After twenty years of looking back at an illustrious and trophy-filled past, Croydon Women FC are finally looking to the future. This is the resurgence of South London’s greatest women’s football club.
By Amie Cripps. Images By Gem Atkinson.
If ever there’s been a story that embodies a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s Croydon Women FC.
During their heyday, the Trams won the FA Cup twice and were crowned league champions three times. Six of their players represented England at the 1995 World Cup, and before Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp made it cool, Croydon Women FC enjoyed an unbeaten run in their 1999 campaign. Hardly surprising when their roster boasted the likes of Hope Powell, Pauline Cope and Debbie Bampton. All members of the English Football Hall of Fame.
The South London team dominated the women’s game for a number of years before disbanding in 2000 and forming Charlton Athletic WFC – a merger at the time that was
shrouded in controversy due to the nature of the Premier League side’s forceful takeover.
Still, in the years to come – before yet another controversial Charlton Athletic moment in 2007, the disbandment of their women’s side – Charlton gave us the likes of Casey Stoney, Katie Chapman, Eniola Aluko and managerial maestro Matt Beard. All greats of the women’s
game. Greats who certainly have Croydon Women FC to thank a little for laying the foundations to some of their successes.
So what prompted the return of the South London legends?
Theft. A heartless burglary prompted a grassroots call to arms to bring back one of the best teams to ever grace the women’s football scene.
A couple of years ago, Croydon FC were broken into, and while taking note of what had been stolen, several trophies and plaques were discovered.Every single one of them
belonged to Croydon Women FC.
Committee member Jason Casey talked me through the moments that led up to the reformation of Croydon Women FC.
“At Croydon FC I was helping out where I could at the club, running the shop, things like that. We were a very small, close-knit team at Croydon FC, made up of maybe ten volunteers, and over the years we’d experienced quite a few break-ins. It was during a team meeting following a major break-in, where quite a lot was stolen, that we realised how
many trophies we had from the women’s team twenty years beforehand. We spoke about maybe putting all the England shirts we had from players like Hope Powell on the wall, creating some sort of celebration of it all, but then we started talking about putting together a women’s team.
“At the time, my daughter Lucy was also at Crystal Palace, and she’d been talking to me about Palace not having an Under 18s girls’ team and asking which team she could join. I told her I’d speak with the club secretary Paul (Fleming) to see what we could do.”
The wheels were set in motion.
And so, a year before the pandemic struck and put an end to grassroots football on a global scale, Croydon Women FC was reformed.
They spent their maiden season at Under 18s level in the Surrey County Women and Girls League, but were successful in their application to play in the Greater London Women and Girls Football League (GLWFL) as an open age team last year. For the time being they play their home games at Club Langley in Beckenham but have every intention of returning to their beloved Croydon when the time presents itself.
As with all grassroots sports, funding has been an issue for the club. But like all grassroots clubs, the heralded pub quiz has had its part to play, not just in raising some much-needed funds but also in providing a chairperson.
Croydon Women FC’s chair Emma Bowell explains: “I got involved with the club towards the end of last season where I found out about them by chance, really! They were advertising
a match I couldn’t go to, so I started following them on social media to find out about future fixtures. Not long after that, I saw they were having a pub quiz to raise funds and I decided to go along.
“I’ve always been interested in football,” continues the twenty nine-year-old civil servant from
Croydon. “I’m a big Chelsea men’s team fan and a few years ago my dad – who is also the club photographer – got an email saying Chelsea Women were playing and tickets only cost £3. I’ve had coffees that cost more than that! So we went along, and I absolutely loved it. It was such a good atmosphere, and you’re watching world-class players in these tiny stadiums so you feel really connected to them. From then on, I really got into the women’s game.”
Emma initially started life at the club offering support to players regarding their welfare. Someone the players could talk to about issues and concerns on and off the pitch. When asked to describe her role as chair, we both settled on the term hodgepodge, as she really is a Jack of all trades (and a master of all of them, by the way).
“It’s a bit of a hybrid role; I do some social media before games, thinking about the strategy of the club and where we want to get to in the next five years, the things we need to have
in place to do that, coming along to support the games and training … things like that!”
When asked about Croydon Women FC’s future plans and ambitions, she told me sustainability was key.
“Our immediate aim for the future is to solidify where we are now. We were an Under 18s club last season, so it’s about making sure we have what we need in place to help
our players grow and develop.”
This is something club secretary Paul Fleming also believes in: “My main ambition really is to ensure the club is stabilised over the next couple of years. This is the first season in an open age category, and just making sure that continues is important. Potentially opening up to other age groups is part of our indicative roadmap, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Attracting players, trying to find facilities for those players and gaining financial backing.
There’s always risk involved in setting up a new club or a new age group.” Listening to Paul, it’s clear how much careful thought has gone into ensuring Croydon Women FC isn’t a token gesture. Paul’s list of duties as club secretary also made me realise how little work I do: “As Club Secretary I organise kits, training sessions and make sure pitches are booked. I also pay the ref, make sure we have players available, sort their registrations, deal with the league, the local FA … so not a lot really!” jokes Paul.
Paul’s love of the game stemmed from supporting his own daughter as she grew up playing football. “My daughter started playing at primary school. She played for the school team and then a club. I started getting involved in the admin side of things from when she was eleven
until she retired at sixteen.” Paul’s all about providing footballing opportunities for players in Croydon and the surrounding areas. He’s also a huge advocate for women working in football, and wants more women involved in the club at every level – something that fellow
committee member Jason is also keen to address.
“If you look at one of the best women’s teams in the country at the moment, they’re managed by a woman. Emma Hayes. Look at all the progress England made when
Hope Powell was in charge. It’s important to us to have women help us to run the club. We need more women working in football.”
Jason continues: “We have high hopes for some of the girls in our squad. A lot of them are on their way to university, or they’re already studying. Some want to be sports journalists and are working towards degrees in media studies and broadcasting. Our captain is doing an
accountancy apprenticeship, and we’re looking for her to support us with our finances.” With that being said, player development is ver ymuch at the core of Croydon Women FC’s inspirational work.
“We did well in our first season as an Under 18s team last year: we finished fourth,” explained Crystal Palace and Croydon Women FC’s coach Len Nadison, whose daughter
Casey also plays for the Trams. “The idea is to try and get ourselves back to where the old Croydon used to be, and to try and create that opportunity for the younger generation.
We want to put Croydon back on the map, and encourage more players to come and join. The more we grow as a team, the more the community grows as a team.”
After only an afternoon with the team, I’m already blocking out my Sundays to go and support the club.
The family environment they’ve created in such a short space of time – shoutout to captain Megan’s biggest supporter and sideline hero Nanny Carol – is why we all grew up loving the game. And with fans already in Holland, I’ve no doubt that it won’t be long before we see Croydon Women FC 2.0 adding their own pages to the annals of women’s football history.