3 May ~ The recent history of the Welsh Premier League (WPL) hardly suggests a robust product. The league has just completed its 20th season, its second with a reduced 12 clubs. "On balance I feel the new format has been a success," said outgoing league secretary John Deakin. "But obviously there have been criticisms levelled at the league and a review should be carried out in the summer." Hardly a vote of confidence. Some discontented member clubs are keen to move back to the old format of an 18-club league.

The last restructuring in 2010 was designed to improve playing standards and increase public and media interest. The first season of the "Super 12" saw the highest ever average attendance, which dropped this year to 314, a 7.4 per cent reduction.

One of the main criticisms of the new format has been that clubs play each other too often. Including a Welsh Cup match and a two-legged League Cup tie, Afan Lido and Port Talbot Town played each other seven times last season. Even the most diehard fans struggled to motivate themselves for that many local derbies.

Further tinkering with the formula this season involved the league's first winter break, which was brought in after yet another failed attempt to introduce summer football, a concept which has consistently been rejected by the majority of member clubs.

The season culminated in a last-day title decider between the New Saints and last season's champions Bangor City. The New Saints won the game 5-0, with their comfortable victory providing them with some revenge for last season's title-deciding final day defeat.

Neath, who finished third in the league, failed to retain their domestic licence and were relegated. They had gone fully professional, signing players such as Lee Trundle, playing their part in attracting both media and crowds to the league. This season their support dropped substantially and a major sponsor withdrew, meaning they struggled to pay wages. Neath have now emulated former champions Barry Town and Rhyl in dropping down to a feeder league.

As the WPL clubs comprise a national league, they are subject to the same licensing criteria as other clubs who wish to compete in Europe. They also have to hold a domestic licence covering various areas, including a commitment to youth coaching. It is a massive amount of work for clubs who are run mainly by volunteers.

For the league to prosper, the Welsh football association need to provide clubs with the financial backing to employ more full-time staff. However, their current plans seem limited to looking at a possible salary cap and revisiting, yet again, the concept of summer football. Both may have their merits, but the reality is these plans are simply tinkering around the edges. Paul Ashley-Jones

Comments (4)
Comment by jameswba 2012-05-03 20:55:08

Interesting article, and I sympathise. Very difficult in a small country to get the league structure right. 10/12 teams and they're playing each other too often, making it boring. And if the idea of this new format was to improve the quality, European competition (surely the testing ground) has provided, at best, mixed results so far. Good effort by TNS last season, embarassment for Bangor this.

But are there really 18 clubs with good enough structures to ensure there's quality all the way down? I'm not that familiar with the Welsh league but I'd probably be for 16 teams and ditching the league cup.

Comment by Kowalski 2012-05-03 22:39:04

In 2010-2011 both Bangor and TNS made it through one round in Europe. This is success in historical terms, well since 1993 anyway.

There are at least 16 clubs with the requisite structure to gain an FAW licence so we could return to 16 or even 18 clubs. The hopes of developing the Welsh Premier League don't only lie in greater funding from the FAW / Welsh Assembly.

The FAW needs to take more of an interest in its national league. They need to point out, and then run a campaign, that the WPL is an affordable way to watch live football. To be fair to them they did try something but the campaign was only visible if you looked in the right corner of the league's official website.

I also believe that more community-based initiatives (like community ownership models) should be attempted by the clubs, I'm sure this would encourage more people to become involved in their local clubs as potentially people would feel they have more of a stake in their clubs.

We have to do something to move away from the unsustainable example set by the likes TNS and Barry. At the moment TNS are held up as An example that we should all emulate but they do not offer a yardstick for progress and they're not a beacon of hope and progress. All they have done is raise the cost of success for everybody else. Clubs like Neath try to catch up and they go bust trying. Their model doesn't offer a sustainable blueprint.

The thing that makes their example stick in the craw is that TNS are only a club on the checklists of people in Nyon and Cardiff. They have no fans (the people of Oswestry basically ignore them) and they have to rely on artificial means to maintain a competitive advantage; higher wages and a plastic pitch that was funded by money that's not available to other Welsh clubs - From the Football Foundation because their pitch is also a "community facility" also.

One of the biggest barriers to the success of the WPL, as for the majority of clubs in England and Wales, is the imperialism of the premier league. When premier league clubs like Wigan can't attract as many fans as they should because of the lure of the premier league's glamouous elite, then you can imagine the problems that semi-pro clubs in Wales face.

Comment by llannerch 2012-05-03 22:52:00

"the Welsh football association"? Very sloppy error.

As for the number of teams? 12 is right. There isn't the talent to sustain any more clubs without having to import players from England which pushes up wages in the game to unsustainable levels. The standard is better than most people would expect and deserves better media coverage but it is saturated with Premier League football let alone the English leagues and continental football

Comment by brasileiro 2012-05-03 23:16:09

What fun, I can simply cut and paste my comments from the Olympic article (read the below with that in mind) - as at least 25 per cent of it is relevant here.

Comment by brasileiro 27-04-2012 14:05 [Offensive? Unsuitable?
Report this comment

I always thought this was an opportunity to revise the Home International championship as an under-23 tournament. The winners would then be Team GB. If too difficult to organise, as said, the other FAs were happy for England to represent Team GB and so no need for any insistence on Welsh, Scots and Irish individuals.
However, I find the stance by the non-English home nation FAs appears to have a slightly hypocritical flaw - particularly the Welsh. How can Swansea and perhaps next season Cardiff happily compete in the English Premier League, and other Welsh teams in the lower tiers of the pyramid, without similar anxiety? Shouldn't Berwick Rangers be required to go back to playing Gateshead et al?
The English FA are no better in their willingness to contradict themselves in these questions: when Wimbledon were allowed to toddle off to Milton Keynes, the rank hypocrisy of the English FA exceeded that of the Welsh FA in not requiring Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Newport County and others to come home.
Pragmatically, a Celtic League, of Rangers (perhaps not now!) Celtic, Swansea, Cardiff, Coleraine, Shamrock Rovers, Cork Town, etc, etc, might have included a new franchise that might have been stabled in Dublin and formed from the old Wimbledon - this would have had more consistency than the current arrangements.
Monaco play in the French League, and so why shouldn't Celtic apply to the English League? Perhaps if Portsmouth go bust there is a tidy opportunity for them to start off in League One; whatever, let's have some clear thinking: Craig Bellamy playing at the end of his career for Team GB is not going to destroy Welsh autonomy, yet the Welsh FA feel it would. They would quite happily allow that their teams climb the pyramid and they would love Wrexham and Cardiff and others to join Swansea in the nation of foreigners and cash that is the English Premier League.

Related articles

Newtown qualify for Europe at Aberystwyth – in pictures
Aberystwyth Town 1 Newtown AFC 2 17/05/2015 - Images by WSC Photography Park Avenue, Europa League play-off final. Aberystwyth finished...
Photo of the week ~ Prestatyn Town's Bastion Gardens
Prestatyn Town 0 Port Talbot Town 0 19 October, 2013. Bastion Gardens, Welsh Premier League The action at Bastion Gardens during the first-half of...
Lee Trundle
Owen Amos uncovers the facts surrounding Lee Trundle's mysterious move Welsh Premier League side Neath When Lee Trundle was released by Bristol City...