Rays of light in Croydon's black cloud

Money-laundering, suicide and an owner implicated in spot-fixing. But the fans can ensure the Rams survive.

Mick Lloyd, secretary of Croydon Athletic's supporters club, could not have put it better. "It just seems we've got a black cloud over the club and it's refusing to go away," he said. "And it's affecting the ordinary people like us who go every week."

The cloud began to form in July when the Ryman Premier League club's former chairman, Dean Fisher, was jailed for three years for embezzling money from his day job to help fund The Rams. It grew darker as Mazhar Majeed, the co-owner since 2008, was implicated in the Pakistan cricket "spot-fixing" scandal. It blackened when David Le Cluse, Fisher's successor, died of an apparently self-inflicted bullet wound a fortnight ago.

Croydon were directly affected by the cricket scandal when Majeed, who is on police bail, claimed to the News of the World that he had bought the club in order to launder money. That not only tainted the achievement of the team in winning promotion to the Premier League last season but caused HMRC to freeze his assets, cutting off the club's funds. The result was the manager and players, alarmed at going unpaid, left en masse.

Matches were postponed and the club forfeited its FA Cup place before Majeed was allowed to post a £10,000 bond to guarantee that the club would fulfil this season's fixtures. Former managers Dave Garland and Bob Langford offered to return on an unpaid basis, and put together a scratch squad of volunteers, academy graduates and loanees.

"We took the job on a Wednesday," Garland said. "On the Thursday we had a signing-on session, not a training session – for everyone we knew who wanted to play. On the Friday we had to put a team out away to Aveley – and it was nil-nil until the last 10 minutes."

Croydon lost that match 3-0, and the next 4-0, but a couple of draws since then give cause for hope. The players are in the shop window, and their careers at the KT Stadium will last until they impress another club enough to be signed for money. Such has been the turnover of players since the beginning of the season that Ken Fisher, the long-serving president and academy director, standing at the players' and press turnstile at a recent match, did not recognise most of the youngsters coming in.

The main ray of light peering from behind that cloud is the spirit of the supporters, without whom clubs such as Croydon would have no reason to exist. They have sought to pick up the pieces and carry on as best they can, in the hope that the club, in whatever division, will survive. The minute's silence at the home match following Le Cluse's suicide – widely assumed to have been caused by the club's association with money laundering – could not be allowed to foreshadow the club's death as well.

"All of us knew Dave and were really good friends with him and he was a lovely bloke," Lloyd said. "Nobody knows what really happened, but it's almost just another sideshow in what is happening to the club at the moment. Our job is to carry on and raise the money to keep the club alive. That is our priority."

Belts are being tightened. There was a semi-serious discussion before the recent midweek 2-2 draw at home to Wealdstone about how long to leave it before turning the floodlights on – electricity costs money, after all. Is it all worth it to play in front of crowds of 150 or so? The loyalty of Croydon's diehard fans suggest that it is.

"It's a nice little club, which has come out of nowhere," Ken Fisher said. "Sutton, Dulwich have great histories, but 26 years ago this was just a field. A lot of people put in a lot of work to get the club here and they don't want to see it die.

"Dave and Bob are experienced managers, but as local lads they didn't want to see the club go under. They were the first people on the phone. If I had said, 'We've already got a manager, come and work the turnstile', they would be here doing that. I was washing the kit yesterday because we couldn't afford petrol money for the bloke who usually does it. Probably tomorrow I'll be cleaning the toilets.

"We have taken a serious knock, but we can either run away or stand and fight. If we didn't have volunteers, we would have shut. But people have rallied round. These are difficult times, and it's just a matter of giving it a go and seeing if we can survive. We need support."

The one accusation that rankles is that the club overpaid money to players who it could not have afforded legitimately. "The previous management got good players through their contacts," Fisher said. "When any club is successful you hear all sorts of things. One chairman said, 'You were paying £10,000 a week to players'. He was living in a dream world. There were some good players here, but they could have got more money somewhere else."

Lloyd adds: "The stuff Majeer told the papers about money-laundering was just big-bollocks talk, I think. The figures in the papers of the money that was supposed to be going through the club are absolutely ridiculous.

"Ask anyone on the committee. £20 million? One paper made a big thing about the scoreboard we've got. Have you seen it? Thank you, I rest my case. It cost five grand. Just walk round the ground, it's not a League club. The finances have been checked twice in the last few months and we've had a clean bill of health both times, from the Ryman and the FA.

"The success was nice, but all of us were going before [Majeer] came in and we'll be here long after he has gone. This is a good club – we've got massive junior programmes, a ladies' team, thriving supporters clubs. It's a shame that the press we have got recently makes us out as some seedy backwater. The main priority is to see the season out.

"We must be odds-on to go down, which we accept, but we're just happy we've still got a club. The only way is up. It surely can't get any worse."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue