North Wales women’s football has been given a fighting chance to build a brighter future.
That’s my verdict on last week’s announcement of big changes being introduced to the women’s game in Wales.
The FAW have promised a major domestic restructure for female soccer across the country, starting in the 2021/22 season, which offers many potential positives for the north.
As a result of an extensive FAW review and consultation process with key stakeholders, a new pyramid league structure will be defined.
The chief aim is to provide competitive women’s football appropriate to playing standards, economic means, geographical location, facilities and club structure.
The main decisions to emerge from the review were:
1) Tier 1 remains a National League administered by the FAW, with the champions qualifying for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
2) Tier 2 will be regionalised with new northern and southern leagues, that will be affiliated to the FAW – similar to how the Cymru North and Cymru South divisions operate in the men’s game at present.
These Tier 2 leagues will be administrated by independent management committees with increased support from the FAW.
The licence application process for Tier 1 and 2 will be open to all clubs in Wales for the 2021/22 season.
Details of licence criteria for Tier 1 and 2 and the application process will be announced in due course.
3) As well as an overhaul to the top two tiers, a new Under-19 Development League will be introduced.
Divided into a northern and southern league, they will be operated by the same independent management committees responsible for Tier 2 and shall be introduced for the 2021/22 season.
An U19 Development Team will also be a mandatory condition of obtaining a licence to participate in Tier 1. It will not be compulsory for Tier 2 clubs to have a development team, but they will be encouraged they do so.
4) Area Associations will be responsible for operating Tiers 3 and 4 in the Recreational Level of the pyramid.
With an aim to increase participation in the women’s game in Wales, the Recreational Level will be allowed more flexibility in the rules and regulations to achieve this objective.
So GNW asks, how might the FAW changes benefit North Wales?
As things stand at present, we have lost five North Wales clubs from the Welsh Premier since it went fully national in 2012-13.
The WPWL now has no northern representation and if things stay still it is highly unlikely that situation will change, given travel, financial and commitment demands on clubs in the north to compete in a national league.
On top of this, the past three years of the North Wales Women’s League have been infested with well-documented problems. Changes are surely required to make the league run smoother.
So clubs in North Wales need to be better resourced and prepared if they hope to return to – or make a first step-up to – the top level.
This is where the new FAW measures should help.
The new Tier 2 will be administered by the FAW, meaning some clubs will need to adopt a perhaps more professional approach than in the past.
The FAW promises to increase support to Tier 2 clubs which is good, it will also be interesting to see what the licence criteria entails. Hopefully it will be well within the reaches of the more ambitious clubs.
Introducing an Under-19 development league is a really good idea.
One of the major findings from the FAW survey was 16-year-olds are finding the leap up to senior women’s football difficult.
A league catering for 16-19 year-olds will bridge the gap and get young talent better tuned for taking on elder, more experienced players.
One concern I do have about the development leagues is they may take a lot of players from club senior teams.
A number of North Wales clubs field 16 to 19 year-olds in their first teams, but players of these ages would now be expected to participate in the development leagues.
Some clubs may struggle to find the numbers required to field a senior team and development side.
This is where clubs will have to take a good look at their situation and decide whether applying for Tier 2 is right for them, given development sides will be desired – though not compulsory – at that level.
Those clubs who cannot muster both development and senior sides would be best advised competing in local leagues at tier 3 or 4, which will be run by area associations with a more relaxed rule book.
At these levels, travel requirements would also be more manageable.
The new changes are NOT coming in next season (2020-21) but in 2021-22.
This will allow clubs all of next season to assess and prepare what is best for them.
The most important thing is for clubs to be comfortable at which level they are playing. Anyone who may end up in over their heads or taking on a commitment they cannot fulfill would be advised to think carefully.
We want the best for North Wales women’s football. We want to keep our best players in the North Wales game, not see the steady drain to the English pyramid we’ve witnessed in recent years.
More stability and a better pyramid structure can assist here.
Head of Women’s and Girls Football in Wales, Lowri Roberts, has worked hard on this review and deserves praise.
Our clubs now have a chance to improve themselves, but they will need support and guidance along the way.
Hopefully, this will be there for them whenever needed.