KENNY SHIELS believes Derry City’s derby clash against Finn Harps last Friday night should never have gone ahead due to the dire state of the Finn Park pitch.
The Derry City boss made desperate attempts to postpone the fixture prior to kick-off and convened a meeting with the FAI’s match delegate, complaining the sodden surface wasn’t up to standard.
The playing surface at the Ballybofey venue received widespread criticism as the midweek snow and heavy rain left it in a poor state of repair and the much anticipated season opener became a ‘damp squib’ for the 1,150 travelling Derry City support.
Shiels claims both the FAI delegate and officials agreed the heavy pitch would severely hamper the quality of the game but match referee, Tom Connolly decided it wasn’t a health and safety concern and refused to postpone the fixture.
And while the Derry manager was adamant the game shouldn’t have got the green light, he understands the pressure the officials were under to play the game due to the large numbers of supporters in attendance.
“We tried to get the game postponed,” confirmed Shiels. “Before the game started I went to see the match delegate and told him the pitch wasn’t playable’,” he explained.
“From the sides and stands it looked playable but walking over it, it was wet, spongy and the ball wouldn’t bounce. You couldn’t pass the ball and if you can’t do that then the team that advocates that type of game is going to be disadvantaged.
“I spoke with the referee and he agreed it wasn’t good but said to see how it goes for the first 10 or 15 minutes.
“I can understand the referee because there’s a big crowd there and he doesn’t want to let everyone down but it was before the game I put in a complaint. I wanted an answer and didn’t get a satisfactory one.
“The referee was under pressure to play the game but in the end, I was proven right and football became the victim.”
The match certainly wasn’t for the football purists as Harps battled to their first win over Derry since 1998. And while Shiels refused to blame the conditions for his side’s opening day defeat, he said the surface ‘massively reduced the entertainment’ value of the clash.
“It’s the referee’s remit to ensure the health and safety of the players and if there’s no danger to the players’ safety, in their opinion, then they play the game, irrespective of the danger to football.
“There was a massive danger to football because it endangered the product,” he continued. “And they must also ensure the quality of the two teams isn’t impaired. It’s as simple as that.
“When we stepped on the pitch with boots, we went in at least three inches into the ground in places but the referee said it was playable because it didn’t endanger the players.
“However, it endangered the product massively. This was all discussed before the game so it’s not a case of making excuses.
“You have to do what’s best for football. I know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and I know this time last year the pitch at Brandywell wasn’t up to standard.
“But we have to put football first. It’s an entertainment sport where people come and pay money to be entertained. And if there’s something there that is massively hampering that entertainment and that being the pitch then don’t play the game!”