WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

Neath

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NEATH'S fall from grace is another reminder that money is not necessarily the key to long-term survival in the Welsh Premier League.
The Eagles stunned Welsh domestic football with their high-profile transfer activity the summer before last and eyes were opened when Lee Trundle was signed on a salary that was reputedly more than the entire playing budget at most clubs.
At the end of the first season, with qualification for Europe secured, Neath appeared to be on track for success, but business problems for one of their main backers left players unpaid and the club facing a winding-up petition.

The chickens came home to roost last week and, although Neath have blamed everyone but themselves for their own shortcomings, the FAW's licensing appeals panel was obviously unconvinced that the Gnoll model was sustainable.
Several clubs have chased glory through injections of outside funding during the league's 20-year history, but only one has survived unscathed to the present day.

Barry Town were the first to go full-time back in 1995 and dominated the league for the best part of 10 years, but today they languish in the Welsh League with their future still uncertain.
The Dragons won seven league titles, completed the treble on two occasions and created history as the first League of Wales side to progress beyond the opening round of a European competition.
The first person to challenge their domination was Mike Harris, whose Total Network Solutions company started to sponsor Llansantffraid FC in 1997.
But it took three years for TNS to pip Barry at the post and win the title for the first time and several more seasons for the Saints to seriously challenge their rivals' dominance.

Barry TownDebts
Back on top again for the following two seasons, Barry completed the treble in 2003, but the good times at Jenner Park were about to come to an end.
With reported debts of more than £900,000 after the brief reign of John Fashanu at the club, the Dragons were in disarray.
Licensing had not been introduced when Town agreed a CVA with creditors and they remained in the Welsh Premier, but their tenure ended in relegation anyway at the end of 2003/4.
The Saints had gone full-time in 2001/2 but it took plenty of patience for that investment to bear fruit.
After finishing as bridesmaids three seasons running, they finally broke the sequence in 2005 and went on to win three straight titles. In fact, during their full-time era, they have only finished outside the top two on one occasion, when they trailed-in third in 2009.
After Llanelli's brief flirtation with full-time football and the arrival of the 'Spanish Armada', Rhyl became the third club to 'go for broke' ahead of the 2008/9 season and their move paid an instant dividend.
With several big name and big-money signings, the Lilywhites claimed their second title but Belle Vue dreams of domination were soon in tatters as business pressures forced president Peter Parry to recall the European cash to repay his loan and major problems ensued.
On the field, Rhyl finished a creditable sixth the following season, but substantial remaining commitments to HM Revenue and Customs meant they were unable to obtain a domestic licence and were relegated to the Cymru Alliance.

Slim pickings
Unless a club wins the title, cash rewards in the league are relatively small. But, while the £10,000 prize money for picking up the trophy is chicken feed compared to similar leagues in the English pyramid, qualification for the first stage of the Champions League brings an instant bonus of more than £300,000.
That can be boosted significantly by winning through one or two more rounds, with TV monies adding to a pot which can soon reach half a million - TNS were 90 minutes away from the Europa League group stages two years ago, for which they would have banked a minimum of £2 million.
But those opportunities are few and far between. In comparison, finishing in the minor places and playing in the Europa League is far less lucrative.
While there is a Uefa payment of around £90,000, a large chunk of this can easily disappear on travel costs if a club is draw in one of the far-flung places that is not on Easyjet or Ryanair timetables.
Neath found this to their cost with last season's expensive trip to Norway, while Irish clubs have even been forced into chartering aircraft in recent years at a cost of more than £40,000.
So without regular Champions League appearances, there is no possibility of pay-back for substantial financial investment.

Failures
RhylUnless a sugar daddy is prepared to write-off the cash and remain in the picture for the long haul, failures are inevitable. Barry, Rhyl and Neath bear testament to that.
TNS have been fortunate to retain their patronage for 15 years with Harris seemingly committed to the long haul but, if that support dries up, the Saints could soon become another high-profile name consigned to the WPL history books.
Bala Town are the latest club with substantial resources and, following the Eagles' demise, are now in a position to outbid virtually any club in the league for a player's services.
The Lakesiders are likely to be the main movers in this summer's transfer market, but how long would it be before their backer's patience wears thin if a league title is not secured in the next couple of years?
In addition to licensing, the FAW have considered introducing a salary cap to try and ensure a more level playing field and limit financial failures, although it remains to be seen whether this is feasible.
But, regardless of whether they do, it seems inevitable that there will be more heartbreak in the future for clubs that chase a highly-elusive pot of gold at the end of the Welsh Premier rainbow.
Photos (middle) Barry Town dominated for 10 years and (bottom) Rhyl's title win was followed by financial melt-down.

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19 October 2017

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