NON-LEAGUE NEWS: The season may be over for the borough’s part-timers, but as ANDREW SINCLAIR reports, there’s still plenty going on behind the scenes with derby dates to arrange for a renewed local rivalry
Croydon FC will have a local derby to look forward to next season, after Football Association officials decided to promote the new incarnation of old rivals Whyteleafe to the 10th tier of non-league football for 2022-2023.
The FA yesterday confirmed its National League System club allocations, following a series of inter-step play-offs, and there’s changes ahead for all the local non-league sides.
Croydon FC, seeking a manager following the departure of Liam Giles, will again be contesting for promotion from Southern Counties Eastern Football League Div 1, this time vying with 17 other teams, rather than the 19 clubs this season – meaning four fewer games to schedule.
Stansfeld and Sutton Athletic both sealed promotion to the SCEFL Premier Division. Given the locations of the other teams coming into the 10th tier, the FA decided to reduce the league size.
Two clubs will be coming up from the lower tiers after meeting the relevant eligibility criteria. One is particularly intriguing.
With Whyteleafe FC flying (relatively) high in the Isthmian League, at the eighth tier of the non-league pyramid, there were few occasions for them to meet Croydon, who were playing in a lower division.
Nonetheless, some antagonism emerged between The Trams and the Leafe, mostly stemming from two Croydon managers, John Fowler and Harry Hudson, heading south to take over at Whyteleafe, and taking most of their first-team squad, too.
Hudson retained a connection with Croydon, as he oversaw the Kinetic Foundation sports and education charity, which shared the Croydon Arena. Inevitably, this proved contentious for Croydon, who saw almost all the promising young players coming through that programme start their senior careers at Whyteleafe rather with than the Trams, despite often starring under the Croydon name in FA Youth competitions.
Then, 12 months ago, Whyteleafe were wiped off the footballing map, their 75 years of history erased when their Church Road tenancy was ended shortly after chairman Martin Coote sold the ground to Ian Rush-backed Singaporean property group Irama, for its use by the commercial Steven Gerrard football academy.
The club was forced to give up its place in the Isthmian League. But just few weeks before the start of the 2021-2022 season, a community-based phoenix club, AFC Whyteleafe, was formed by local businessman Kelly Waters.
Given the tight timing, it was impossible for the new Leafe to take the old club’s place in the eighth tier, and instead they played in the 12th tier, in Surrey South Eastern Combination Intermediate Div 1 (snappy title, eh?).
Waters, previously in charge of Balham B, spoke to Inside Croydon last year about his project, explaining how he’d secured a four-year lease for Church Road from Irama and that it was his sole aim to push the Leafe back up the ladder to “where they belong”.
After more or less confirming a second-place finish in their maiden campaign, his new club is being propelled up two tiers.
The other new face in Croydon’s division is Bermondsey Town, who recorded a mid-table finish this season in the Bromley and South London Football League Premier Division.
Across the borough at the Mayfield Stadium in Thornton Heath, Croydon Athletic and groundshare partners Balham will remain in the Combined Counties Premier Division South for a second successive season.
Only one side, Molesey, were relegated from that division this term, with Beckenham Town and Walton and Hersham both earning promotion to the eighth tier.
That left three gaps in the division, all of which will be filled by teams making sideways movements from elsewhere in the pyramid.
Addlestone-based Abbey Rangers look to be the strongest of the three after their fourth-place finish in the Combined Counties Premier Division North. Tadley Calleva, from Hampshire, were 10th in that league, while Alton have been moved from the Wessex League Premier Division.
The 2022-2023 non-league season is expected to start on Saturday July 30, with the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round due to take place seven days later.
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