NON-LEAGUE NEWS: The borough’s sides had a quiet-ish December due to postponements, but as ANDREW SINCLAIR reports, both Rams and Trams need a run of wins to drag themselves away from risk of relegation
Croydon FC entered the new year without Andy Hillburn, a club Life President and match secretary, who died in late December.
“Andy was a club legend, simple as, and he’ll be missed by all of those that knew him,” said Trams manager Liam Giles.
“He was supportive of me from the moment I walked in and we’ve shared some good times together.
“One standout memory of Andy was away at Kent Football United last season and it had been raining for ages. Andy came towards me with the team sheet to fill in and as he stepped on to the grass, he went flying through a muddy puddle face first and was covered head to toe. I was concerned initially, but Andy being Andy, we had a good laugh about it. The game got abandoned at half-time because the pitch was waterlogged, so he was happy that he could get a bit earlier to dry off!”
Croydon paid tribute to Hillburn at their first home game after his death with a minute’s silence and the laying of a wreath in club colours on the pitch. The wreath then sat on what was commonly known as “Andy’s seat” in the stand for the entirety of the game against Larkfield and New Hythe.
The Trams had been hoping to move away from the prospect of an unthinkable relegation to the 11th tier of English football and closer towards contention for a play-off place, but the new year has not been kind. Although they’ve taken the lead in all three league fixtures so far this year, they’ve finished on the losing end in their two most recent outings, against Larkfield and Forest Hill Park, and now sit 13th of 17 in Southern Counties East Football League Division One table.
“The Larkfield result was a case of fine margins, but the Forest Hill game was probably our worst performance since my return,” said Giles, who began his second spell in charge in November.
“We had more than enough chances to win the game and didn’t take them. They then scored a 97th minute penalty to take it 2-1 with just their third attempt on target.
“When I came in, the team had already suffered five defeats, so we’d got a lot of work to do. Everyone is beating everyone this season so there’s no reason that we can’t make a run but right now the focus is on getting points on the board and moving away from the relegation zone. We’ve got to get back to winning ways, starting against Meridian VP at the end of the month.”
The Trams are still in the hunt for glory in two cup competitions. Having secured a quarter-final berth in the London Senior Trophy late last year, the club booked a last-eight place in the Surrey Premier Cup with a penalties victory over AFC Whyteleafe – a first win over their new neighbours in four attempts.
“We came close to cup success in my first spell with the club, with an admin error and covid curtailing our chances, so of course winning one of them is something we want to target this season,” Giles said.
“We’ve got some of the best fans in the league, so I’d love to win silverware for them but also for Andy. What a tribute to his memory that’d be.”
The quirks of the fixture calendar mean that Croydon are still waiting to find out their opponent in the next round of both tournaments.
By the time Croydon Athletic took on Redhill on January 2, Kevin Rayner’s side were just grateful to be playing again, after a December dogged by postponements due to waterlogged or frozen pitches
That match was the Rams’ first game since a 4-1 loss to Farnham Town on December 3. “The weather has been really frustrating but mostly because we keep missing out on home games,” Rayner said.
“Our pitch has played well when we’ve actually got on it and we’ve been great at home this season. With most of our remaining games at home, hopefully we can string together a good run over the second half of the season.”
The Rams now face a congested fixture list over the next three months, with last Saturday’s match at Guildford City added to the backlog after it was postponed, too. Although normally a headache for managers, Rayner seems to think a busy fixture list might work out well for his boys.
“We’ve got a good group of players this season that have got a good sense of togetherness about them. No one wants ridiculous fixture congestion but a lot of our long-term injuries should be available again in the next few weeks, so that’ll give us a squad big enough to cope.”
The Rams are currently 12th in the Combined Counties Premier Division South table, seven points off the top half. However, with a number of games in hand on the teams above and their strong home form, Rayner’s men should be a safe bet to make some upward movement in the coming weeks.
One place higher in the table on goal difference are Athletic’s groundshare partners Balham.
Balham have played just twice since the end of November, recording a 3-1 win over Banstead Athletic and a 0-0 draw with Raynes Park Vale.
Sat Jan 21, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Sheerwater (H)
Sat Jan 28, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Cobham (H)
Sat Feb 4, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Frimley Green (H)
Sat Feb 11, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Knaphill (A)
Sat Jan 28 SCEFL Div 1 v Meridian (H)
Sat Feb 4 SCEFL Div 1 v SC Thamesmead (A)
Sat Feb 11 SCEFL Div 1 v Rochester Utd (A)
Sat Feb 18 SCEFL Div 1 v SC Thamesmead (H)
Sat Jan 21, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Fleet T (A)
Wed Sep 25, Surrey Senior Cup v Colliers Wood Utd (A)
Sat Jan 28, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Knaphill (A)
Sat Feb 4, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Tadley Calleva (A)
Sat Feb 11, Combined Counties Prem Div S v Sheerwater (H)
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