Diagnosis: Merthyr

Diagnosis: Merthyr

By on Jul 23, 2010 in Finance, Latest | 11 comments

One of the perceived anomalies in European club football is the presence of the six Welsh clubs in the English league system. What a lot of people don’t realise, however, is that historically the Football League was the pinnacle of a system that encompassed both England and Wales, and that prior to the launch of the Football Conference in 1979, Welsh football clubs mainly competed in regional leagues that were the pinnacle of non-league football in England and Wales. Teams from North Wales mainly competed in the Northern Premier League, while the Welsh Football League catered for the teams from South Wales. Once the Conference was formed from teams from the Northern and Southern Leagues, the Welsh Football League became a feeder league for the Southern League. The main reasoning for this was down to logistics. With most of the clubs based in the north or south of the principality, as well as the road layouts favouring west-east travel, rather than north-south, playing English clubs nearer to their part of border was always more favourable than playing those at the other end of the Wales.

It was only in 1991, that the Football Association of Wales got around to establishing their own national league. While the timing suggests that this was in response to the FA’s launch of the Premier League in England, the creation of the Welsh Premier League was related to the fear of certain people within the FAW – specifically Secretary General Alun Evans – that the lack of a national league could be a threat to the national side. That Liechtenstein were subsequently accepted by both FIFA and UEFA into national football suggests that Evans’ fears were unfounded. The creation of the WPL did open up the option of Welsh sides entering the European Cup and the UEFA Cup, in addition to the Cup Winners Cup, which clubs had already been entering though the Welsh Cup.

The WPL was not favoured by all Welsh clubs. The three professional clubs – Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham – and eight non-league sides, known as the ‘Irate Eight’ initially refused to join. A power struggle initiated by the FAW, which saw the rebellious non-league clubs expelled from the Welsh Cup and barred from playing in Wales, saw Bangor City, Newtown and Rhyl perform an about turn and apply to compete in the WPL’s inaugural season. After a season in exile, Barry Town joined them, while the other four went to court in order to be able to stay in the English pyramid, but continue to play at home. The court case was successful, but Caenarfon Town decided to join the WPL anyway, leaving Colwyn Bay of the Northern Premier, Newport County of the Southern League and Merthyr Tydfil of the Football Conference (the latter two clubs playing at homes to former league clubs). For the latter two clubs, staying in the English football pyramid is more than just a matter of principle; it keeps a dream of returning back to a level their predecessor clubs had reached.

One man that almost wrecked Merthyr Tydfil’s stay in the English pyramid was Wyn Holloway. As chairman of Merthyr Tydfil, Holloway had allegedly managed to run up a debt of over half a million pounds, leaving the club in administration, and his aborted suggestion to merge the club, and move it to England left a bad taste in the mouth. The club’s Trust – Martyrs To The Cause – spent months trying to take over the club, but with only a limited amount of funds (after spending thousands helping prop the club up for no return), and relations between the Trust and Holloway clearly having broken down to the point that he was unlikely to accept a reduction of his reputed six figure debt, a CVA would not be possible, therefore financially, the only choice was to liquidate the club and create a new company, therefore losing their place in the Southern League Premier Division.

From a footballing perspective, they had two options. The first option was to bite the bullet and, against the wishes of the fans, join the Welsh pyramid, the second option was to find a way to stay in the English Pyramid as a reformed club. And in this respect they had an unlikely saviour. Last May, the Football Association made a one word change in their rules, one presumably with the Stephen Vaughan situation at Chester City in mind. The criteria for accepting a club as a reformation includes the club satisfying all creditors, and the rules before last May stated that it was a criteria that a reformed club had to fulfil, now the criteria is one that the FA may use. With all creditors bar Holloway satisfied, the single word change has allowed the new Trust run club, named Merthyr Town, to start two divisions lower in the Western League, alongside clubs from Devon, Dorset and Somerset. However, it’s not all good news.

Both previous Merthyr clubs had played at the town’s Penydarren Park, a ground built on the site of an old Roman fort, so further development on the site being unlikely to gain planning permission. The ground is also owned by the Merthyr Tydfil County Borough, and therefore was not an asset of the club’s. However the old club did hold the lease on the ground, and with none of the clubs creditors seemingly interested in taking over the lease, the prospect of the new club acquiring the lease seemed great – however, the club’s Administrators advised the club that they were in negotiation with a property developer over the lease. With the club’s administration period ending in June, the club were forced into a decision of finding a different venue for the forthcoming season and taking a long term view on the ground. As a result, the new Merthyr Town club will begin life playing at Taff’s Well AFC’s ground at Rhiw’r Ddar, on the outskirts of Cardiff, some 20 miles down the A470. The club still hope to buy the lease on the ground, but won’t be able to return to Merthyr this season.

In the meantime, Merthyr Town are looking to keep the club linked with the town. The club’s Community Team have announced a Football Cinema night, the first taking place last night in Merthyr Tydfil, with the town’s Railway Club hosting “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery”. The event is planned monthly, with next month’s film being “Escape To Victory”. With no football in the town for the first time since the FAW imposed exile, the new club are taking their community commitments seriously.

Merthyr Town take on Scarborough Athletic tomorrow in the Supporters Direct Shield at AFC Telford United’s New Buck’s Head ground, kick-off 3.30pm, with the Supporters Direct Cup between AFC Telford United and FCUM taking place at the same venue at 1.30pm. The gates open at 12.45, and tickets are £8 for both games.

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    11 Comments

  1. Lichtenstein is an autonomous state, although leaning heavily on the shoulders of Switzerland and Austria, whilst Wales is a country within a state and so not much unlike say Basque Country (autonomus part of Spain and part of a larger Basque region including a section in France). I think Aluns judgement was a fair one although it is always hard to judge what FIFA will do.

    JBJ

    July 24, 2010

  2. In fact the Basque Country is not recognised as a country as such, not by the Spanish Constitution anyway. Spain sees itself as a nation, not as a collection of nations in the sense of the UK. (I just report this, I don’t necessarily agree with it.)

    ejh

    July 24, 2010

  3. Thank you for this article; I learned some things. However, I don’t understand what that one-word-change in the FA’s rules was.

    Bill Turianski

    July 24, 2010

  4. Bill – the original rule was:

    Council will use the following criteria, and any other conditions in Council’s absolute discretion, in deciding whether to approve the transfer of membership by a Full Member Club or an Associate Member Club:
    .
    .
    (iii) all other creditors of the existing Full Member Club or Associate Member Club
    must be satisfied and evidenced as such;

    the new rule is

    Council may use the following criteria, and any other conditions in Council’s absolute discretion, in deciding whether to approve the transfer of membership by a Full Member Club or an Associate Member Club:
    .
    .
    (iii) all other creditors of the existing Full Member Club or Associate Member Club
    must be satisfied and evidenced as such;

    In other words, before the rule change, without satisfying Wyn Holloway, who ran the bills up in the first place, the reformed club would not have been accepted. Now, the FA may allow a reformed club that does not satisfy all existing creditors at it’s own discretion, as it did first with Chester City, and now with Merthyr Town.

    It’s also how the FA could accept Stephen Vaughan’s reformed Chester City last summer, while fining the Conference for accepting Chester City as a club (who hadn’t changed their similar rule).

    Rob

    July 25, 2010

  5. Thanks for the article, we’re just happy to be playing football at Merthyr. There is still a long way to go before we get back to familiar surroundings but at least the club is back in the hands of those who love it the most – the fans.

    Great day at Telford yesterday, it was good to meet you guys there.

    Oxo

    July 25, 2010

  6. OK, thanks very much for clearing that up for me.

    Bill Turianski

    July 25, 2010

  7. As pointed out by JBJ, Liechtenstein are a country, but Wales is just a part of a country. Why UK chooses to have regional club competitions (and FAs) instead of a national one is an internal matter. As is choosing the clubs to represent UK in the euro competitions from these regional championships. UEFA should not allow representatives from all the regions to their competitions.

    Elmslie

    July 25, 2010

  8. No, Wales is a country that is part of a larger state.

    ejh

    July 26, 2010

  9. Wales has never been a country, but I understand why some people like to pretend that it is.

    Martin

    July 27, 2010

  10. Best possible luck to Merthyr. Just to correct one very small point in the historical record – Merthyr were given an exemption and were always allowed to stay playing in Wales in the English pyramid. Newport, Colwyn Bay and Caernarfon took the court case. Caernarfon eventually joined the League of Wales/Welsh Premier – their record since doesn’t suggest it has been a land of opportunity.

    George Street-Bridge

    August 3, 2010

  11. Well were 10 months in to running our new club at Merthyr. The season at taffs well has been a great success – Crowds have not dropped and the Trust (now the club) have run the club so no losses have been incurred. We’re top of the Western Division 1st division, scoring over 100 goals and on saturday should confirm promotion – the week after the championship.
    next season we return to Penydarren Park in the premier division of the western division – still two leagues below where we went pop – but the feeling around MTFC is now one of excitment and a galvanised single core of supporters (this includes the staff and players). We know the future is in our hands and all the money entering the clubs doors are being used for the benefit of the football club. Trabsparency is there and the club will flourish.

    Dr Obnoxious

    March 30, 2011

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