24 October 2012
Combined Counties Premier Division
Croydon FC 03 v Horley Town 01 (att c.50)
Team Talk. Croydon. It’s a bit like Holland. There are loads of trams and everyone’s selling drugs. Cliches? On here? No chance.
Whilst we’d love to perpetuate the stereotypes of South London’s great metropolis but instead, we thought we’d go for the novel approach of talking about football and our trip to watch “The Trams”.
Croydon FC changed to a transport-based nickname (from the Blues) a few years back due to their ground’s immediate proximity to the jewel in the Transport for London crown, Tramlink, made famous by this woman:
Mercifully, there was no sign of that or any other hideous cow at Croydon FC. The club has been in existence since 1953 with the aim of providing the newly built sports arena with a senior team for the good people of the Norwood/Croydon borders to cheer on. Thanks to an awkward Surrey Intermediate League team of the same name, the team were forced to use the moniker Croydon Amateurs FC until 1973.
Croydon FC have historically flirted with the Atheanean and Spartan Leagues and had found refuge in the good ol’ Isthmian League, where their 32 year tenure ended in 2006 and the club moved into the Kent League.
Croydon also possess a unique triple-crown; having won the Kent, Surrey and London County Cups. Quite how a team can flirt between FA regions, I don’t know, but it seems to be something a few clubs (the Hamlet included) have tried in the past. I guess some people really like midweek football.
Park the bus. Croydon FC share a privilege usually only reserved for clubs higher up the pyramid: their ground has its own dedicated station. Arena Tramlink stop is located right outside the ground and is easily reached from East Croydon Station. However, if you’re feeling frugal (as my fellow Pigeon Stander was) or fancy a ride of the Overground, you can give the Trams a miss and walk to the Arena from Norwood Junction station in about 15 minutes and hop on the Ginger Line.
Homefield advantage. Following our trip to Ladywell Arena, we once again found ourselves at a football match in an athletics stadium. However, unlike Lewisham Borough’s humble home, Croydon Arena is in a far more advanced state and feels, oddly more suited to football than any other sport.
Upon arrival you’ll be greeted by a classic turnstile where, after handing over £8 (including a nicely put together programme) and a quid for a shot at glory in the golden goal (typically, we were unsuccessful), you’ll be in a vast expanse of a courtyard. From here there is virtually no view of the pitch, although a sign bearing non-league football’s most foreboding words will be just in front of you:
The main stand upon which this hateful sign is displayed is host to the dressing rooms and rather substandard directors’ box, although, for a council facility to include any sort of directors’ box is pretty good going. It’s also unusual for an athletics track to have a marked area for the player’s walkout. However, at Croydon, they have the best bloody entrance to the field of play any footballer could wish for: a stoic guard of otherwise redundant high-hurdles.
Hurdles weren’t the only piece of athletic apparatus in the Arena as the obligatory Throwing Cage dominated one end of the park. More on this later. Behind this bit of surely unnecessary kit (seriously, who in this country is ever going to take up the hammer??) was a large single storey building which we desperately hoped housed the bar referred to in the programme. It didn’t. Instead, our casual glance through the window ended with us seeing rather too much of a moonlight yoga class…at least…we think that’s what it was.
On the far side of the pitch are three, count e’m, THREE, pigeon stands, each more glorious and pigeony than the last. Being sociable types, we avoided the two with people in them to stand around in the empty one. As with the main stand, these stands were in good shape and looked like the cleaner, smaller brothers of the Toilets Opposite Stand (aka the original Pigeon Stand) at Champion Hill.
Watching the actual game at Croydon Arena is tricky. Pitch-level views aren’t great. Unlike South London’s other athletic track grounds at Erith and Ladywell Arenas, where you can get pretty close to the action, Croydon keep you a good 20m away from the pitch. Being so detached from the action is a bit annoying, so stick to the elevated terrace or main stand if you’ve got a vested interest in watching the game.
Prawn sandwiches. With no bar or clubhouse, we were forced to find solace by the tea hut. Luckily, it was an excellent if freezing cold nook for a half-time refuel. Riddled with cold, thirst and hunger, I was delighted to be supping a decent cup of tea and chowing down on a proper old fashioned cone of chips. Both were top class and easy on the wallet. Sadly, the burger was a little more underwhelming; although considering it was cooked in a fryer under a main stand, it was never going to beat MEATliquor so it’s certainly not a complaint.
…and the game. Well, having stated that Croydon was much like Holland, I was expecting Total Football. Sadly, it was a little more like your standard Step 5 mid-table battle. Horley were the better placed side but apart from a breakaway opening goal from the ever-so-slightly overweight Leroy Hyett, they never really dominated.
Croydon equalised just before half-time thanks to a goal from the Portuguese master, Claudio de Almeida. I can’t tell you much more than that because we were in the process of walking round to the tea bar and our view was obscured by the hammer net. An observational hazard but woeful timing on our behalf.
The second half was a fairly cagey affair for the first 40 minutes but, with time running out, the Trams seemed to find an extra gear and pulled ahead thanks to a lovely pass by Danny Davenport which Taylor Smith just managed to get his boot to. The clichés kept rolling and Karl Doughlin put the icing on the cake with a stoppage time goal for Croydon to lift them into a rather more healthy league position.
Man of the match. Now, at 7:45pm, a ballboy is probably hard to come by [insert lazy Jimmy Saville jokes here]. Not a problem for Croydon FC, who have charged a fully grown man with the responsibly of fetching errant passes and wayward shots.
It would be a fairly brutal task at a normal ground, but at an athletics track where you’re being asked to cover three sides of the pitch, it’s a heck of a challenge. Still, this Kramer-esque ballman did a splendid job was hopping fences, rooting through apparatus and sand pits with scant reward (although he did get into the boardroom at half time). A Pigeon Stand salute to you, sir.
Post-match rubdown. Obviously, this is a Council funded ground so it’s in pretty reasonable shape and despite the lack of a bar (which, as a sick joke, is even advertised in their programme and on their website), it was a nice evening out. Out of the three athletics arenas we’ve visited, Croydon definitely comes closest to looking like a genuine football ground and with a strong Isthmian League pedigree, that’s no surprise. Being so close to Palace probably doesn’t help the Trams attendances but I was pleased to see nearly 50 people turn up on a Champions League night. Let’s be honest, that’s more than some clubs get on a sunny Saturday in April.
I’d recommend a trip to the arena; there’s trams, tea and a trifecta of pigeon stands…oh, and did we mention the trams?? In the words of Croydon’s programme editor, Simon Hawkins, Ding Ding! Ding Ding!