Monday, September 6, 2010

When the News of the World broke their cricket fixing scandal story last weekend, no-one immediately reading the allegations would have thought that it would have ended up causing chaos in football and in the Rymans League Premier Division.
Sadly for Croydon Athletic, their owner, Mazhar Majeed, is also an agent for some players on the Pakistan cricket team and has been arrested and bailed in connection with the claims and a subsequent investigation into money laundering at the football club has left Croydon Athletic in crisis.

Croydon are a relatively new club in footballing terms in their current form. Founded in 1986 when Wandsworth FC and Norwood FC merged, the club were known as Wandsworth and Norwood until they changed their name to Croydon Athletic in 1990 but their history can be traced back over 50 years with the original merged clubs.

After years of playing in the London Spartan League and the lower reaches of the Isthmian League, Majeed bought Croydon Athletic in 2008. At the time, and in the period following, it looked like a case of a benefactor with a love of the game buying into a small non league club but having lofty ambitions to take them to the top. That is after all, an element of the attraction of the non league pyramid for some.

Players were signed and rumours soon followed that top wages were being paid in a bid to take Croydon up the non league ladder. The Club won the Isthmian League Division One South last season by seven points over a Folkestone Invicta side that had had ten points deducted for going into insolvency and their goal difference of plus 53 led to high hopes for the side in this season' Rymans Isthmian League Premier.

The promotion of the club had attracted snipers that they'd only earned it through paying for it, but that undermined all the good work that manager Tim O'Shea and the players had put in to the campaign to deliver the title in a very competitive league.

The money laundering allegations though in the last week have plunged the Club into crisis and it is hard to see how they will be able to continue in their current form.

Wages have apparently not been paid in August and after Saturday's 3-1 defeat at home to Concord Rangers, manager Tim O'Shea and his assistant Neil Smith made an emotional farewell to the Croydon fans and left the Club, as apparently did the entire first team squad, although the latter has not been confirmed.

The video makes sad viewing whether you're a fan of Croydon Athletic or non league football in general.

The whole situation is an alarming warning to all non league and lower league clubs of the dangers involved with the wrong owners in place or relying too heavily on the funds of one man.

We all saw the highs and the lows at East Fife in the brief Willie Gray era at Bayview. A Championship win is fantastic but the aftermath of having to meet huge wage bills when Willie left could have crippled the club beyond repair. Thankfully we saw this through and have the great memories of that 2007/08 Championship winning season.

A completely different and more serious scenario at Croydon Athletic I know, but their fans don't look like they're going to have the same luxury and the Club have postponed their next two league fixtures and withdrawn from their FA Cup tie next Sunday against friends of AFTN, Kingstonian.

As a football club, Croydon had a great set up going, with a reserve team, juniors and an academy all going strong. It can only be hoped that something can be salvaged for the Club and the fans, even if that means starting afresh down the non league ladder.

It's looking bleak for them though but hopefully they can pull through.


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