WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

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THURSDAY was another black day for the WPL as promotion and relegation issues were settled by licensing criteria rather than on sporting merit.
Rule changes are desperately needed as the traditional Roy of the Rovers' drama of final day deciders has been replaced by a tense end-of-season wait to see who has - or hasn't - been granted a domestic licence.
Promotion and relegation cliff-hangers are now played out by faceless men in suits behind closed doors in Cardiff, rather than by the derring-do of players urged on by fans at the stadiums of Carmarthen or Newtown.
Two clubs from the top six have dropped through the trap door for financial mismanagement in recent times, reprieving others who deserve to be relegated for their lack of on-field prowess.
But the failure of the WPL to promote two and relegate two each season is the principle injustice and also has an unfair domino effect right down the pyramid, where clubs can miss out on promotion or lose their divisional status despite finishing in the requisite league positions.
Newtown's reprieve last night also spared Llanrhaeadr from the drop in the Huws Gray Alliance and enabled Welshpool Town to retain their place in Mid Wales League One.
In the south, Aberaman Athletic will probably be pushed down a division just three seasons after themselves missing out on promotion to accommodate Neath, despite finishing above the automatic relegation places.

Stagnant
The introduction of licensing by the FAW in 2003/4, combined with a lack of finance and ambition in the feeder leagues, is increasingly creating a stagnant top flight which is starting to resemble a gentlemen's club.
Allied to the FAW's desire for a 12-club league, there is little doubt this is also contributing to the league's lack of spectator appeal, which has seen club attendances drop on a like-for-like basis for the past two seasons.
In those nine years post-licensing, only seven clubs (44%) that finished in the drop zone have actually been relegated on sporting criteria instead of the 16 provided for by the league's rules, with the exception of two years ago when six clubs lost their WPL status in the FAW's culling exercise.
One of those was Rhyl, who finished in sixth place but failed to gain the domestic licence, a similar fate to the one that has befallen Neath this time around.
During the same period, just nine clubs have been promoted to the top flight - an average of one per season - when two places are on offer for clubs finishing in the top two of the feeder leagues.
Clubs that mis-manage their finances can have no complaint about losing their place in the WPL, the rules about creditors are there in black and white.
But the criteria are becoming more difficult and expensive to achieve, particularly during an economic downturn, with only 16 clubs currently licensed to play in the WPL.

Lack of ambition
There is also a lack of ambition in the Macwhirter Welsh League down south, with just Afan Lido, Llanelli, Neath and the ill-fated Cardiff outfit Grange Quins making the step-up since 2003.
And there is not exactly a massive queue of southern clubs willing or able to follow their lead.
Of course, licensing regulations are necessary to meet Uefa's demands and have certainly helped increase infrastructure standards in the Welsh Premier.
But is it really more important to have a lock on the referees' toilet door than to win your league title?
Many believe that the domestic licence is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and that it has become a major deterrent to clubs seeking promotion.
Llandudno are currently the only outfit without previous experience in the WPL to gain the licence and only two more in the feeder system - Haverfordwest and Rhyl - have the certificate on their boardroom wall.
Unless the number of clubs applying for the licence increases, the situation is not going to impove.
In 2007, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke stated the governing body's commitment to the principle that entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship must depend primarily on sporting merit.
"This can also be made conditional upon the fulfilment of particular financial criteria set as part of club licensing procedures," he wrote in a circular which is binding on member associations.

 
PROMOTED
RELEGATED
2003/4
Airbus, Llanelli
Barry Town
2004/5
Grange Quins
Afan Lido
2005/6
-
Grange Quins
2006/7
Neath, Llangefni
Cwmbran Town
2007/8
Prestatyn Town
Llangefni Town
2008/9
Bala Town
Caernarfon Town
2009/10
-
Cefn Druids, Caersws, Connah's Quay, Porthmadog, Rhyl*, Welshpool
2010/11
Afan Lido
Haverfordwest
2011/12
Connah's Quay
Neath*
* refused domestic licence

Rule change
Current rules provide for only one licensed club from each of the two feeder leagues to be promoted to the WPL.
This means that Rhyl, who finished second in the Alliance this season with a 69% playing record are denied promotion despite the fact that Haverfordwest would have been successful in regaining their top flight status with a 58% on-field record had they achieved a slightly better goal difference to claim runners-up spot in the south.
Are the Lilywhites any less deserving of promotion on the grounds of sporting merit and meeting licence criteria?
It is anomalous and a rule that can and should be changed, allowing any two licensed teams that qualify by finishing high enough in the feeder system to go up, irrespective of geography.
That may or may not create an imbalance of northern clubs in the Welsh Premier in the future, but at least it would reward sporting merit again and see a return to the spirit of Melchester Rovers and football's founding fathers.
Isn't that what the game is all about?

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23 September 2017

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