NON-LEAGUE NEWS: It’s been all-change for most of the area’s part-time players over the summer. ANDREW SINCLAIR gets you up to date with the latest news before the start of the season tomorrow
Club officials are hopeful that Croydon Arena will be buzzing tomorrow afternoon, with a bumper crowd boosted by Crystal Palace fans who will have watched their side open the Premier League season against Arsenal on Friday night all looking to catch a game with a 3pm Saturday kick-off, and perhaps also some families with daughters who are buoyed by the massive achievement at the Euros last week when the Lionesses won at Wembley.
But even for those close to the squad at Croydon FC, no one is yet quite sure what they might be getting from their new-look side as they take on Kent Football United in their opening fixture of the Southern Counties Eastern Football League Division One.
If Palace’s game in the Premier League was in Tier 1 of the English football pyramid, then Croydon’s match is in Tier 10, the lowest position in the club’s history and one that the Trams have had to endure for three seasons so far. Because of their low ranking, Croydon have been denied a place in the FA Cup for a second season running.
They go into 2022-2023 with a completely re-shaped squad which includes just three players who featured in last season’s league campaign.
After two seasons frustrated and disrupted by covid, 2021-2022 promised much for Croydon but ultimately fizzled out to an underwhelming eighth-placed finish. Now, as well as the much-changed squad, there’s a relatively new club chairman and board, and a new manager, who says that this is “a chance to take a well-supported club steeped in history back to where they belong”.
New boss Tyler Chambers ended his playing career aged just 22 to go into coaching. He’s since worked with youth and reserve teams at South Park, Sutton Common Rovers and Merstham, where he spent two fruitful seasons with their under-23s.
When Liam Giles stepped down as Croydon manager at the end of last season, former Carshalton Athletic player Chambers saw the vacancy as an opportunity too good not to pursue for his first in charge of a senior team.
“This job is like taking over a sleeping giant,” Chambers told Inside Croydon.
“When I played against Croydon 10 years ago, they were a Step 5 club, in the 9th tier of English football, and not long before that they’d been Step 4. Now, the club’s in Step 6, and that’s a division we shouldn’t be in.
“The chairman and director of football have got a vision of where they want the club to go. For me, it’s a chance to take a well-supported club steeped in history back to where they belong.”
Even in pre-season, Chambers has had to make some adjustments from youth to senior football. “At under-23 level, you are managing young players who want to play football and are available to play football whenever, because their lives and schedule allows them to. For them, it’s their life. In terms of keeping a squad together, it’s quite straightforward.
“But for senior players, it’s not the same. They have lives outside football and commitments – partners, holidays, children, jobs, etc. It’s hard to get your best players together for all of your friendlies and that will continue for us into the start of the season as, injuries aside, we’ll only be able to field our best starting XI two or three times in the first eight games because of confirmed unavailability.”
Chambers himself is a good example of the balancing act so many involved in non-league football have to perform. Last month, he started a new job in a managerial role at a large firm of investment managers. In June, he and wife were celebrating the arrival of their second child, a son, whose name might betray where Chambers’ own club passions lie: they called the boy Mason.
Having started with virtually a blank slate when he took over at Croydon, Chambers wanted to build a squad that would stay the course of a long season, rather than recruit players who might be lured elsewhere mid-term.
“A lot of Croydon’s players left in the latter stages of last season and then more went in the summer. So, for me, it was about building a side that bought-in to what we want to do. I didn’t want a team that was dependent or reliant on money… there’s always going to be someone that can come in and pay £20 or £30 more than you can.
“It’s about bringing in players that bought-in to the vision and ideology I’ve got. I play a very specific system, which is why a number of my Merstham under-23s came over because they know that system and have been successful in it. We’ve probably passed on some good players, but it’s about creating a culture where everyone buys in and sings off the same hymn sheet.”
Jamie Bakhit, a midfielder who played 45 games at Step 5 with Lingfield last season, is the Trams’ new captain this season.
But perhaps the most exciting part of Chambers’ recruitment has been to bring in two talents from the Kinetic Foundation. Kinetic is an innovative approach to education, which uses football to guide youngsters up to and through their public exams. Yet while they have been based at Croydon Arena, and at times even had Kinetic directors working as the club’s coaching staff, the Trams have seen neight hide nor hair of the youth products coming through the system.
That might be changing, with Kelvin De-Graft and Khayrie Harris to look out for when they pull on their two-tone blue shirts this season.
Chambers promises a high-pressing style of football that’s “brave in attack but disciplined in defence” that should make them well-worth watching. In the last three full seasons, Chambers and and his assistant Joe Brown have won league titles.
Chambers did say that nothing is better than a cup win, although any hopes he and the Trams may have had of a money-spinning run in the FA Cup will have to wait until next year as, for a second successive season, Croydon weren’t one of the Step 6 clubs given a place in this year’s Extra Preliminary Round.
Croydon Athletic, as a Step 5 outfit, do have such a place and they kick off their 2022-2023 season in that tournament with a trip to the Sussex seaside at Peacehaven and Telscombe.
Rams boss Kevin Rayner has added three new faces to his backroom team: Ean Patterson, Nic Taylor and Junior Kaffo. It has Rayner, who has been in charge of the first team since 2016, in a bullish mood looking forward to the new term: “Ean is a very good coach and although he was with us last year, he has more time to commit this year. Nic and Junior are two really experienced players that will bring a lot of know-how and experience to the squad.
“They know what it takes to bring the best out of those around them.”
The Athletic squad has been given a bit of a refresh, with experienced campaigners coming in to complement the young core that Rayner was trying to build last season.
“Kay Conteh is a defender with a wealth of experience and Tyrone Pink is a quality forward who won our league last year with Beckenham Town.
“Khari Oriogun, Shylo Johnson-McNally, Jimmy Almeida and Bradley Ayoola have all impressed in pre-season and I expect them to shine alongside the likes of Will Grieveson, Alfie Young, Jack Marney, Jermaine Green and record appearance-maker Nahum Green.”
In common with many, the covid-hit last three seasons have been tough for the Mayfield Stadium, but after just surviving their first term in the Combined Counties League Premier Division South, Rayner is promising better things.
“We certainly won’t be languishing at the bottom of the table this season,” he said.
“Last year, things conspired against us in many ways throughout the campaign. Now, we are all looking forward and seeing where it takes us.”
Athletic’s groundshare partners Balham have already begun their season, losing their league opener 3-2 away to Colliers Wood United on Wednesday night.
Less than a year after the club’s first-ever game, AFC Whyteleafe are preparing to start life alongside Croydon FC in the SCEFL Div 1.
Last year, the phoenix club debuted in the 12th tier, finishing second in the snappily-titled Surrey South Eastern Combination Intermediate Div 1. Their audacious application to jump up to the 10th tier was approved by the FA, a decision which put a number of noses out of joint and set them on course for some intriguing local derbies with Croydon, the first of which is scheduled for September 14.
There are some who are tipping Whyteleafe to continue their fairytale rise with promotion at the end of the season. With the quality at the top of the division – Larkfield and New Hythe and Snodland Town look impressive on paper – and the newness of it all, that outcome seems unlikely, but Kelly Waters’ side will definitely be one to watch.
Sat Aug 6th, FA Cup Extra Prelim Round v Peacehaven (A)
Sat Aug 13th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Banstead A (H)
Tues Aug 16th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Raynes Park Vale (A)
Wed Aug 24th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Colliers Wood (A)
Sat Aug 27th, FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round v Banstead Ath (A)
Mon Aug 29th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Balham (H)
Sat Aug 6th, SCEFL Div 1 v Kent Football United (H)
Sat Aug 13th, SCEFL Div 1 v Staplehurst Monarchs (H)
Wed Aug 17th, SCEFL Div 1 v Tooting Bec (A)
Sat Aug 20th, SCEFL Div 1 v Lydd Town (H)
Sat Aug 6th, FA Cup Extra Prelim Round v Punjab Utd (A)
Sat Aug 13th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Alton (A)
Wed Aug 17th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Redhill (H)
Tues Aug 23rd, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Banstead A (A)
Sat Aug 27th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Fleet (H)
Mon Aug 29th, Combined Counties Prem Div South v Croydon A (A)
Sat Aug 6th, SCEFL Div 1 v Faversham Strike Force (H)
Sat Aug 13th, SCEFL Div 1 v Greenways SC (H)
Sat Aug 20th, SCEFL Div 1 v SC Thamesmead (A)
Sat Aug 27th, FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round v Wick (A)
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