What a rotten, lousy football season

Soccer ball with mask

The final ugly blow was landed on the chin of the 2020-21 North Wales football season this week.

The result was an emphatic knockout defeat from which our domestic game may take some time to recover – if ever.

It was announced on Thursday that the tier 2 Cymru North and South leagues would not kick a ball this season.

Despite promises of a shortened 15-game campaign where each of the 16 teams would meet once, the National Sport Group decided it was not worth the gamble, given the latest Covid-19 and lockdown situation.

Perhaps it was the right decision, perhaps it wasn’t. One thing has to be said – the time taken to make the decision was ridiculous.

Clubs left hanging on the end of a string for months only to eventually be told what many of us expected.

The National Sports Group? To quote the kid in the milk commercial – ‘who are they?’ Exactly!

The NSG includes representation from Sport Wales, Welsh Sports Association, Commonwealth Games and the Welsh Government.

All organisations I doubt have the interests of domestic football from tier 2 below in Wales truly at heart.

Certainly the Welsh Government doesn’t. From day one, First Minister Mark Drakeford has shown very limited knowledge and empathy with our grassroots game.

It’s all political with those types of people.

The Football Association of Wales has constantly stressed the 2020-21 non-start is not down to them.

In a statement, the Cardiff-based governing body stated: “The FAW fully understands the frustrations felt by many throughout the country of not being able to play, volunteer and support their clubs. 

“However, these are unprecedented times and the FAW is not responsible for the national COVID-19 policies and guidelines, which are in place to keep the nation as safe as possible.”

I accept that, but what about the fact the FAW made sure all clubs paid up front registration fees for a season which was never to take place?

Yes, some of these fees are carried over to cover next season’s competitions, but who knows when or if that season will start, or if clubs will have been left so out of pocket from their initial outlay – and limited income since – that some will have to fold?

While the FAW is responsible for the top three tiers, they have left 4 and 5 in the hands of area associations. 

Some would say Cardiff have washed their hands of the grassroots tiers; in some statements they have not even referred to tier 5, as if it doesn’t exist.

The FAW has given little assurance that grassroots football is protected. Some clubs at that level have supported our national association faithfully for numerous years. What are they getting in return?

Initially, the Cymru North and South were granted ‘elite status’ – as was the tier 1 Cymru Premier – required to operate for 2020-21.

This status was removed when all football was cancelled in December due to coronavirus, but while the Cymru Premier’s was restored this month, the Cymru North and South’s was not.

I’ve never believed any of our leagues were run on a professional enough basis to qualify for ‘elite status’ anyway. The term is in many ways a sham.

But a lot more should have been done by the powers-that-be to ensure more football was played in Wales this season.

It would have been far safer to do this than some other things the Welsh Government has allowed to take place – large public gatherings for one.

For us sports writers, the 2020-21 season will be largely a non-entity apart from the completion (hopefully) of the Cymru Premier.

A whole new ball game of ideas, interviews, nostalgia, opinion, led by some and copied shamelessly by others, has been needed to keep sports copy flowing on websites, blogs and in newspapers.

What happens next? Who knows……

Lessons need to be learned.

And as for the effect on mental health of players, officials, supporters this season will have had…..don’t get me started. This issue needs serious debate.

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