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An open letter to the First Minister – Save our Football before it’s too late

Mark Drakeford. Picture: Welsh Government

Mark Drakeford, give us back our football and let the fans in.

We are fast running out of hope here in North Wales that we will see any football below tier 1 this season.

We know you don’t have much knowledge about how football works in Wales.

You don’t know what the Cymru North is, never mind North Wales Coast East Division One.

That much was clear from your interview on a South Wales based radio station this week.

We can forgive your lack of knowledge on North Wales football.

You are a politician, not a football administrator, you must have a million things you need to know about in your position as First Minister.

But one subject you will be very familiar with, just like your Westminster counterparts, is money.

As the song says, it makes the world go round and it certainly is a necessity in the sport of football – professional and amateur.

In the amateur game, clubs need sponsors, income from fund-raising and cash through the turnstiles to survive.

Yet here we are, into October, and still no sign whatsoever of a start date for our Welsh teams below tier 1.

Yes, the Cymru Premier is operating, hardly under ideal circumstances with all games being played behind closed doors, thus depriving the better-supported of the 12 clubs of essential income.

We realise our national league needed to be exempt from a playing ban due to income from Uefa competitions. Money is everything isn’t it after all.

But it’s about time now that everyone got the chance to play.

In England, the pyramid is widely active, with spectators allowed in through the turnstiles.

You claimed on radio this week the English are now reversing that policy, shutting football down again gradually, and insisted we in Wales, with our slowly but surely approach, has it absolutely right.

For one thing, there has been no blanket closedown to lower league football in England yet, some games have been called off due to Covid-related circumstances, but not to the level you were insinuating.

It is fine you sitting there claiming we in Wales have it so right – but you’re wrong.

Try telling that to hundreds of clubs and thousands of players across our country who have no idea when they can kick a competitive ball again – and indeed if they have a future.

You are totally out of touch with grassroots football Mr Drakeford, and your belief that we have it so right in Wales right now is majorly contradictory.

Yes, we are aware in the rise of Covid cases in Wales and the need for local lockdowns, but this does not have to affect football in the way it is.

We’ve had a reduced cricket season already in North Wales which ran smoothly to my knowledge.

Why not football? I strongly believe the management of crowds in local football would be very easy to do. You are not talking about thousands of supporters at each game like the English Premier League.

Our clubs have stewards and volunteers more than capable of ensuring social distancing is adhered to.

It is fine, it seems. to pack beaches, visit pubs, locations where crowd control is much more difficult to carry out, yet local football is totally ignored.

Allowing training sessions, friendlies for up to 30 persons is not enough. We want the real thing and we damn well deserve it.

You said this week you cannot see the 30-person rule being extended to a higher number any time soon. That has to happen to get out football back to normal and you are closing the door. Poor show.

You say the rules are constantly being reviewed. Well review them tomorrow and give the Welsh football public what they want.

Your interview was largely based on what’s happening in South Wales. Fair enough as it was a South Wales station you were speaking on, but there is a hotbed of football interest in North Wales too.

Have you ever thought of the effect banning us from playing is having on people’s mental health?

The managers, players, fans who see football as a lifeline.

One manager said to me once that 90 minutes on a Saturday can be for some the one opportunity they have in a week to put their worries and stresses aside and let off some energy. They don’t even have that right now.

For me, the Welsh Government doesn’t put enough emphasis on sport.

Yes we understand the effects Covid-19 has had on businesses and sympathise.

I’m just one of many thousands affected by that, but it shouldn’t be all about profits and the economy a la Tory-led England. Leisure counts too, and it’s not getting the respect it deserves.

You could change things tomorrow. Get our clubs playing.

Only this week we lost a top Welsh coach to English football because he could see no light among the darkness in North Wales.

Many players have ‘switched over’ too. North Wales clubs are giving their blessings to it, they care about the players.

Numerous players have been snapped up from lower leagues by the Cymru Premier. Good news for the top flight, but disheartening in the extreme for those clubs below tier 1 who have worked so hard to develop their squads.

The FAW’s phased return to football is welcome but way too slow. At least we’ve got many youngsters back playing, but no joy for the adults.

November is the earliest we can hope for, for our leagues to start playing again, and to many of us, the prospects do not look good.

The communication between the Welsh Government and the FAW to our football clubs is shameful. It needs improving fast.

And as for travel, to quote a social media contact this week: “We are imposing travel restrictions in South Wales to protect communities, while enabling (and indeed encouraging) travel from locked-down areas into North Wales for leisure purposes. How can such an obvious contradiction in public health policy be permitted?”

No wonder there is so much disillusionment in North Wales.

As if the lower level leagues in North Wales are not suffering enough, we hear this weekend that the FIFA Covid 19 Relief Plan will provide support to eligible FAW and Area Association affiliated clubs across Tiers 1-4 of the Men’s Pyramid and Tiers 1-2 of the Women’s Pyramid.

The amounts – £750,000 to the men and £375,000 to the women – are nowhere near enough to soften the severe blows of the past seven months.

Even FAW chief executive Jonathan Ford admits that. Ford says Welsh football is in a ‘dire financial situation’.

The question also needs asking – to the FAW not yourself – what about Tier 5? Almost 50 North Wales clubs fall under that category – why are they not getting a penny?

Can you ‘have a word’, Mr Drakeford?

Oh yes, money. The thing that matters most.

The Welsh Government needs to dip into its piggy bank too, to help give our clubs hope of survival. The FAW and FIFA’s contributions will not be enough.

Over to you First Minister………..

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