Special Report: Can the FAW offer any hope for women’s football in North Wales in 2020?

Lowri Roberts is head of women’s and girls football at the Football Association of Wales

Work is well underway to address the needs and deliver a better deal for North Wales women’s football in 2020.

That is the promise of Lowri Roberts, head of women’s and girls football at the Football Association of Wales.

The women’s game in North Wales is reeling after Llandudno’s resignation from the Welsh Premier last week left our national league without any northern representation for the first time in its history.

Since the WPWL went fully national in 2012/13, Northop Hall, Wrexham, Caernarfon Town, Rhyl and now Llandudno have all fallen by the wayside.

And the current shape of the game in the north does not suggest there will be any rush of promotion applications to the WPWL in the near future.

So how do we tackle this issue?

Do the FAW think having North Wales teams in its national women’s top-flight is important? Technically, it is no longer a national league.

We are aware that certain aspects in the development of girls football across Wales are going well – the Huddle initiative for example.

Yet still, in a country where the population is around 70% south and 30% the rest, the openings for north-based girls to progress to international level do not seem to match those ratios.

It appears to be the case that unless North Wales girls join English or prominent South Wales clubs, national teams manager Jayne Ludlow shows little interest.

In short, the female game in North Wales needs a considerable revamp if the future is to be brighter.

Otherwise, all we can do is build as strong a product as we can with what we have and hope for the best. Not really an attractive prospect is it?

But Lowri Roberts offers hope….

She took up her role in January 2019, was pregnant at the time, gave birth to a lovely baby boy in April and returned to her job in November.

So inevitably and understandably, certain projects within her remit have been put on hold or progressed slower than desired.

However, Lowri insists plans are very much in the pipeline to fully assess North Wales’ female football situation in 2020 – and these have been on track long before Llandudno’s withdrawal from the WPWL.

“What we don’t want is for people to see our focus on the north in 2020 as a knee-jerk reaction,” she said.

“This is not something we have planned overnight. We do need to focus on North Wales, be more innovative, but we have been working on that.

“Even though the large majority of women’s and girls football takes place in South Wales, this does not mean we’re ignoring the needs of North Wales.”

While not wishing to reveal all the FAW plans now, Lowri assures a lot of work will be going into assessing the north’s requirements in 2020.

“The key is to ensure clubs become sustainable. Are the women’s and girls teams fully integrated with the men’s clubs?

“We’ve also picked up concern that although we have north east and north west, it appears the north east is administering most of the football in the north. Is that appropriate?

“We want more clubs to have full pathways to their senior teams. At the moment, many girls in the north are entering the game at 10, 11 or 12, but we’ll be looking to promote getting more involved at under-8, at entry level, making the pathway longer. The Huddle initiative is one way of helping with this.

“I think in the north we need everyone at the same pace, everyone beating the same drum, we don’t want stand alone islands. Environment is so key. We are never going to succeed without the right infrastructure.”

Llandudno’s departure from the Welsh Premier Women’s League has hit the north hard. Jordanne Greenough (red) is pictured in action for Tudno during their 1-0 win at Briton Ferry Llansawel at the start of the season. Picture: Duncan Roberts

Lowri assures the FAW do want to see a proper national league in place, with south, north and mid teams all competing against each other.

“Looking at what’s happened with Llandudno and the other clubs before it’s not working. We need to take a look at what we can do to change that.”

Hopefully 2020 will bring some positive news for North Wales girls and women’s football, hope for the future yes, but also hope for the now.

I still believe regionalising the Welsh Premier Women’s League again could be the answer. This is how it operated between 2009-2012.

In its first three seasons, the league was divided into two Conferences that played a double round robin, with the winner of both contesting a final for the championship.

The first season featured no relegation, but from the 2010-11 season onwards, the last placed team in each conference got relegated.

Let’s go back there – have a north (and possibly mid) league and a south/mid, then at the end of the season have play-offs to determine the national champions.

It would still be a national league, offering entry into Europe, but would be a more viable product financially, in that it would ease the strain of so much travelling for our north teams over the campaign.

Welsh Premier Women’s League (North-Mid) and Welsh Premier Women’s League (South-Mid) – just like how the Cymru North and South men’s leagues run now.

Thanks to Lowri Roberts for the chat and I’m here to work with the FAW on any aspects of female football in the north in future if required.

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