Despite only losing once all season, Rhyl FC only wrapped up the Welsh Premier title on the last day of the season, before completing the Welsh 'treble' within a week. Paul Ashley-Jones reports on their excellent season
Rhyl FC may not have managed to emulate Arsenal’s feat of going unbeaten in the league all season, but they came out on top when it came to winning silverware. The start of May saw the club clinch the Welsh Premier Championship, the Welsh League Cup and the Welsh Cup all in the space of eight days.
Only one league defeat all season saw Rhyl win a closely contested championship, beating TNS in a race that went to the very last game. During the season the club’s attendances doubled from an early average of 250, culminating in the 2,741 who saw their 1-0 win over TNS, who are the only full-time team in the Welsh Premier since the financial collapse of Barry Town.
Flushed with success Rhyl director Peter Parry stated: “Going full-time is always on our agenda – as is switching to the English pyramid system.” While the ambition of the former could arguably be seen as laudable, the second seems surprising given the team’s success this season. Apart from the fact that the English Football Association would be unlikely to want them, why would a team that has just qualified for next season’s Champions League preliminaries want to give up future chances of European competition to play in the lower reaches of the English pyramid?
In public, the club have argued that their view is that the town could support a full-time team and that this means they could one day make it into the Football League. Rhyl’s proximity to England, where many of their players are based, is clearly a factor. However, the Welsh Premier and, in particular, the Football Association of Wales, must also look at themselves for the reason. The fact that there are still three semi-professional sides – Newport, Merthyr and Colwyn Bay – that choose to play in England rather than in a league that offers three European places to its members would seem to reflect poorly on the progress of the League of Wales to date.
The competition has at least seen a steady rise in both playing standards and attendances (reaching a 300 average this season) since its inception in 1992, but suffers from a lack of coverage, in particular from BBC Wales who have owned the television rights. Rhyl’s game with TNS, effectively the championship decider, was shown live, but this was only the second such game shown in ten years. Match highlights have been hopelessly inadequate over the past few years. With Sky having outbid BBC Wales for the new deal, there is hope that they will offer more meaningful coverage in the future.
Matters have not been helped by a lack of financial support from the FAW itself. Having fought so hard for the League’s creation, the body has been reluctant to commit substantial levels of funding to improve facilities and pitches to the required UEFA standards. The FAW also raised a few eyebrows recently by announcing that the three semi-professional sides, together with Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, would be readmitted to next season’s Welsh Cup, the winners of which qualify for the UEFA Cup. Whether UEFA would accept the nomination of a side playing in the English pyramid remains to be seen. This potential route into Europe would seem to remove an important factor encouraging teams playing outside the country into joining the League itself.
Yet if the League is to grow and fulfil its potential, then it not only has to retain teams such as Rhyl, but must become an attractive enough proposition to encourage at least the other semi-professional clubs to join, if not the three Nationwide League clubs themselves.
From WSC 209 July 2004. What was happening this month
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