FOOTBALL: Cirencester Town chairman insists bad weather is giving title rivals Merthyr a big advantage

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Cirencester Town chairman Steve Abbley Cirencester Town chairman Steve Abbley

CIRENCESTER TOWN chairman Steve Abbley believes his side is no longer on a level playing field with principal rivals Merthyr Town at the top of the Calor Southern League Division One South & West.

Ciren led the division until the recent prolonged biblical deluges caused a league-wide raft of postponements.

The loss of Tuesday night’s game at Shortwood United took the number of league and cup matches that Ciren have had cancelled since Christmas to 12.

Meanwhile, Merthyr and their 3G pitch, have been able to fulfil all their home engagements, moving nine points clear of their Gloucestershire-based rivals in the title race.

Merthyr are not merely making use of their ability to play while most other grounds are waterlogged, but they are taking advantage of a familiarity with their plastic surface which is alien to so many of their rivals.

On Saturday, Merthyr extended their lead at the head of the table with a 12-0 thrashing of Guildford City.

Now the backlog of fixtures is causing an extraordinary finale in Ciren’s season – they may have four games in hand of their Welsh opponents but with the recent rescheduling of the postponed Clevedon game (March 4) the Centurions are now due to play nine games in March.

“I think Merthyr have already got the cigars out,” said Abbley. “The weather has tilted the league completely in their favour.

“It has never been adequately explained to me how Merthyr, backed by Coal Board grants, were given dispensation to put in a plastic pitch.

“It never went to a vote among chairmen but was a decision made by the management committee of the Southern League. Of course, the recent Conference vote means Merthyr, with their plastic pitch, can go no higher than the Southern Premier in any case. And that will not be voted on again for five years.”

Abbley also highlighted the financial pressure his club is now under.

“It is biting quite deep because with no home games there is no cash flow. All the full time staff still have to be paid, as do the players.

“Our arrangement is that we pay 10 players for 40 weeks of the year – a bit like the England cricketers being on central contracts. We feel it is the honourable thing to do.

“A rescheduled game from Saturday afternoon to a Tuesday night means we lose about 50 per cent of the expected revenue. The crowd is much smaller and they don’t stay around in the bar as long.

“I am having to make up the shortfall out of my own pocket now. I had thought we might make a profit this season or at least break even, but the shame is we are now heading for a loss.”

Being an ex-pro himself with the likes of Swindon Town and Cheltenham, Abbley knows only too well the strains that playing nine games in 29 days can put on a footballer’s body.

“Playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday, the fatigue leaves you susceptible to muscle injuries like groins, hamstrings and calves, and there will inevitably be suspensions too” said Abbley.

“And remember, these guys are mostly holding down full-time jobs.”

Abbley has one date etched in his diary which he feels could be pivotal.

“We travel to play Merthyr on Saturday, March 1. If we lose that game, the title is gone.”

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