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."

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine