Follow Neath in going out of business
28 April ~ Welsh Premier League (WPL) club Llanelli being wound up in the High Court is a blow not just for fans but for the League itself, coming 12 months after the Neath's similar fate. Llanelli's unpaid tax bill of £21,000 indicates the level at which teams in the largely semi-professional league exist. The amount was contested by the club, who only felt a £3,000 VAT debt was payable. However, they have other debts to former players and the town council, from whom they rent their ground, and this small amount tipped them over the edge.
There is talk that former chairman Nitin Parekh will appeal the decision but there is little expectation or hope of this. He will already be resigned to losing the considerable funds put in as loans over the last few years. That financial investment brought success – Llanelli went full-time in 2005-06 and won the League in 2007-08. Despite reverting to semi-professional status they also won the Welsh Cup in 2011 and qualified for European football for seven consecutive seasons.
Hopes that continued success would help build the fanbase proved unfounded and last season, despite finishing fourth, the club only had an average attendance of 174, less than half who watched during their title-winning season. It is probably no coincidence that the arrival of Premier League football just 12 miles east in Swansea coincided with a decline in attendances. By the start of this season it was clear the club was in difficulty, its plight being the subject of an article in WSC 309, November 2012.
Llanelli are not like Neath, a relatively new club who have disappeared without trace since being wound up. They have a long history, having been formed in 1896, and there is already talk of a "phoenix club" rising in the town, though at what level remains to be seen. This will ultimately be determined by the Football Association of Wales and will at best be in Welsh League Division Three, three steps below the WPL. However the club could find itself having to start in the local Carmarthenshire League, a fall of six steps down the pyramid.
The death of both clubs means membership of the WPL is now heavily biased towards north Wales. Next season will see seven of the 12 clubs located in the north, with two in mid-Wales and only three in the south. This geographical bias is also reflected in the quest for honours; this season's top three are all from the north, as are both Welsh Cup finalists. With all three remaining southern teams struggling to attract decent crowds and Cardiff City joining Swansea in the Premier League next season the future sustainability of these clubs, and by default the League itself, must be a cause for concern. Paul Ashley-Jones