It was a story that started almost a year and a half ago in a blaze of publicity which involved a major newspaper, allegations of corruption in another sport, a non-league football club and suicide. Now, with the half-way point in the following season fast approaching, it seems almost certain that the final chapter to play out in the life of Croydon Athletic Football Club will end in the collapse of a club which found itself thrust into the front page of newspapers around the world and, as the authorities pick over the carcass of this club over the next few weeks and months, a question well worth asking will be that of how nobody came to recognise the signs that there was something terribly, horribly wrong at this club earlier than it was.
Croydon Athletic gave a very familiar death rattle last week, when they were unable to field a team for their Ryman League match at Ramsgate. This followed the award of a ten point deduction and a £7,500 fine against the club for financial irregularities stemming from its ownership at the hands of Mazhar Majeed, whose world had started to come tumbling down during the summer of 2010. Twenty-five charges of misconduct had been levied against the club by the FA relating to Majeed’s ownership of the club, during which time it was promoted from Division One South of the Ryman League. This is understood to have been followed by a mass departure of players, which led to the club’s inability to field a team last weekend. The point deduction has resulted in the team – which was relegated back after just one season in the Ryman League Premier Division – being left well adrift at the bottom of the table, with just two points to its name this season.
Majeed had owned the club since 2008 but his world started to cave in during August of last year when he was the subject of an undercover sting by the News Of The World. Although the main focus of the sting was spot-fixing in cricket (Majeed was offered £150,000 for information relating to a test match between England and Pakistan), he also stated, in relation to money laundering and his ownership of Croydon Athletic, that “The only reason I bought a football club is to do that”. It seems highly likely that the reason why the FA investigation into the club was the criminal investigation into the money laundering allegations, as Majeed’s trial concluded in October.
Since Majeed’s assets were frozen, the club has been unable to resist being out of the spotlight. The Danish group Fodboldselskabet – who had previously been involved, as some may recall, at Chester – bought a fifty-one per cent shareholding in the club in December of 2010, but folded in February of this year meaning that, extraordinarily enough, the shares reverted to Majeed’s sister-in-law, Jenna Manji. She has stated that the club is up for sale, but the question of who would wish to buy – of all of the non-league football clubs that need a little money put into them – Croydon Athletic, considering everything that has come to pass over the last year and a half or so, isn’t one with an easy answer.
Majeed wasn’t the only individual of questionable character to be involved at the club at the time, either. In July 2010, former chairman Dean Fisher was imprisoned for stealing half a million pounds from his employers, using just over half of that money to keep the football club afloat. Majeed, however, went on to deny the allegations of the money laundering allegations made against him, but was sentenced to thirty months in prison at the start of November for his role in the spot-fixing scandal, along with three members of the Pakistan cricket team, for whom he he acted as agent. The money laundering case has yet to be heard, along with another for tax evasion. The human cost if the mismanagement of Croydon Athletic, meanwhile, was thrown into sharp focus in October 2010 by the death of the club’s chairman David Le Cluse. In inquest earlier this year ascertained that Mr Le Cluse, who had built a close friendship with Majeed since replacing Fisher as the club’s chairman, had committed suicide.
At the time of writing, Croydon Athletic FC is still alive. No formal announcement has been made yet over whether the club’s home match against Godalming Town this weekend will go ahead and, all the while that this is the case, there is hope that somehow it will manage to pull through, although relegation from the Ryman League at the end of this season seems an inevitability and the small matter of how on earth it will pay the fine recently levied against it for the financial irregularities whilst under Majeed’s ownership or for failing to fulfil their match at Ramsgate without somebody with deep pockets stepping in from the shadows is very much open to question. Manji should sever the ties between her family and the club once and for all, and if the club manages to somehow survive, either in the Ryman League or at a lower level, then perhaps at least a few lessons may have been learnt, not least about the possibility of non-league football clubs being used for the purposes of money laundering. For now, though, it seems that the end is nigh for Croydon Athletic.
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