Croydon Athletic at risk after Pakistan betting scandal
The corruption allegations have enraged fans in Pakistan
By Matt Slater
Croydon Athletic, the football minnows linked to the alleged Pakistan cricket betting scam, are a club "in crisis", according to their chairman.
The team's future was cast into doubt when a Sunday newspaper implicated owner Mazhar Majeed in the scandal.
The 35-year-old businessman is also the subject of separate investigations into alleged fraud and money-laundering.
Chairman David Le Cluse said the news came as a "massive shock" with the club facing a struggle to fulfil fixtures.
The team's official website claims Saturday's Ryman League Premier Division home game against Concord Rangers "is definitely on - barring hail, thunder and damnation" but Le Cluse was unable to give such a guarantee.
"I just don't know," said Le Cluse. "The situation is constantly changing and we're just taking one day at a time at the moment.
"We're in a crisis but we're doing our utmost to save the club."
The Ryman League's chairman Alan Turvey and general secretary Nick Robinson visited Croydon Athletic on Wednesday to ascertain if the club would be able to continue this season. They left Thornton Heath reasonably confident about Saturday's game but very concerned about subsequent fixtures.
Le Cluse said everything was being done to find a solution to the club's difficulties and acknowledged the help offered by the league.
But he admitted little has been heard from Majeed since Sunday and confirmed that investigators from HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) had been at the Keith Tuckey Stadium on Tuesday to discuss the money-laundering allegations.
Those allegations include claims that Majeed, a property developer who also worked as a cricket agent, laundered millions of pounds earned in global betting scams through Croydon Athletic. An undercover reporter for The News of the World recorded him saying the "only reason" he bought the club was to do this.
But even before this week's remarkable situation, the non-league outfit have not been strangers to controversy.
In completely unrelated events earlier this summer, Le Cluse's predecessor as chairman, Dean Fisher, was given a three-year prison sentence for stealing more than £500,000 from his employers, TCS Media. More than half of that amount was filtered through the club, prompting many seasoned non-league observers to speculate about Croydon Athletic's recent progress.
Club officials have denied that Croydon Athletic benefited from Fisher's fraud, saying he was promptly repaid for any money he put into the team.
His activities, however, were sufficient to attract the interest of the Football Association, which has taken an active interest in the running of the club.
We just hope we can continue but it's completely out of our hands
Croydon manager Tim O'Shea
And rumours about Croydon Athletic's finances have persisted amongst rival teams. They have looked at the playing squad and wondered how the club was paying for them with average attendances of just 200.
One source from a league rival, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "They are paying wages that their crowds just can't sustain. They seem to be paying twice what we pay on gates that are half of ours."
Le Cluse hit back at these "unfair" claims saying the team's budget was "not out of the ordinary".
He said most of the players, many of whom have Football League experience, were at the club because they wanted to play for "the best coaching set-up in the league", manager Tim O'Shea and his assistant Neil Smith.
O'Shea, a former Arsenal and Spurs trainee who enjoyed a long spell in the Football League with Gillingham, went even further than his chairman and said speculation about his players' wages was fuelled by "jealousy".
Wright played for Leeds, Ipswich and Southampton in a successful career
He rejected suggestions that any of his staff were earning wages way beyond the league average and said players like former Ipswich star Jermaine Wright were attracted to Croydon Athletic for purely football-related reasons.
"At this level you're probably talking about differences in weekly wages of about £50," said O'Shea.
"I would stake my life that 90% of my players are here because they like how Neil (Smith) and I work and they think this is a group of players going places."
O'Shea, who came to the club two years ago when it was second from bottom of the football pyramid's eighth tier, was also unable to confirm if Saturday's game would go ahead and said he and his staff were waiting for their first pay cheque of the season to clear.
He remained confident Croydon Athletic would be able to meet its playing commitments this season but admitted they may have to field academy and youth players if the senior team is disbanded. The uncertainty surrounding the club has already prompted O'Shea to cancel Thursday's training session.
The Croydon-born Majeed bought the club in 2008 when it was struggling in the Ryman League Division One South.
The Rams' fortunes soon changed for the better and they were promoted as free-scoring champions to the Ryman League's top flight last season. New players were added over the summer and they are currently unbeaten in nine games, including pre-season.
"There's a team down here who are in it for the right reasons, and that's football," said O'Shea.
"I would hate to think that all our hard work can be destroyed by fabrication and rumours. We just hope we can continue but it's completely out of our hands."
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