Ten seasons ago the landscape of the national football league of Wales changed drastically.
For the first 18 seasons of its life, the membership of the league had varied from 17 to 21 clubs, with 18 the most consistent figure.
However, in 2010-11, the Welsh Premier was reduced in size to 12 teams following a unanimous decision by the clubs in June 2009.
Initially nicknamed the ‘Super 12’, the dozen-club set up has remained up to the present day.
Teams play each other twice on a home and away basis, before the league splits into two groups – the top six and the bottom six, named the Championship Conference and Play-Off Conference respectively.
Clubs in these groups play each other twice again to bring the total fixture count to 32.
The team that finishes top of the Championship Conference enters the Uefa Champions League, while the second and third-placed clubs would for the most part qualify for the Europa League.
The remaining spot available to Wales in the Europa League generally involves a mini end-of-season tournament where the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh (top of the Play-Off Conference) clubs play semi-finals and a final with the winner going forward into Europe.
So, 10 seasons on, is it working? Do we have a product that will strengthen, or has it had its day?
Sgorio interviewed a number of figures associated with the league this week and the overall reaction was very favourable…..‘still work to do, but generally a success’ was the popular view.
Positives and negatives relating to the 12-club set up
1 Most of the 12 clubs have something to play for/fight for right up to the end of the season.
2 The Euro play-offs always make for a bonus exciting end to the campaign.
3 Most clubs now have artificial surfaces which ensures minimum postponements (unless a coronavirus pandemic devastates the world) and a better standard of football.
4 A club struggling at the end of phase one can often turn their season around in the next 10 games with none of the top six stronger clubs to play.
5 While in-stadium attendances have been generally poor, the league’s audiences have flourished through social media and TV outlets. The league is much better marketed now, the players are higher profile.
6 Sgorio’s increased and more innovative coverage of the league as the seasons have gone on has really widened interest in the Cymru Premier. The broadcaster remains arguably the league’s biggest asset. During the pandemic they have been fantastic, allowing us to see games we otherwise would not have had a hope of watching.
7 Club facilities across the board have improved considerably. More funding from Welsh Government would help further in this regard, but its attitude to the league since the pandemic (and long before) has been dismissive and obstructive.
8 Results in Europe have definitely improved over the past 10 seasons. Connah’s Quay Nomads have been sensational since they began qualifying regularly, with stunning wins over the likes of Kilmarnock and HJK raising the roof. Bala Town and The New Saints have continued to do the league proud also.
9 The league has continued to produce some excellent players who have gone on to excel in the Football League – Ben Cabango, Priestley Farquharson, Rhys Healey and Ryan Hedges are just some examples.
10 The New Saints’ total domination of the ‘Super 12’, which began in 2011-12, has finally been challenged and now trumped by Connah’s Quay Nomads, who recently made it back-to-back titles. Closer competition can only be good for the league.
1 Attendances have generally been poor since day one. The top clubs continue to attract very low crowds.
2 The loss of big names like Bangor City, Rhyl, Neath and Llanelli have lowered the league’s appeal, especially the first two, who won 5 titles between them and always pulled in the biggest attendances.
3 Teams continue to play each other too often. Some sides will meet four times at least, more so if they clash in the cups.
4 Criteria gets stricter, and this limits the potential of new names wanting to join the league but are unable to afford costly improvements.
5 For all its progress, Cymru Premier players still struggle to break through into the Wales set-up, but let’s give that more time. The rise in standard is immense.
6 Our clubs still get drawn in Europe against sides who are well into their domestic seasons. By contrast, our entrants have to get themselves up for major challenges in mid-summer and out-of-season. Tough for part-time clubs. We’ve been doing marvellously well in the circumstances, but with better preparation we could be doing even better.
7 As it always has, the Cymru Premier lacks the strength of a truly ‘big name’ such as Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County or Wrexham.
But with three of those clubs in the Football League (two in the Championship and one in with a chance of returning to the Premier League) and a fourth seemingly heading to the FL, why would they want to join a national league where the impact would likely be financially crippling? Forget about them, build on what we have.
Let’s stop there…..
At present the Cymru Premier is a product on the up. Progress may be medium paced rather than rapid, but looking back to 2010-11, things are getting better and the next 10 years could prove interesting.
It is still a relatively new league, heading towards its 30th season. Success can take time, let’s give it time…..
Number of clubs which have competed in the League of Wales/Welsh Premier/Cymru Premier since the start
2010-11 to 2020-21: 12
League Champions 1992/93-2020/21
1992–93 Cwmbran Town
1993–94 Bangor City
1994–95 Bangor City
1995–96 Barry Town
1996–97 Barry Town
1997–98 Barry Town
1998–99 Barry Town
1999–00 Total Network Solutions
2000–01 Barry Town
2001–02 Barry Town
2002–03 Barry Town
2004–05 Total Network Solutions
2005–06 Total Network Solutions
2006–07 The New Saints
2009–10 The New Saints
2010–11 Bangor City
2011–12 The New Saints
2012–13 The New Saints
2013–14 The New Saints
2014–15 The New Saints
2015–16 The New Saints
2016–17 The New Saints
2017–18 The New Saints
2018–19 The New Saints
2019–20 Connah’s Quay Nomads
2020-21 Connah’s Quay Nomads
Number of title wins
The New Saints 13 (1999–00, 2004–05, 2005–06, 2006–07, 2009–10, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19)
Barry Town 7 (1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 1998–99, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2002–03)
Bangor City 3 (1993–94, 1994–95, 2010–11)
Connah’s Quay Nomads 2 (2019–20, 2020-21)
Rhyl 2 (2003–04, 2008–09)
Llanelli 1 (2007–08)
Cwmbran Town 1 (1992–93)