Welsh football, club version / European Cups / Welsh clubs / July 20, 2016 / SOFOOT.com

Revelation of the last Euro, Wales have shown that they have a competitive selection, but have a complex relationship with their club football. Its best representatives definitely attached to the English system, there is only one field championship, semi-professional, led by a training evolving… on the English border.


Two Welsh clubs are engaged this week in European competitions: the reigning champion The New Saints in C1 yesterday Tuesday and a curious formation called Connah’s Quay Nomads Thursday in the Europa League.

Two Welsh clubs which arrive in the second preliminary round of the two big continental tournaments, it is already a performance, because the local championship is in the pick-up and appears as one of the weakest in Europe. In the last UEFA ranking, he was in 49e rank, between Lithuanian and Maltese, behind Northern Irish, Luxembourgish or Macedonian. There are, however, great Welsh clubs, including two in particular: Swansea and Cardiff. But these, like a few rare others, have always been part of the English system and currently play in the Premier League and the Championship respectively. Indeed, the history of Welsh club football is quite complex. To apprehend it, we must remember a pivotal date: 1992.

The biggest clubs have remained in the English fold

Before 1992, all the Welsh pro and semi-pro clubs were involved in the various English leagues, as if the border between the two entities of the United Kingdom did not exist. A single competition « nationalExisted and allowed local clubs to rub shoulders with each other: the Wales Cup. Not enough for the international bodies, UEFA in the lead, which takes a dim view of this Welsh exception, the only member of football Europe to have the right to its national team without a championship worthy of the name being played on its territory. At the time, in the early 90s, voices were raised on the continent to demand an end to the British exception of being able to have several national teams for its different entities.
England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland united as one team, as is the case in Olympic sports? The idea is gaining ground, but the different federations of these four entities do not like it. Without structured local football, the Welsh is the most threatened by a merger, which pushes the Federation to finally react. Decided in October 1991, the first pro and semi-pro Welsh championship saw the light of day the following year, with an inaugural match played on August 15, 1992 to be exact. Twenty clubs have responded to the federation’s call, but not the best of them. Swansea, Cardiff, but also Wrexham, Newport and a few others decide to snub this local championship, preferring to remain in the fold of English football, arguing that it is economically and mediatically preferable to appear in the lower divisions of English football than in the elite of Welsh football. As a sanction, these rebels will be deprived of participation in the Wales Cup and will obviously not be entitled to European tickets allocated by UEFA to the Welsh.

A championship of sub-prefectures

Since 1992, the Welsh league, called the Welsh Premier League (WPL), has endured somehow. From 20 participants originally, it has grown to 16 and then to 12 clubs currently competing.

The first four cities of Wales by population (Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Wrexham) having their main club in the bosom of English football, the Welsh Premier League is characterized by its very rural side. Concretely, it is a bit as if it saw each other only sub-prefectural localities the size of Guingamp, Auxerre or Châteauroux at the max. The largest stadium is Port Talbot, with a capacity of 6,000 seats for a city of 37,000 inhabitants, the largest represented to date. Another particularity: 9 of the 12 current elite clubs are located in the northern half of the territory, the south traditionally being a land of rugby, as in France. The level of this Welsh Premier League is difficult to establish, but would be around the English National League, the D5.

The New Saints, 4 laps in 18 European participations

In the Welsh league, only one club is really structured and 100% pro: The New Saints. It is also the most beautiful record in the country and the five-time defending champion. Until 1996, this club was based in a tiny locality of barely 1,000 people called Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain. Twenty years ago, a local industrialist financed it by renaming it as his company: Total Network Solution (TNS). Then ten years ago, when merging with an English club located just across the border, TNS moved to England, to Oswestry, again changing its name, but keeping its initials: TNS, for now The New Saints. With 24 players under contract and a budget of 1.5 million euros, the Saints are well above the competition and have passed the first preliminary round of the Champions League this summer for the fourth time in its history ( in 18 participations).
After the Bohemians, Cliftonville and Tórshavn last year, Tre Penne (San Marino) was released in early July. The New Saints, who faced APOEL in the second round (0-0 in the first leg, 3-0 defeat last night), are not the only Welsh club to have passed the obstacle of the first round: in the Europa League , Connah’s Quay Nomads, for his first European participation, achieved the feat of eliminating the Norwegians from Stabaek (0-0, 1-0) to find themselves in the second round to face Vojvodina (0-1 defeat in the first leg in Serbia). The other two Welsh clubs competing in the first round of C3 were on the other hand sharply dominated by Swedish clubs: Bala Town by AIK (0-4 in total) and Llandudno by IFK (1-7). Two out of four clubs qualified at the end of the first preliminary round, it is a performance which should allow the Welsh Premier League to climb a little in the hierarchy of UEFA. The level of this championship is unlike that of the Welsh selection – which no player has ever played in WPL – but it is already a small step forward.

By Régis Delanoë

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