Former Waterford manager Marc Bircham has claimed that his reluctance to play George Forrest - the son of the club's owner Richard - was a factor in the deterioration of relations behind the scenes that led to his abrupt exit.
Bircham broke his silence to give an interview to English radio station Talksport where he detailed the chain of events that led to his sensational departure ahead of tomorrow's promotion/relegation playoff with UCD.
He confirmed that tensions around the availability of underage players to fill out his depleted squad for last Friday's game with St Patrick's Athletic were the main factor that contributed to a Monday text row with Forrest that was followed by a suspension and then a contract termination which played itself out over Twitter.
But Bircham has offered his opinion that the writing was already on the wall because of his reluctance to use the owner's son George, a 21-year-old who has featured sparingly since his arrival in the summer.
"Our relationship was strained because I’m not really a yes man, and I don’t want to go into it, but he has his son at the club and I didn’t play his son," said Bircham.
"A week ago I told my chairman that his (Forrest) son wouldn’t play for me next year as I’d be bringing in better players and he might not be on the bench for Friday’s game.
"I think the owner’s used this, he put out a statement that I wasn't part of the long term future which I'm not because I wouldn't play his son. I’m a man of principle and it’s cost me the chance to manage in the play-off."
Bircham reckons this is the reason why he didn't get support in a disagreement with the club's underage department ahead of the St Patrick's Athletic match.
"We had four suspended, three injured and only had two (outfield) subs. We had the U19s training with us and then on the Thursday before the game on Friday we arranged for the U19s to come and train with us to be subs in the game," said Bircham.
"But we got reports back to us that the players should train with the U19s because they had a cup final on Saturday. They didn’t train with us the day before (Thursday). My rule is that anyone whether it’s your captain, goalie, centre forward, if you don’t train the day before you don’t play so I didn’t use them. I got asked afterwards in the press why I didn’t have the U19s and explained it and that was it."
Bircham said the decision for the youths to focus on preparations for the underage game came from academy director Mike Geoghegan. That is why he was angered by a social media message from the club's academy account - which was subsequently deleted - which suggested communication from the first team was an issue. The former QPR defender claims to have heard conversations involving his coaching staff and went to chairman Mitchell Cowling to complain.
"The chairman told them to take it (the social media post) straight down. I asked the chairman that you’ve got to put out a statement condemning that and you’re dealing with it in-house because I want to get on with the game because my staff members are fuming. Then the owner stepped in and said no."
Bircham has said this was the flashpoint which led to the fallout. It was followed by a statement from Forrest where he stated that he was 'backed into a corner' by Bircham and 'given an ultimatum.'
"It was a text conversation with the owner and I disagreed with him, which I do 98 percent of the time," said Bircham.
"He suspended me for my head not being in the right place. Well, anyone who knows me knows my head isn’t in the right place most of the time and I think that’s why I’m so good at the job I do.
"The next day (Tuesday), I wasn’t allowed to go training or talk to the players so I had to put out a statement which I thought was very PC of me, that statement, if you read it. It was very calm, just putting out why I was suspended and hope they do well for the game. Then I got sacked on Twitter.
"The chairman (Cowling) is a great guy, knows about football. When it was left to me and the chairman to run stuff, everything went smoothly. The owner, eh, yeah, ... I’m old school, when you leave a football club you don’t really say much. You thank everyone and go, but I’ve sort of been backed into a corner where I have to because he said to the players that I had to go because I was blackmailing him which is ridiculous. Not for money, I didn’t tie him up OJ style."
“Every decision that I make is for the betterment of the team, the players and the club, that’s the way that I do that. It weren’t even that big a fallout. That decision to do that, is not for the betterment of the club. I’d have dealt with it afterwards (the game on Friday), and probably walked away afterwards. The owner had a kneejerk reaction.
“I would tell him where he was going wrong and whether he paid any notice, I wouldn’t bend my principles for anyone because you build your foundations on that. I just wanted to be as professional as possible as it's hard.”
Bircham went on to claim that Forrest had bought Waterford 'for his two sons to play professional football' with the owner's other son playing at non league level in England. "I don't mind, that's your prerogative, fair play to you, put your money to it (but) don’t jazz it up any other way," he continued
He added that he received a call from Ian Hendon, the former West Ham first team coach who has been drafted in at short notice to help prepare for the do-or-die clash with UCD at Richmond Park and that he is thinking of attending the game as he has to return to Ireland to collect his possessions.
"I'd love them to win it because the players have done so well for me and the fans and the town deserve it," he said.
Waterford FC have been contacted for comment.
League of Ireland
Waterford have been plunged into crisis ahead of Friday’s promotion/relegation playoff after manager Marc Bircham was sacked on Tuesday. In a brief statement, the club simply stated that his contract had been terminated and that ”the club will be making no further comment at this time”.