Would an RGC rugby type set up work for North Wales women’s football ?

Amlwch Town (blue) and Rhyl are two of the top North Wales women’s teams who could supply a number of players for a North Wales representative side. Picture: Gethin Jones (Amlwch Town)

RGC rugby is probably the greatest thing ever to happen to North Wales sport.

For so many years, the north was the poor relation to the vastly superior south when it came to the oval ball game.

Early attempts of northern clubs to make an impact in the national leagues in the late 1980’s met with very little success.

Things improved in the new millennium, with Llangefni winning promotion to WRU League Division Two in 2006/07, but they were blocked from going up because of the restructure of the national league.

The north were left isolated and out in the cold.

However, things began to turn for the better in 2008 with the formation of Colwyn Bay based RGC 1404.

Although an amateur North Wales rugby representative side had existed for over 50 years, RGC was established by the North Wales Rugby Council in response to the WRU-approved strategic plan for the development of rugby union in the region.

RGC won Division 1 East at the first attempt in 2012–13, then spent three seasons in the Welsh Championship before earning promotion to the Premiership, where they still remain today, in 2015-16.

In 2016-17, the greatest achievement in North Wales rugby history saw RGC win the WRU National Cup, beating Pontypridd in the final. Such a feat would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

RGC is a remarkable success story, it has given talented players in the north a chance to reach the top level of club rugby in Wales without having to venture south. Some have gone much further than that.

So the question has to be asked, would an RGC-type development work for North Wales women’s football?

Like its northern rugby counterparts of yesteryear, women’s football clubs in North Wales are deemed second class compared to those in the South, some of which benefit from the support of well-off men’s sections.

Since the Welsh Premier Women’s League went fully national in 2012-13, five North Wales clubs have competed in it.

Fast forward to 2020-21 and there are none. Our best placing came in 2012-13, when Wrexham finished third, and it went steadily downhill after that.

Apart from Llandudno reaching the Welsh Cup final in 2015/16, there was very little to get excited about.

There was plenty of talent available, but the constant demand of making numerous long journeys to South Wales season-after-season took its toll both financially and in regard to attracting enough players to commit to a full Sunday.

Llandudno celebrate after reaching the Welsh Cup final in 2016. They were the last North Wales team to depart the WPWL in 2019

Llandudno were the last to say goodbye to the WPWL in December 2019.

The FAW are trying to do something about the current massive divide….

Head of Women’s and Girls’ Football, Lowri Roberts, plans to introduce a new tiered system to the female game in Wales in 2021-22.

Tier 1 will be the current WPWL, while a Tier 2 North and South will also be formed.

Tier 2 North will comprise eight teams, who will also be encouraged to enter sides into a Development League for under-19’s.

To date, 14 North Wales clubs have applied for Tier 2. The less-ambitious in the north will enter Tier 3, to be run on a local leagues basis.

It is planned to bring in the new system next season (2021-22) but due to the 2020-21 campaign being cancelled for women’s teams below Tier 1, it is now unclear as to whether there will be another preparation season for the new pyramid, or if the changes will go ahead straight away regardless.

It remains to be seen how the new-look pyramid will work out for the north.

What we want is a strong Tier 2 North champion to be capable of going up and testing the likes of Cardiff Met, Swansea City and Cardiff City.

But is that being too optimistic?

Instead, how about the FAW take a leaf out of the WRU’s book and develop a North Wales representative side? A female football version of RGC.

It will give our North Wales club players a fresh incentive – a chance to play at a higher level and represent their region.

If they are unable to commit themselves, then stay with their clubs. But if they want to progress higher, then put themselves up for selection for North Wales.

With them playing in the North Wales League for many years, Llanfair United players could come into contention even though the club is based in Mid-Wales. Perhaps North Walians playing in the English pyramid could also be selected, provided their clubs would release them.

There’s definitely enough coaching talent in the north to make this work.

We’ve got top class operators like Sara Hilton, while the likes of Llandudno’s Sarah Colville and Tom Jamieson at Rhyl have ample experience of competing against South Wales sides.

A team of selectors and maybe the job of head coach, male or female, may appeal to some surprise top names. You never know.

I can guess what the response of many North Wales clubs will be….we struggle enough for players as it is, but now you want to take our best ones away to represent North Wales?

I’m aware many North Wales rugby clubs felt the same when RGC started up.

But the advent of the mighty Gogs hasn’t had a too adverse effect on club rugby in the north to my knowledge.

We’ve still had the likes of Nant Conwy, Llandudno and Pwllheli going far in national competitions and serving the north really well against the best of the south at their level.

Like with RGC, North Wales women’s players could remain signed for their clubs and represent them when not on national league duty.

A regular squad of around 22 players would serve the north well. Only travel with five or six subs and let the remainder return to their clubs.

Perhaps travelling endless miles to South Wales lost its appeal for northern players, especially when they were not getting paid and more often than not returning home after a heavy defeat.

Representing North Wales would be different. The best of the best with a more than decent chance of picking up a few victories; perhaps even winning the Welsh Cup!

And give these players expenses for their services. Our girls are vastly undervalued for the most part.

In recent weeks, the Grassroots NW website has run a series of features where football females pick their North Wales Dream Team.

A few have said to me, what a pity we couldn’t put that team out on a Sunday.

We might not start giving the Swansea’s and the Cardiff’s a big taste of their own medicine immediately, but even RGC took a while to hit full steam.

Bethel’s Anest Roberts (left) would be an ideal candidate for North Wales selection

Just imagine the pride of playing for the first North Wales women’s representative team to compete in the national league.

What would be the perfect name for this team? MGC? Merched Gogledd Cymru?
Answers on a postcard please (or as we are now in 2021 send me an email).

Of course this is just one man’s idea. It is highly unlikely the FAW would even allow the idea to be pitched as they have their own agenda.

But the problem is, that agenda doesn’t always seem to be geared to help the north.

With a new Wales women’s teams manager set to be appointed soon, it is more important than ever that our girls have a genuinely influential platform to show what they can do.

A North Wales Women XI would do just that.

What do you think? A potential go-er or non-starter?

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