an improved standard of officiating after a frustrating afternoon at Rochester last weekend.
“We have watched back the video of the game and the amount of times the flag goes up wrongly and late tackles go unpunished is frightening.
“One of our players, Kieran Rufus, was through after the beating the last man. He got cynically brought down but the ref just waved play on and the lino kept his flag down. How’s that right?
“I get that it’s a tough job and I know we are short of officials across the board but they’re ruining the game for me. We have to be accountable for our actions and I feel officials, like players and management, should watch video back to help them improve. Nobody is perfect but all of us can improve and strive to be better in whatever we do.”
Across the borough at Croydon Athletic, a successful trip to Guildford City has seemingly ensured their place in the Combined Counties Premier Division South for another season.
Although the bottom two in the division were originally doomed to the drop, manager Kevin Rayner has told Inside Croydon that a rule change (another one) means that only one side will be going down. The 3-1 win over Rayner’s former club Guildford takes the Rams 13 points clear of bottom-of-the-table Molesey, who only have four games, and therefore a maximum of 12 points, left to play for.
“The rule change we’ve heard about does take the pressure off but, to be honest, we’ve not been looking at the table too much or thinking about it like that,” Rayner said.
Going into the game with Guildford, Athletic had only one away win all season, but you’d never have known that from their performance. Fuelled by two effective corners from Jermaine Green and a rocket strike from record appearance maker Nahum Green, the Rams led 3-1 at the break. Although they’ve been guilty of conceding late thoroughout the season, they dug in and kept the scoreline that way until the final whistle, an impressive rearguard action seeing them over the line for what was just a fifth league win of the campaign.
Added to a resounding 4-0 win over Molesey in late February and an impressive home draw against Jersey Bulls, who’d beaten them 6-0 in January, the Rams now find themselves seven points clear of the bottom two with seven games left to play.
“Our performances have been much, much better,” Rayner said.
“We’ve played three of the top sides recently and pushed them all the way. You can only take that as a positive.”
The Rams travel to Fleet Town tomorrow.
Balham, who share Athletic’s Mayfield Stadium home, have slipped to 14th in the table after a run of results that’s seen them register only one point, and score just a solitary goal, in their last four league games. That goal came in their most recent defeat, a 5-1 defeat to Beckenham Town.
Sat 26th Mar: SCEFL Div 1 v Faversham (A)
Tue 29th Mar: SCEFL Div 1 v Kent (A)
Sat 2nd Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Bridon Ropes (H)
Wed 6th Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Forest Hill Park (A)
Sat 9th Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Thamesmead (H)
Fri 15th Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Greenways (A)
Mon 18th Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Westside (H)
Sat 23rd Apr: SCEFL Div 1 v Meridian (A)
Sat 26th Mar: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Fleet T (A)
Tue 29th Mar: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Redhill (A)
Sat 2nd Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Farnham T (H)
Tue 5th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Raynes Park Vale (A)
Mon 18th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Balham (H)
Sat 23rd Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Frimley Green (A)
Sat 26th Mar: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Guildford C (H)
Wed 30th Mar: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Jersey Bulls (A)
Sat 2nd Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Raynes Park Vale (A)
Tue 5th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Redhill (H)
Sat 9th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Knaphill (H)
Tue 12th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Banstead A (A)
Sat 16th Apr: Combined Counties Prem Div S v Molesey (H)
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