Football Cities: Croydon
Before I start, I know that Croydon is not a city. However, if Milton bloody Keynes can be included in this series then so can Croydon. This much maligned suburb of greater London has competed on numerous occasions for city status but been beaten off by the likes of Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Brighton and Hove. The latter of which clearly cheated as it is blatantly two places.
After the 2011 riots came the promise of regeneration. Westfields are coming, so too is a Boxpark. Already gentrification’s herald, the Foxton’s estate agent, with false promises of riches for the town’s homeowners has arrived. £5 billion of money is said to have been earmarked for the town and its citizens await with anticipation as to how much of it will end up in their pockets.
The tramlines that passed through the centre of Croydon delineate one side of the central Croydon and the sprawling suburbs of South and East Croydon. On the other side are the more interesting and diverse areas of Thornton Heath, Norbury and Norwood. It is there that the senior football is played.
On Saturday afternoons in the railway stations of east and south Croydon you will find a smorgasbord of different shirts and scarves representing the numerous teams in the Greater London area; Chelsea Arsenal Tottenham West Ham and even QPR. Later on, a little closer to kick off, your see the Palace fans that live in places like Purley, Coulsdon and beyond travelling to Selhurst Park which while only a few stops away on the train is in many ways a very different place.
Chelsea in particular strikes me as having a strong presence in Croydon. When I was a kid, we used to visit a number of pubs in the town and was struck by the strong Chelsea presence. This goes way back to before the Abramovich years. It occurs to me that west Londoners moved south to the suburbs of Croydon in the years after the Second World War and their allegiance was passed down through the generations. This however, may be a simplification.
There are two non league clubs in Croydon. Both very much in the shadow of the local professional club. Croydon FC of the South East Counties East League play at the Croydon Arena in South Norwood. I’ve only been there a couple of times. It is a utilitarian structure associated more with the decent athletics club. But you can see the whole pitch from the club bar which is situated outside the ground. I spent a very pleasant second half watching Whyteleafe beat the home team in the FA cup two seasons ago.
AFC Croydon Athletic play at the Keith Tuckey Stadium. This small ground is situated around the back of Croydon’s municipal cemetery. When you look at it on the map you think it’s probably about 10 minutes walk from the bus stop at Thornton Heath Pond. In fact it’s a good half an hour and to be blunt is an absolute ball ache. You have to walk the entire length of the cemetery and then round the back of the ground in order to get in. It takes forever. Mind you, it’s a nice little ground with a cosy club bar.
The Rams are a phoenix club. The original went to the wall in December 2010 following numerous financial regularities. The club was owned by Mazhar Majeed who was alleged to have been involved in spot fixing and the Pakistan Cricket team. They were investigated for allegations of money laundering and the club folded shortly after the tragic death of their chairman David Le Cluse from a gunshot wound.
The new club was formed by the supporters in 2012 and after sharing the Arena with Croydon FC they are now back at the KT Stadium where they belong.
But of course the team that dominates the town, now more than in a long time, is Crystal Palace. When you cross the tracks into Thornton Heath and Norwood you can see that influence the club has on the community. The pubs are Palace pubs. A number of businesses are named after the club and it is there that you get a strong sense of the localism at work. Crystal Palace FC is primarily a local football club.
But the club’s supporters associate themselves with south London rather than Croydon. This is hardly surprising given that Croydon is hardly what you would call ‘street’. Although I wonder if it is in part driven by a feeling that local rivals consider Palace as barely a London club. Selhurst Park is located in the SE25 post code and is right on the edge of the capital. That being said, the club’s ultras, the Holmesdale Fanatics that inhabit the B Block and are largely responsible for the atmosphere for which Selhurst Park has become synonymous, do have a presence in Croydon as evidenced by the stickers and tags that can be found around the town.
The history of Palace is the history of mostly mediocrity. The club has spent most season since the 1960s in the second tier. It has a reputation, locally, for shooting itself in the foot. A reputation well earned given the fact that was in administration twice in the last decade. But also there is the occasional brush with greatness that has promised much but ultimately ended in disappointment.
In the late 70s, manager Terry Venables declared Palace to be the “team of the 80s” based on their rise through the divisions under him and his predecessor Malcolm Allison. Not long after the start of the 80s Venables had naffed off to QPR and Palace were relegated. In the 1989 they were promoted again and despite losing 9 (nine) – 0 to Liverpool reached the final of the FA Cup Final under Steve Coppell. Sadly they were thwarted by Manchester United after a replay in which the Eagles were forced to play against 12 men. In the following season they finished third, before going into decline. That particular story of which has been chronicled elsewhere on this website.
Consequently a healthy sense of fatalism has gripped the club which is going to take a lot more than achieving top half finishes to eliminate. Palace could qualify for the Champions League next season but I suspect that the only after having survived a record fifth season in the top flight will they begin to relax.