THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

5 September ~ A decade ago Wrexham were the highest placed Welsh football club playing in the English system. There’s a very real chance that at full-time today they will be the fourth highest, if Newport County AFC win their first ever Conference game against their Welsh brethren. Wrexham’s decline is in marked contrast to the recent successes of Cardiff and Swansea, who are both finally living up to their potential after decades in the lower league doldrums. But while both the South Wales league clubs pushed for promotion to the Premier League last year, Wrexham were "consolidating" in the Conference, and wondering how the hell they had ended up there.

Newport’s recent history is one of success after success. A record-breaking season in the Conference South last year saw them promoted in March, returning almost to the level they were at before going bust. Along with Aldershot and Maidstone, they were one of the victims of football's grim days at the end of the 1980s, when it seemed to be a dying sport and clubs were being lost to bankruptcy with frightening regularity.

Wrexham actually benefited from one of those departures. Although they finished 92nd in the League in 1991, they were saved from relegation. The following season they won a famous FA Cup tie against Arsenal, the previous season’s League champions. They finished the season bumping along in the basement division before promotion the following year. They then stayed in Division Two (now League One) for almost ten years, with Swansea and Cardiff a tier below.

Their fall to the Conference bears striking similarities with the events that led to the original Newport County’s relegation from the League and collapse. Dodgy chairmen with more interest in the property value of the stadium than the fortunes of the team feature in both stories. In Newport’s case he succeeded, which is why County will host Wrexham in a council-developed stadium (complete with athletics track) today.

The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham is safe from the property developers at the moment. As the football ground with the world’s longest continuous record for hosting international matches, it seems to have avoided the fate of Newport’s Somerton Park, built on while the club was rebuilt at the bottom of the pyramid. As today's game will be the first time in over 20 years that these clubs have met in a league match, there is an opportunity for plenty of nostalgia about the “good old days”. Truthfully, though, both clubs are seeking to put some bad old days behind them, and get back to where they feel they belong. Either team could win and be one step closer. Jon Matthias

Comments (16)
Comment by dcfcsteve 2010-09-05 21:34:25

I know it's a can of worms and that supporters of both clubs will scream 'never', but I'd like to see Wrexham and County playing in the Welsh Premier League.

I know the issues Newport had with thw FAW in the 90's, so aren't in need a lecture on the club's history. I just think Newport will struggle to get beyond a relatively low level even if they do return to the English League, and the same for Wrexham to a lesser degree. Newport are a League 1 club at absolute best, and would be more likely to hang around in League 2.

I think the Welsh Premier League would benefit both clubs in that they'd finally be in a position to not only pick-up decent silverware (the Blue Square South trophy doesn't count ! :o) and they'd regularly feature in Europe. Plus as Welsh clubs they'd be playing in the Welsh system for Welsh trophies against other Welsh sides. It would also be of huge benefit to the Welsh league in return, giving it a real boost.

I know fans of both clubs will baulk at this suggestion and that it won't happen, but surely representing their home town and country in Europe must be more fun that playing the likes of Hayes and Yeading in another country's league...?

Comment by HORN 2010-09-05 23:22:52

This will surely seem incomprehensible to dcfcsteve, but the WPL is simply not on any Newport fan's radar. The effect on Newport of joining the WPL would be much the same as it would do for Manchester United. Put simply it would kill the club, for the simple reason that the people putting money into Newport County have higher expectations.

As steve rightly infers, games against the likes of Hayes & Yeading aren't something Newport fans would necessarily choose, but that'll remain our destiny until we earn the right to play better opposition. The idea that Newport might instead choose regular fixtures against the likes of Newtown and Bala for the honour of being anally pummelled by a third-rate European side once every year has as much gravitas as Mephitophilis's line in Paradise Lost:

"Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven".

It won't ever happen because, from any Newport fan's perspective, it's a preposterous idea.

Comment by HORN 2010-09-05 23:29:06

Damn my grammar and spelling.

Comment by jb5000 2010-09-06 11:12:55

I've never understood why the WPL doesn't allow Cardiff and Swansea (and why not Wrexham and Newport too) to enter a reserve side.

The standard would be closer, so not wreck competitiveness, and deliver many of dcfcsteve's benefits. The reserve sides would obviously be excluded from european qualification, and similar setups seem to work in Spain and Germany.

The only stumbling block would appear to be the WPL's pride at not wanting reserves. They ought to get over themselves.

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-09-06 12:57:03

@jb5000

Because that would be like Man Utd reserves playing in the SPL, or Read Madrid reserves playing in Serie A. I.e in FIFA terms it's a totally different country.

The bigger problem with the FAW Premier League is that they have no clubs in the most populated part of Wales, i.e. the South East beyond Port Talbot and they forcibly relegated a historically big team from the North, Rhyl, for nonsense reasons.

As HORN points out, the fans of the big 4 Welsh clubs don't even clock the existence of the Welsh Premier League because it doesn't really exist where the most people live.

Comment by pashley 2010-09-06 13:04:10

I'm a big fan of the Welsh Premier League and feel it does not get the press it deserves. However I would not expect Newport or Wrexham to join as they both have reasonable aspirations of getting back into the football league. I hope that this happens for both teams in the near future. Fans of Colwyn Bay and Merthyr have a right to remain in the english pyramid also but for the life of me I don't see why they do.
Rhyl failed to qualify for the revamped WPL as they did not get their domestic licence due to failing the financial criteria. I'm sure they will be back next season though!

Comment by tempestinaflathat 2010-09-06 17:40:53

Wrexham might indeed do well in the Welsh Premier League, a big fish in a small pond and all that. But that's all they could do - it would forever put a ceiling on the club's aspirations.

No-one's denying that the club are struggling at the moment. But Oxford, Hereford, Exeter and Shrewsbury have all been in a similar position in recent years, before pulling themselves back into the League. That's hardly impossible for Wrexham, and offers far better prospects than stagnation in the Welsh league.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-09-07 05:11:58

I doubt many Newport & Wrexham fans would want to join the WPL. Yeah, they play against the likes of Hayes & Yeading but they'll also be playing Luton Town, Grimsby & Wimbledon. Those teams will bring way more fans than any team in the WPL so on an economic level it makes sense to stay in the English pyramid. I reckon Wrexham's natural level is League 1 or League 2 & Newport's is BSP of League 2 so they shouldn't give up hope of playing league football again one day.

Comment by dcfcsteve 2010-09-08 02:46:30

So is the height of Newport and Wrexham's ambitions to effectively be making up the numbers in the lower leagues of the English system ? And Horn - swap your 'being anally pummelled' analogy re Europe with the same for FA Cup ties against bigger teams. Which ignores anyway the small but creditable progress Welsh clubs have made in Europe recently. And more to the point - Wrexham and/or Newport entering the Welsh league would change the dynamic of that league in many ways, and doubtless lead to an improvement in European performances. For example - Irish clubs regularly progress through two European rounds these days despite only having crowds similar to Wrexham and Newport's averages, and they've knotched up some major scalps over the last five years as well. Why couldn't Newport or Wrexham do likewise ? Or is it just more fun to look forward to playing York than Juventus...?

The financial aspect is obviously the biggest issue. Attendances in the WPL are much below those in the English system from the Conference and above. Although the likes of Wrexham and/or Newport joining the WPL would again doubtless alter that - creating a greater buzz around the league and undoubtedly seeing some sort of a lift in crowds. I could see a Banger-Wrexham north Wales derby drawing a very healthy crowd, for example. But just as attendances would be lower in the WPL, operational costs would be much lower too. For either club to make progress through the English ranks will involve blowing cash at a level that no other league in Europe requires for its lower reaches. All that to then make up the numbers in League 2 and face glamour trips to Wycombe, Port Vale, Barnet and Morecombe. Surely there must be more to the clubs' respective ambitions than that and an occasional FA Cup anal pummelling by a big team just to hunt a handsome payday. And don't forget that just qualifying for European brings with it a six figure sum, and if you progress and get drawn against a team in a big TGV market, you can start to derive quite a bit of net income from Europe - even if you do get pummelled. It could be thee equivalent of drawing Man United in the FA Cup every year, which is never going to happen. But Europe would be a banker for Newport or Wrexham most seasons in the WPL.

Finally - I find it strange that Welsh clubs and fans have no interest in representing their country in Europe anyway. But there's enough rational arguments above for a move to the WPL anyway.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-09-09 03:02:58

"Surely there must be more to the clubs' respective ambitions than that and an occasional FA Cup anal pummeling by a big team just to hunt a handsome payday."

Well in the current climate that is the limit of ambition for pretty much every club outside of the 'big four' so why should Wrexham or Newport be any different?

"But Europe would be a banker for Newport or Wrexham most seasons in the WPL."

How would the other WPL clubs feel about this? Do you really want a 'big two' in the WPL that will shut all the other clubs out of Europe?

"For either club to make progress through the English ranks will involve blowing cash at a level that no other league in Europe requires for its lower reaches. All that to then make up the numbers in League 2 and face glamour trips to Wycombe, Port Vale, Barnet and Morecombe"

As opposed to the glamour trips to Bangor, Carmarthen & Port Talbot?

Comment by dcfcsteve 2010-09-09 12:36:26

1) Fair point about the English system being a closed trophy cabinet for most clubs. But that just reinforces my point ! And whilst clubs in the south-west or midlands have to lump it as they have nowhere else to go, Welsh clubs do have an alternative.

2) I imagine the other WPL clubs would be delighted to have a substantial boost to their league through the introduction of two very well supported teams. It would bring more fans, sponsorship and media attention into the game there. And if you accept that a rising tide lifts all boats, then those in a position to potentially win things in the WPL currently (e.g. TNS, LLanelli, Bangor, Aber etc) would still be at the table in an expanded version. They'd just have to up their game to compete (which I could see Bangor at the very least doing). And if you want to know what the other WPL clubs would think about this, there is an easy way for Wrexham and Newport to get an answer.

3) Surely trips to Bangor and Port Talbot would be better than Barnet and Port Vale if it was in a competitive structure where you had a decent chance of winning something and then going on to represent your country in Europe ? What is so good about the English Fourth Division/League 2 that it is some sort of holy grail worth sacrificing silverware, Europe and representing your country for ?

Nothing you've said counters the fact that being in the English system is the equivalent of merely going through the motions/making up the numbers for Wrexham and Newport. If their fans and administrators are happy with that, then so be it. But it seems a terrible future to condemn two clubs to which could be much could achieve much more in their own country's system.

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-09-09 13:03:02

I don't think league 2 is that terrible a future prospect for Wrexham and Newport. Or even a final one.

However curtailed their ambitions, every league 2 club has seen clubs in similar circumstances climb up the league occasionally. Some have even established themselves at a higher level.

However if they joined the Welsh Premier and won it every year there would be nowhere else to go; no hope of progress.

Occasionally there are rumours that Celtic and Rangers are going to leave Scottish football to join English clubs in a new British league or something for precisely the same reason - there is nowhere else for them to go in their own league.

Ultimately if there is no way to improve that will stunt your growth and progress.

Comment by wxmfcowen 2010-09-09 17:48:11

You can re-cycle the same points as much as you like about the "benefits" of Wrexham playing in the WPL but the be all and end all is that Wrexham FC would not be able to finicially sustain its self in the WPL.

Do you really think, we would be able to sustain a 10,000 seater stadium on WPL crowds that average only 357 per game. No matter how much you sugar coat that and say crowds would increase with the inclusion of Wrexham and Newport, they would not even come close to finicially sustaining a 10,000 seater stadium, and then where do you suggest we go?

Clearly, you dont realise what Wrexham and Newport's fans ambitions are, we arent a Championship club who are dissapointed if they arent challenging for promotion or reaching the FA Cup 3rd Round, the likes of Newport, are happy with the BSS trophy (a great achievement for a club rebuilding itself from the ground up) and Wrexham would be delighted to be in League 2 playing the likes of Wycombe and Port Vale and reaching even the second round of the FA Cup. We dont look down on these clubs like the likes of you do.

You talk as if we are playing 5 levels below the Conference, we are 1 level away from the Football League.

Believe it or not, winning a league with ease every year and getting to go nowhere but to play some lower league portugeuse club and get battered 8-0 is not for us thanks, and neither is going out of business, which is what would happen if we joined the WPL.

But according too you, we should spend years of going nowhere in the WPL on the off chance that we might play someone like Juventus and lose about 10-0 in each leg, rather than aim to get back into a respectable position of being a Football League club.

But then again, dont worry, we could gain a six figure sum from Europe apparently, and where would that go then? Straight back into buying more players to have a go at getting 1 round further in Europe, only to get battered again? Great stuff.

None of your reasons for moving to the WPL are rational, they are all the same point recycled again and again. 1)We wouldnt survive finicially in the WPL for more than 1 season, 2)Get off your high horse and realise that games against the likes of Barnet are good for us, 3)Getting battered every year in Europe and easily winning the league but going nowhere is not "achieving more" than getting promotion to League 2.

You dont know alot about lower league football clearly and nor do you about the WPL.

Comment by dcfcsteve 2010-09-12 14:49:12

JONGUDMOND - every league has a ceiling. It's part and parcel of football. The improvement arguement to say 'where do we go when we reach the top' or 'we're too big for this league' is the same one that the bigger English clubs reel out when they want to justify a European super league. The English game is probably at its crescendo in terms of popular support etc, whereas Welsh football has a huge potential distance to go in this. So if ceilings are an issue, why reject a system with huge room for growth in favour of one that has effectively peaked ?

WXMFCOWEN - I'd be pretty confident that I've seen more WPL teams play so far this season than you have, and I usually make about 5 BS Premier games a season as well. Not a huge amount granted, but it shows that I have a bit more knowledge of lower league football than you'd like to think. Just because you disagree with me doesn't mean I know nothing about Welsh or lower league football...

I accept the financial issue of Wrexham and Newport in the WPL. That's why I rasied the financial benefits of European qualification. Don't criticise the idea of Wrexham in the WPL on financial grounds, then turn your nose up at Europe when it has the potential to bring in six figures net every year you qualify, regardless of result. If financial reasons are the big stumbling block, then don't close your eyes to the benefits of being in the WPL along with the downsides.

As for that 10,000 seater stadium that needs servicing, Wrexham currently manage with it being on average about 70% empty at every game currentrly. Again - with a stadim to pay, don't under-estimate the benefit of a potential six figure cheque from UEFA each year, plus TV rights and bigger European crowds. Plus what happens if Wrexham slip further down the English pyramid ?

And as previously stated, why would the likes of Wrexham and Newport have to do as badly in Europe as you presume ? In the last few years Irish clubs have beaten the likes of Gothenburg, Herenveen, Aberdeen, Gretna, Hajduk Split, NEC Nijmegen, Djurgardens, Limmasol, Bate and Kaiserslautern in European competition. Not huge names in the European scene, but decent teams from decently rated countries. And of course they've had the odd European dead rubber in there as well. But with Irish clubs having attendances on average slightly lower than Newport or Wrexham, why couldn't the Welsh clubs also put in creditible performances whilst picking up a UEFA cheque ? Why couldn't progression through at least two rounds in Europe most years - eventually coming within one round of the group stages in either the CL or UEFA Cup - also be possible for Welsh clubs with the same support as Irish clubs who achieve it frequently ? Why would it be possible for Ireland but not for Wales ?

You're being far too defeatist about how Welsh teams could do in Europe. Perhaps you don't know much about European football.... ;o)

Comment by madmickyf 2010-09-13 09:38:37

Anyone else getting the feeling that dcfcsteve wants to have the last word in this argument?

Comment by shaun the brummie 2012-01-12 21:55:41

i'm english,and i want all foreign teams out of english football.wales wants independence..go for it.england wants rid of wales,scotland and n.ireland,but nobody will give us a vote on it.because they know we'd vote for it like a shot...anyhow piss off to your own leagues.we could make every team in english football reapply and just say the welsh teams have been turned down on certain criteria...i.e..1 they're welsh..2 they're not english..3 they're not english(repeated that as its so important a reason......

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