'Whitstable is my idea of hell', says Merstham boss
MERSTHAM boss Hayden Bird has blasted Whitstable Town for the facilities and conditions he and his players had to endure on Tuesday night.
Having witnessed a quagmire of a pitch on Saturday at Worthing, the manager didn't think he'd see a worse playing surface so soon.
But all preparation for Tuesday's game went out of the window from the moment they arrived at the Kent club and they went on to lose 1-0.
"In the early stages of my career in the Ryman Division, I've been to some God-forsaken places," said Bird.
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"But Whitstable? If I die and go to hell, stick me in the Whitstable dressing room because that is my idea of hell.
"I've been in football management now since 1999 – that is the worst place I've ever set foot in.
"We got there and sat in the dark for an hour due to an electricity fault, so the game kicked off at 8.15pm, and the pitch was completely unplayable and it was miles worse than Worthing!
"I didn't think I'd see that again after Saturday, but you were sinking in it and it hadn't been rolled.
"The dressing rooms were unhygienic, there was no hot water for my players to have a shower and there were no refreshments – this is supposed to be senior football.
"I wouldn't expect those conditions in the Surrey Intermediate League – it was nothing short of disgraceful.
"The best part of the game was the final whistle because I could actually go home.
"Whether we had won 1-0 or lost 1-0, I wouldn't have cared. If that is what non-league football is about in this country, then don't expect anyone to ever achieve anything."
On Saturday, Bird's team travelled to the south coast to Worthing, and despite leading the hosts 2-0 at the break through goals from Rob Carter and Fabio Saraiva, they conceded four times to end their seven-match unbeaten run.
But the pitch was again the major talking point.
"I think when you play on pitches that are unplayable, it doesn't become about tactics, organisation, technical ability and a skill, it becomes who can kick the ball furthest in a quagmire," he said.
"It was nothing to do with football and the game should not have been played – it was difficult enough for the players to stand up let alone pass the ball with any sort of quality.
"There wasn't, admittedly, any standing water on the pitch, but when you set foot on it, you sunk.
"People complain about producing young players in this country, but how on earth can you develop them when you're playing on a pitch I wouldn't expect to see at Sunday League level?"
And the boss believes the pitch factor turned the contest into a scrap from start to finish with zero quality.
"We were leading 2-0 at half-time, but if it was on a proper pitch at 2-0, you'd think you could control the game to see out the victory," he said.
"Credit to Worthing because they coped with the conditions better than we did, and people can say it's about adapting, but it was a farce in my view.
"Their second goal was a penalty which was from player fighting for the ball in the mud, while their third and fourth goals were scrambles.
"There was no quality in the game from either team from start to finish because of the pitch."
Merstham are back at home this weekend against seventh-placed Ramsgate and Bird paid tribute to his club groundsman.
"I'll be able to talk about a football match next week because our pitch is excellent and one of the best ones in the league," he said.
"That is great credit to Martin Burr and his team – he deserves recognition because they put in a lot of time an effort into the pitch.
"We may not win or play well on Saturday, but it will be about football again thankfully."
Merstham will be without Saraiva for the next four games though, with the creative midfielder going out to Dallas to do some coaching.