Embattled Rams fight for survival

Croydon Athletic FC Photo: Andy Nunn

As Croydon Athletic Football Club faces an uncertain future with owner Mazhar Majeed embroiled in the international cricket ‘spot-fixing’ scandal, a group of devoted fans have set up a Save Croydon Athletic FC campaign on Facebook.

The Rymans League club, founded in 1990, faces the very real threat of closure if no new financial backer can be found within the next two weeks, but fans are determined to raise the money needed to keep their hopes – and their football team – alive.

As Darren Geddes, founder of the site, told East London Lines, “It’s a lovely club that’s been trying to grow its support and now we just don’t know what’s going on.” In an ideal world, he says, they would be able to find one or two local businessmen to say “Tell you what, we’ll cover your expenses for the rest of the season and take it from there.”

At a management level, the club has recently faced a series of financial woes and charges of impropriety. Majeed, a wealthy Pakistani property tycoon based in the UK, has been arrested and released on bail twice since the ‘no-ball’ cricket story broke in August – once in connection with the alleged spot-fixing and once relating to allegations that he used Croydon Athletic to launder money.

In June, the club’s chairman Dean Fisher was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for defrauding more than £500,000 from the advertising agency where he worked. The court heard that half the money was used to pay Croydon Athletic running costs. Staff at the club have remained unpaid for August after cheques apparently bounced, and manager Tim O’Shea and assistant Neil Smith left the club last weekend. Many players are expected to follow them out. Former manager Ken Fisher has been appointed caretaker manager.

The club has now pulled out of this season’s FA Cup competition. The Rams were due to take on Kingstonian on 12 September in the first qualifying round but will not now compete.

The club stated that “It was not felt feasible for the Rams to play this fixture in light of the current situation in the club.”

For Paul Smith, chairman of the Rams Army, the club’s support group, this is a tragedy after the team had its best-ever season last year and was promoted into Division 1 South. He told East London Lines: “For us, this was tremendous. We were playing at the highest level we’d ever played, we had the structure in place, we had financial backing and it was enabling us to compete at the highest level.”

In a further statement today, the club said: “During the next two weeks we will continue to look for financial backing in an attempt to take the club forward and a decision will then be made after this period of time.”

Paul Smith feels it is vital, if the team is to find a viable backer, that they can show clarity and financial accountability. However, despite Majeed’s assets now being frozen, the team is still ostensibly backed by his Blue Sky Developments company, and no charges have as yet been brought against Majeed. Smith therefore warns that some press coverage has been “built on building a story rather than on the facts, and that is injuring the reputation of the club”.

Photo: Andy Nunn

But the club’s fans feel they still have everything to fight for. The impact of recent events is being felt not only by the main Charlton Athletic team but, as Darren Geddes made plain, is scuppering the future of young people’s football in Croydon too. He works with young people aged 7-16, whose financial accounts are completely separate from the Rams but find that their team has lost its training ground and are now casting around for somewhere to play each week this coming season.

The Rams lost 3-1 to Concord Rangers on Saturday. No date has been given for their next fixture. However, the Facebook campaign plans to build a base of 1,000 fans ‘to get Croydon Athletic FC into the spotlight for good reasons for once’ and is encouraging all football supporters to attend the next advertised fixture in their home strips – to show how widespread support for this small, embattled, local football team can be.

As Paul Smith pointed out,

“It’s not about the owner or the managers, it’s about the people who make it up, who’ve worked so hard over so many years, and we’re determined that it will continue.”

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