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Herne Bay Football Club manager Ben Smith is recovering from coronavirus

Herne Bay manager Ben Smith says it was the wrong decision to play a recent friendly match and he has since been battling the effects of Covid-19.

Bay played out a 5-5 draw with Welling Town on December 12 and Smith, along with another member of the backroom team, later tested positive for the virus.

Herne Bay manager Ben Smith is recovering from coronavirus
Herne Bay manager Ben Smith is recovering from coronavirus

Smith, who is a teacher by day, is only now over the worst of the illness and at the end of his isolation period, after what he described as an horrendous few days.

All senior football is now off limits in Tier 4 areas but prior to that teams were playing friendly matches in readiness for a potential return to league action.

He said: “You wanted to get friendlies in, but in the back of your mind you are thinking, why on earth are we playing friendlies?!

“We had very little clarity from the powers that be, in regard of when the league could restart - they have since said we will get 14 days’ notice - but prior to that we were just told they would review it.

“It is then very difficult. Do you plan friendlies in, to make sure you are as fit as the other sides or leave it because it is not safe. We got caught with that and I don’t think we should have played the friendly against Welling Town. But when everyone else is playing and training it is like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We did it and I got Covid.

“I am not saying I got it at that game but there is a good chance I did and also a good chance I then potentially passed it onto someone else. You can have all the regulations you like but the strain we have in our area is 70% more transmissible and that’s with the procedures and protocols in place.

“I kind of knew at the time but you go with it because everyone else is and I have taken the brunt of it really while others have had to self isolate. I hate to think other clubs are going to get hit with it as well.”

Since Saturday, non-elite football matches and training has been suspended in all tier four areas, although under-18s football can continue.

“It is outrageous to think that Covid discriminates from someone who is 17 and others who are 19,” said Smith, one of many in the region questioning the wisdom of the decision to continue junior football.

For Herne Bay, they now face a wait to see when football in the Isthmian League will restart. Bay have played six of their 36 league matches and any restart isn’t likely to happen until mid-January at the earliest.

Smith believes the problems this season are only a knock-on from the mistakes made last term when the 2019/20 campaign was scrapped by the FA.

He said: “The pressure comes from the decisions they made last year, to null and void it, that then puts a lot of pressure on this season being fulfilled.

“I think some of the rulings and allowances they are making is just so they can get the season finished, or it has been. I think we have been put under more pressure due to the poor decision making previously.

“Quite clearly, it has not been safe. I want to play football, I live and breathe it, it is all you want to do, but looking back was it safe? I would say no.

“Now we are in a situation where under-18s can go and play a game of football together but can’t see their grandparents for Christmas, it is a bit of a car crash really. What is going to happen now? Does anyone think this league can actually get finished?”

Smith is hoping it will but admits there is every chance it won’t.

He said: “They might start messing around with it, saying you play an opponent only once, but there needs to be a review of how the league was fixtured. Some other leagues, like the Southern Counties East, have played loads more.

“I know we have had the FA Trophy but they have had the FA Vase. Up until now we have had one midweek game. I don’t understand the fixtures. It has been horrendous.

“We could have played 14-15 games at this point, that would at least alleviate a huge backlog we are going to have at the end of the season.

“Last season should have been their priority and I thought it at the time, they shouldn’t have just scrapped it. It was all about not ruining the following season but next season was always going to be a bit of a write-off considering what was going on with the pandemic and I thought to myself, ‘why is next season more important than this season?’

“Now we are on a knife edge where we could be writing off a second season in a row, then it starts becoming a problem doesn’t it?”

Smith is now having to keep his players motivated with no restart date to prepare towards. He’s got two or three players lined up to join the team as well but with no football to play, any announcement will have to wait.

“It is important they do keep that motivation and stay as fit as they can possibly be,” he said.

“I know it is difficult, because they could turn around and say in 14 days you are going to play. Two weeks isn’t a great deal of time to get players match fit and I know a lot of teams will be picking up injuries from it and that is what we have to guard against as well.”

Bay are 10th in Isthmian South East with seven points from six matches.

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