NON-LEAGUE NEWS: End of an era at Croydon Arena, as the manager who helped pull the club together after crisis-hit years has announced he is stepping down. ANDREW SINCLAIR with a round-up on another tough season for the Trams, Rams, Balham and the rise of new side AFC Whyteleafe
With promotion hopes dashed, Liam Giles is to stand down as manager of Croydon FC after this Saturday’s final game of the season.
Giles announced his, and assistant manager, John Gladwin’s, decision following their side’s 3-1 defeat at Greenways on Good Friday – the duo’s 99th game in charge of the Trams.
Croydon’s promotion push stuttered through March, with Giles’s side going three games without a goal and losing two of those matches at Croydon Arena.
Giles made his announcement on social media “with heavy heart”, but in an exclusive interview with Inside Croydon admits that his decision had been coming for some time.
“I was brought in to try and steady a sinking ship and bring stability on the field,” Giles wrote in his tweeted announcement on Friday. “I feel I have achieved that and much more off the field but ultimately I am disappointed not to get the club promoted back to Step 5.”
It’s been a tough couple of years for many in non-league football, with this 2021-2022 season being the first full season since 2018-2019, after two pandemic-affected campaigns.
Croydon’s chairman, Gavin English, yesterday formally advertised for a manager to take over and guide their squad through another season in the Southern Counties East Football League Div 1.
Speaking to Inside Croydon, Giles said: “I’ve been considering going for a little while. When we went on that tough run in November I was actually approached by another club, a Step 5 club, but the time wasn’t right. I didn’t want to leave with unfinished business, especially with this being a club that’s in my heart.
“I always said that if we didn’t get promoted this year, it’d be my last as manager. I think my professionalism and the effort I put in deserves to be working at a higher level. I think my time at Step 6 is over and I want to further my career by working in the higher divisions, so Step 4 or 5.
“Our home form has been dreadful. I don’t what it is but there seems to be something about this place – we’ve lost more times here than we have away this year. We’ve lost to Forest Hill, who are bottom of the league, drawn with Chessington who are second bottom and been beaten by Lydd, who are down there too. If we’d won those games, we’d be in the play-offs.
“Losing Richard Pingling and JP Rylah for large chunks of the season was our biggest downfall, though. We had 11 players out injured at one point, but those two were our go-to men. Every team has players like that but the difference for us is that ours were out and theirs have been there all the way through.”
Giles and Gladwin have been at the helm at the South Norwood club since 2019 but this is the first season they’ve actually managed to reach the end of after the last two were abandoned partway through.
“It’s been weird, it really has. John and I have spent three years managing the club we grew up playing for, the club that’s next to where we went to school, but have had a lot of that time taken away.
“After the first two covid-hit seasons, it was hard to go again for both of us.
“It felt like what we did was for nothing and I’m someone that’s all or nothing.”
Alongside promotion, one of Giles’ aims was to end the club’s long wait for silverware. While they made two semi-finals, circumstances conspired against them on both occasions – the semi-finals of the 2020 Hospitals Charity Cup were never played because the season got abandoned and Croydon got scratched from the 2022 London Senior Trophy last four after breaching an eligibility rule.
Giles notes several highlights during his and Gladwin’s time in charge, including the establishment of the club’s Youtube channel, Trams TV. Ultimately, for his most memorable game in charge, he settled on the only competitive game his side got to play during their lease of the National Sports Centre in 2020.
“Coming from 3-0 down with 20 minutes to go to win 4-3 in that venue with the biggest crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here. The scenes that day were incredible and the videos of the celebrations were great. It might have only been 200 or so people, but it sounded more like 2,000!”
For most Trams fans, and less partial observers, the state of the club has undergone a significant turnaround since Giles’s arrival three years ago. “When we walked in there were between six and 20 regular fans. I came to watch a game the year they got relegated and there was no connection between them and the club.
“There were no fans in the bar afterwards and there was no real mixing with players and management. That was the first thing I wanted to change when I came in, to bring a family feel.
“I worked the first 18 months without a chairman after Mark Hudson left. The jobs I’ve done, even simple things like collecting the kit, washing the kit, putting my own money in to buy things for the club myself, securing the initial sponsorship from Cemplas, it’s been crazy.
“I believe that the work John and I have put in off the pitch has been bigger than on it.”
Giles remains optimistic about Croydon FC’s future. “The club is in a much better place than when I took over. They’ve got a board in now with a proper vision for the future.
“It’s not an easy fix, the club hasn’t got loads of money but I genuinely don’t see why the club can’t be pushing up the divisions in a couple of years.”
The Trams ended their dreadful home run in their final run-out of the season at Croydon Arena, with stand-in goalkeeper Taylor Maddock keeping a clean sheet as Ollie Beauchamp’s 54th-minute strike saw them edge out Westside.
They’ll be looking to seal seventh place on Saturday when they face already-relegated Meridian in Giles’ 101st and final game in charge.
Croydon Athletic went into their final few games of the Combined Counties League Premier Division South season with the pressure off after a rule change meant that only one side, rather than the initially advertised two, would be relegated.
The Rams in any case picked up seven points from their last six games to finish 18th in their first season in the division.
Although this season has made it to a proper conclusion, it hasn’t been without significant pandemic-related issues for Kevin Rayner’s squad.
“It’s good to have more or less finished now to be honest,” Rayner said.
“It was almost like we had a pre-season within the season because we were badly affected by the virus and went six weeks without a game.
“As you’d expect, it took a while after that for us to get fit and firing again but I was never going to panic.
“I’ve been around this game long enough to know that we would be fine. We’ve had everyone back in the last two months and unsurprisingly our performances and results have picked up accordingly.
“We are already planning and looking forward to next season. We will have a squad strong enough to be competing and will be in the top half of the table for sure next year.”
Rayner is hoping that the club can continue their improved run of performances into their final game of the campaign, an away trip to Frimley Green, on Saturday.
On Easter Monday, the Rams lost their final home game of the season against groundshare partners Balham, after Athletic’s record appearance-maker, Nahum Green, had a goal ruled out in the first half before Balham nicked a winner in the second.
Greg Cruttwell’s men had put together a run of three wins on the spin – against Guildford City, Jersey Bulls and Raynes Park Vale – to guarantee to finish in the top half of the table.
They also still harbour trophy hopes after they beat Ashford Town on penalties to reach the semi-finals of the Surrey Senior Cup. National League South promotion-chasers Dorking Wanderers stand between them and the final, where they could meet either Kingstonian or Chertsey Town.
AFC Whyteleafe are currently top of the table in the Surrey South Eastern Combination Intermediate Div 1 with two games to go, although Wimbledon Casuals are only four points behind and have three games in hand on Church Road’s new tenants.
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