9 October 2009 ~ In a league of Airbus UK, GAP Connah's Quay, Technogroup Welshpool and Elements Cefn Druids, it's nice to see a sponsorless, four-letter name leading the Welsh Premier League: Rhyl. The league's public profile was once boosted by a sponsored club – TNS gave Liverpool, the European champions, two good games in the Champions League in 2005-06; they also played a UEFA Cup tie against Manchester City in the Millennium Stadium. But, until 2006, TNS – which now stands for The New Saints – stood for Total Network Solutions. Nice marketing, perhaps, but the name became a punchline.

As the Welsh Premier found out, having a Shropshire-based communications company as champions does nothing for your image. TNS last won the league in 2007. In 2008 it was Llanelli – who also benefited from a benefactor – and in 2009 it was Rhyl, who also have a wealthy chairman. But Rhyl prove there's more to the Welsh Premier than sponsors and short-lived European runs. Their home, Belle Vue, has the things a top-level football ground should have: turnstiles instead of a tatty ice cream tub on a table, a club shop with home and away kits, two tea-huts instead of one burger van and, best of all, 2,000-plus seats instead of 250.

The ground is also UEFA-approved – unlike most in the league – and has hosted European football for the past six seasons. This year Rhyl played Partizan Belgrade but, after a decent start, lost 4-0. Reaching the Champions League, however, almost killed the club. At the start of 2008-09, Rhyl spent – for Welsh standards – big money. Signings included Neil Roberts, a former Wales striker, Greg Strong, who had a long career in England and Scotland, Josh Johnson, a Trinidadian winger and Lee Kendall, the league's best keeper. Rhyl took the title winning 29 games out of 34. But the squad, like the wage bill, wasn't sustainable. Roberts joined Manchester City (in a non-playing role), Johnson, who disappointed after a bright start, was released, Kendall left for Port Talbot. Craig Jones, a flying winger, went to TNS, Luke Holden, an energetic midfielder, joined Charlton Athletic. Even the manager, Allan Bickerstaff, left although Rhyl insisted that wasn't financial.

As players departed, rumours started. Would Rhyl go bust? Was it Barry Town all over again? Rhyl asked the FAW for their £300,000 European prize money early. The FAW said no. The rumours got louder. The club said the decision was "an inconvenience", which would cause "reformulation" of the budget but it denied administration. The squad is smaller but the first team is arguably better. Lee Hunt, who left Rhyl for Barrow in 2008, has returned and is scoring. John Leah – surprisingly released by TNS – has fitted into midfield. The new player-manager, Greg Strong, is yet to lose a league game.

This year's title race will feature the usual runners: Rhyl, Llanelli, TNS and possibly Neath, who are now full-time. But of those Rhyl have the most heritage (while playing in England, they reached the FA Cup fourth round, the third round twice and have beaten, among others, Stoke, Wigan, Barnsley and Notts County). They have the most fans, with the highest average attendance in the past six seasons. And, of course, they have a simple four-letter name. Owen Amos

Comments (8)
Comment by Jorge Porbillas 2009-10-09 19:51:01

Good to see the Welsh Prem getting some coverage, even if the article is obviously written by a Rhyl fan ... however, Neath aren't full time and no team has a " a tatty ice cream tub on a table" instead of a turnstile ... seriously, how patronising!

Comment by imp 2009-10-09 21:38:54

I thought it was only in Lincolnshire they had tatty flavoured ice cream. Yum.

Comment by Kowalski 2009-10-09 22:14:58

"Their home, Belle Vue, has the things a top-level football ground should have: turnstiles instead of a tatty ice cream tub on a table, a club shop with home and away kits, two tea-huts instead of one burger van and, best of all, 2,000-plus seats instead of 250......Wooden stands, stand furniture that has the air of bring and buy crossed with meccano, several beautiful view- obstrucing girders, a delightful pillar and girder assault course that masquerades as a thoroughfare down one side, daringly exposed scaffolding poles that give the ground a certain post-industrial chic (a nod to the Hacienda?), the chairman's personalised Rolls Royce blocking the fire exit......

Comment by Owen Amos 2009-10-10 02:05:45

Thanks for the comments.

I thought Neath had gone full-time - they certainly announced they were.

Apologies if they backtracked and I missed it.

I can assure you I'm not a Rhyl fan! And I've seen my fair share of tatty ice cream tubs on tables, as well. In fact, I'm not sure Grange Quins even stretched to a tatty ice cream tub during their final days in the Welsh Prem...


Comment by Sean of the Shed 2009-10-10 06:49:00

Are Airbus just a sponsered team? I was under the impression that they had grown from a works team like Vauxhall Motors in the Conference North.

Comment by Kowalski 2009-10-10 10:26:51

Sean they are, they used to be called British Aerospace at some point.

Comment by Taximan 2009-10-11 17:17:48

Obviously Kowalski is a poor Bangor fan !

Comment by Jorge Porbillas 2009-10-12 13:30:51

TNS are the only full time team in the WP - some of the others (Rhyl, Llanelli and Neath) may pay wages which mean the players don't need other jobs, but they certainly don't train on a daily basis.
Tatty ice cream tubs are standard turnstile operator's money carrying equipment - but instead of a turnstile? I don't think so.

Oh, and to be seriously pedantic Rhyl is a three letter name as Rh is classed as one letter in Welsh ...


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