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The challenges facing the Welsh Premier League

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Tucked away at the back of The Non-League Paper one can find brief reports for the Welsh Premier League (WPL).   The league is currently headed by The New Saints, the only full-time professional club in the league.   They play in Oswestry and their full name is The New Saints of Oswestry Town & Llansantffraid Football Club (Clwb Pêl-droed y Seintiau Newydd).  

Until 2006 they were known as Total Network Solutions, leading to jokes about ‘dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions.’  Their presence reflects the odd nature of this competition.   In second place on goal difference are Bangor City who once beat Napoli at home in a European cup (they lost the play off).   Just 463 people saw Bangor City beat Aberystwyth 4-0 on Saturday.   

How many away supporters accompanied Llandudno on their long journey to Carmarthen Town on the difficult north-south roads in Wales?  226 turned up to see the away side score the winning goal in the 79th minute.   One club turned at Carmarthen to see four teams heading for Anfield.   The average attendance in the league is 330.

The Welsh national team beat Moldova 4-0 last night as they started their World Cup qualification journey.   Their success in Euro 2016 in reaching the semi-finals has revitalised interest in football in a rugby-loving nation, but it hasn’t done much for the WPL.

The WPL had a forced birth in 1992.   African and Asian members of Fifa called the right of the Welsh national team to exist into question, citing the inclusion of Welsh clubs in the Football League as a contradiction of that status.   The four largest clubs (Cardiff City, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham) still play in the English pyramid.   Colwyn Bay and Merthyr Tydfil (now Merthyr Town) refused to join.

The top six teams in the twelve team league have a chance of playing European football.   This offers up to £170,000 of prize money for each qualifying round.   No Welsh team progressed beyond the second qualifying round this summer.

The league is less of a final fling for ageing professionals than it used to be.   The average age of players is falling and eight of the teams now play on an artificial 3G surface which can make for faster games.Some think the answer is to switch to summer football as the Irish League did in 2003.  Games could be played on a Friday evening.