The demise of Rhyl Football Club is not just a huge loss for the town, it is a massive blow to Welsh football too.
The Lilywhites proved back in 2003/04, when they pulled in more than 5,000 spectators to Belle Vue combined across two big games four days apart, that they were a massive football force in Wales terms.
While those large crowds have dwindled considerably over the years due to lack of success on the field, the potential has always been there for Rhyl to explode again.
That is because Rhyl is a true football town with a proud history. Four Welsh Cups, two Welsh Premier league titles, three Cheshire County League championships, famous FA Cup successes.
They have all made Rhyl a big club, along with the likes of Bangor City, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay…..
Other clubs way above the likes of Rhyl in terms of positions or silverware these days are doing great things but will never be as big as you cannot buy tradition. That’s why the Lilywhites have been referred to during their most recent crisis so many times as a ‘real football club’.
But the news today that Rhyl FC have begun winding-up proceedings means the end of this ‘real football club’ – and that is a disaster for Welsh football.
Rhyl were respected, a professional set-up with a top-class stadium where every footballer seemed to enjoy playing.
Even though they had dropped to tier-two, the Cymru North, in recent times, Belle Vue continued to be the choice of higher-placed clubs to stage their European ties.
The Grange Road ground continued to pack out whenever the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Stoke City sent strong sides there for friendlies.
Sadly, potential hasn’t been enough to save them this time.
The devastation caused by COVID-19 hit the Lilywhites harder than most.
The indefinite postponement of football meant income streams from staging end-of-season cup finals and other prestige fixtures were hammered.
Coupled with this, the club has continued to be played around, as it has for the best part of 30 years, by ground owner David Butters.
Despite Rhyl FC offering Butters above the market value for the stadium, he has remained reluctant to sell.
One cannot blame a person for wanting to secure their financial future, Belle Vue has certainly served as a good ‘nest-egg’ for Butters, but surely there was a case for doing his bit for the community here and selling that ground.
He would have made a pretty penny out of it and Rhyl would have been in so much better a position as owners when it came to attracting new investment.
In recent times, the club reports Butters has not even responded to requests for further discussions. He’s just been happy to collect the tidy monthly rent.
Butters has done nothing wrong officially, but morally he could have been so much more accommodating.
Let’s hope that whatever happens, that ground will remain what it was always meant to be – a sporting facility for the town of Rhyl.
Any possible planning applications for non-sport purposes will, hopefully, be vigorously opposed.
As for the Football Association of Wales, their offer of a ‘small, emergency loan but only if secured’ was derisory.
The stuffed shirts in Cardiff have shown time and time again that domestic football in Wales comes very low on their list of priorities.
The Welsh Premier League has remained nothing more than a box-ticking exercise, chronically starved in terms of investment.
Not really a national league at all, considering the very best clubs in Wales don’t want to touch it.
Reliant on the pockets of ambitious club owners to give it at least some credibility.
Demanding new criteria threatening the future of clubs who cannot afford to implement it.
Claiming 3G pitches, paid for by European money and not their own, are the saviour of the game. Let’s see where that argument lies in the future.
As for ‘helping’ Rhyl FC, the FAW should hang their heads in shame.
#TogetherStronger ?? Yeah, right
The one statement of hope to emerge from today’s news is that Rhyl FC are in talks with Rhyl Fans Association about the setting up of a new club in the town.
We’ve seen the way Bangor 1876 have taken off in the city this season. That sort of initiative, driven by the right people, could mean the start of an exciting new adventure.
Okay, 1876 have started off in the tier-five Gwynedd League, but for those involved it has not seemed to matter. Excitement over a great new venture is keeping them going very nicely.
The Rhyl football folk could do a lot worse than liaise with 1876 over any future plans.
That’s for tomorrow, but for the now, today has been an extremely sad one for fans of Rhyl FC.
Over the past 141 years, there have been many ups and downs for football in the town, but whatever the hurdles it has always survived.
Now it’s over. We can only hope something positive grows out of this huge loss for Rhyl – and for Welsh football.