Croydon Amateurs FC was founded on 17th April 1953 to provide senior amateur football in the then County Borough at the newly built Croydon Sports Arena in South Norwood. Whilst the idea for a senior club carrying the town’s name had been mooted prior to the war, nothing had become of the suggestion and the catalyst proved to be the laying of the running track and the need for the football pitch to be used.
The Club’s Founder Chairman was Jack Milsted and he retained the position until retiring in 1990. At the time of its inception, the club had nothing but goodwill and its initial funding was by way of public donations. The Surrey Senior League was specially extended to enable the fledgling club to have somewhere to compete and ten years were spent in that competition. The official ground opening was against Pegasus, the F.A. Amateur Cup holders, and during that maiden season, the Club reached both the County League Cup and Charity Cup finals, playing against Dorking in both games. Dorking won the League Cup, but the Charity Cup was shared in front of a record 1600 crowd at the Arena. During the next nine seasons, the Club won both League and Charity Cups, and also finished runners-up in the League on a number of occasions, but they were unable to win the Championship.
1963-64 saw the Club elected to the Spartan League where they were destined to spend just a single season. But what a season it turned out to be! They won their first League Championship, winning 29 of their 34 League fixtures, and scoring 134 goals in the process. The original clubhouse was also erected during this campaign, having been obtained from a local building site and rebuilt at the Arena.
Amateur football was undergoing changes during this period and the opportunity came for further advancement at the end of that campaign to the Athenian League. Within two seasons, the Second Division Championship had been won and promotion gained to the First Division where four seasons were spent. Unfortunately, the momentum that had sustained the clubs since its formation was lost, and relegation back to Division Two came in 1969-70.
Summer 1970 saw the installation of floodlights and the arrival of South London bookmaker Jimmy Rose as team manager which proved to be a watershed in the Club’s fortunes. Two successive promotions saw the Amateurs rise to the Athenian League Premier Division but at the end of the 1971-72 campaign, Rose announced that he would be taking over as team manager of Dulwich Hamlet. Inevitably, a season of struggle ensued in the Premier Division, with the majority of the previous season’s first team departing to either Dulwich or Tooting.
With the impending end of amateur status, the club dropped its suffix during the summer of 1973 – it was only due to a Surrey Intermediate League side having the title Croydon FC back in 1953 that it had to be added in the first place. The end of October 1973 and with the club in the nether regions of the reorganised Athenian League First Division – the Isthmians had introduced a second division that year – Ted Shepherd took over as manager, introduced a much more professional attitude and thus began one of the most successful periods in the Club’s history.
After struggling early in the first two months of the season, Croydon revived and finished sixth, ending it by being elected to the Isthmian League Second Division. Founder Secretary George Burrows decided to call it a day at this point being replaced by former first team captain Jim Overall.
Their maiden season at the higher level started poorly, but the team gradually evolved and results picked up, culminating in an appearance in the inaugural Isthmian League Cup Final. However, at this stage, it was restricted to Second Division clubs – Tilbury winning the two legged final.
1975-76 proved to be a history making season as the Club went the whole season undefeated in the League. Forty-two games and yet Tilbury pipped them for the championship. It was only the second time in the Isthmian League’s history that this had happened – Ilford were the other club back in 1906-07 and they only had to play ten games in their season.
Thirteen years were spent in the top flight of the Isthmian League – renamed the Premier Division after one season – and whilst not gaining any league honours, the Club competed in a number of County Cup Finals. The Club won the Surrey Senior Cup for the only time in their history in 1981-82 beating Sutton United 2-0 in the final. Prior to that success, Croydon had lost to Tooting in the 1976-77 Surrey final, and to Barking in the 1979-80 London Senior Cup Final.
The F.A. Cup run which culminated in two second round matches against Millwall in 1979-80 brought the club national recognition, as did, to a lesser extent, two appearances in the second round (last 32) of the F.A. Trophy in the early eighties. The profits from the F.A. Cup run were ploughed back into refurbishing the clubhouse, but this was razed to the ground in a fire believed to be arson for which the culprits were never caught.
The departure of Ted Shepherd came during a period when the team appeared to have lost its way and he was succeeded by Barry Webb for the 1984-85 campaign and then Adrian Hill (1985-87) who took the club to its highest ever League position – fourth in the Premier Division – in his first season in charge.
It was at this time that things took a turn for the worse! Like many football clubs, money – or rather the lack of it – was the root of the problem and seven seasons of struggle ensued.
During this period, the local authority decided to redevelop the Arena, replacing the eight lane cinder track with a larger, tartan track – unfortunately, this meant that the pitch was further away from the stand thereby further decreasing the match day atmosphere. It also meant a large number of home fixtures being played away from the Arena with the corresponding loss in revenue.
Founder Chairman Milsted, together with two of the Club’s other elder statesmen, Alf Haylock (who had also been involved since 1953) and Club President, Charles Waters retired in 1990, and the years that followed under new management culminated in the Club’s name being dragged through the gutter and becoming synonymous with all that was bad.
There was little stability either on or off the field. Five Chairmen and eleven team managers, mounting debts and threats of closure are ample evidence of that.
The nadir was 1993-94 when broken promises concerning money saw the early season team walk out. Joe Fascione took over as manager and produced a team who performed for nothing but fought hard. Again, the mismanagement of the Club caused these players to walk out in frustration. In stepped local Scottish businessman, Ken Jarvie at the eleventh hour with the players of his Thornton Heath League side, Phoenix Sun, who stepped up nine levels of football to keep the Club’s name alive. Not surprisingly, some very heavy defeats followed and another place was gained in the annals of the Isthmian League, this time for the most goals conceded. Most important of all though, these players allowed the Club to survive a traumatic season, and the tremendous spirit and enthusiasm they showed in adversity also made its mark, as the club was able to re-group during the summer with a new air of optimism.
The arrival of Ken Jarvie sparked one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. He tended to do things his own way, which in itself caused some friction and problems. However he inspired great loyalty from his players, and inspired them as a group to reach heights way beyond expectations.
Together with joint-manager Dickson Gill, Jarvie led the club to promotion from Division 2 in 1996, finishing runners-up to Canvey Island. Jarvie took sole control of team affairs a few months later, and in the spring of 1999, a new club record was set of 883 minutes without conceding a goal. More importantly, the foundations had been set for what was to become a memorable Millennium season.
A 19 match unbeaten run (another club record) at the beginning of 2000 saw Croydon storm to their first league title for 34 years, finishing 9 points ahead of Grays Athletic in 2nd place. In addition, Croydon reached their first cup finals since 1982. A narrow defeat against Conference side Woking in the Surrey Senior Cup Final, was forgotten about the following night as Croydon beat Purfleet 2-0 to win the Isthmian League Full Members Cup.
Unfortunately the platform for this success was built on sand. Although superb team spirit ensured Croydon’s survival in their first season back in the top flight of the Ryman League, and an appearance in the Ryman League Cup Final, before losing out to Heybridge, the following season was to be a bridge too far. Budget cuts and the loss of a number of high quality players proved crucial, and the club were relegated to Division 1 South. Some compensation was gained by winning the London Senior Cup for the first time, defeating Dulwich Hamlet 2-1 in the final at Leyton Orient.
Jarvie stepped down during the summer of 2002, leaving the Club in as poor a position as he had found it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, the Club continued to struggle and was duly relegated to Division Two in April 2005.
With finance still a problem, 2005-2006 saw a season of consolidation, Croydon finishing 10th in the last season of Division Two football.
So after 32 seasons Croydon said farewell to the Isthmian League, to start life as a Kent League club. The Club’s first season was its best since the early years of the Jarvie era. After a shaky start, Croydon finally finished a very creditable third, only three points behind champions Whitstable Town. In addition, at long last Croydon had a run in a FA competition, reaching the Third Round of the Vase, losing 0 – 1 to a very late Leamington goal at the Arena. Chairman/Manager Dickson Gill will be looking for an even better return this campaign. A further sign that the Club is finally heading in the right direction is demonstrated by the resurrection of a reserve side, playing in Division Two of the Kent League.
Last season also saw the revival of the Youth set-up, with a number of sides playing in the Tandridge Youth League and an Under 18 team in the Southern Youth League.. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the youth team had several good runs in the F.A. Youth Cup, reaching the Fourth Round (last 16) in 1977-78, only to lose to Peterborough. Over the years, success has been gained in the Isthmian Youth Cup, the Southern Youth League and League Cup.