Last week, UEFA’s executive committee met the Football Association of Wales. They discussed the proposal to allow Welsh clubs playing in the English pyramid system to qualify for European competition through the Welsh Cup. If successful, the FAW would have succeeded in their attempt to raise the profile of the Welsh Cup by making it more attractive to the exiles, to whom they had only recently extended an invitation back into the competition. Would the lure of an ‘easier’ path to Europe prove too irresistible to the likes of Swansea City, Cardiff City, Wrexham, Newport County, Merthyr Town and Colwyn Bay?
This opportunity to qualify for Europe would only be open to the Welsh clubs playing over the border if they agreed not to take part in the equivalent competition in England. Seeing as Cardiff City have reached the final of both the FA Cup and the League Cup in recent years, and Swansea City are beating some of the best teams in the country in the Premier League, it’s probably safe to assume they would turn down the invitation. As for the rest, a viable route into Europe could still have been appealing, but the result of the bid means we’ll never know.
The FAW failed to convince UEFA to change the rules, so Welsh clubs playing in England will have to qualify for Europe through English competition. We can speculate as to whether the likes of Wrexham and Newport County would opt to compete in the Welsh Cup at the expense of an FA Cup run, the latter likely to be more profitable for these clubs. Wrexham had an impressive FA Cup run this season, getting to the third round and being knocked out by a Championship club after a replay. This run brought in over £100,000 for the club, an amount which the Welsh Cup could not match.
Idealists amongst us though would like to see the Welsh Cup involve all Welsh teams, and this is still a possibility as the FAW will extend an invitation to the exiles for the coming season. It is quite likely that most will refuse again, but hopefully not because they hold the view that the competition will be a walk over.
Back in 1995, the FAW ruled that teams playing league football outside of Wales would not be allowed to enter the Welsh Cup, their stance on this has softened since and all the exiles were invited to play in the Welsh Cup for the 2011/12 season. Three of the exiles accepted the invitation but only Newport County could find their way past the third round. Wrexham fell to Airbus in a tie that went to extra time and Merthyr Town were swept aside by Barry Town, who currently sit in the second tier of the Welsh pyramid. Barry Town met Newport County in the next round and almost held the FA Trophy finalists, eventually going down as 3-2 losers.
Newport County were drawn against The New Saints in the following round, which was due to be played on the same day as their fixture against Gateshead. Knowing that rearranging the fixture would not be an option, County opted to play both fixtures. There was no denial from County’s manager, Justin Edinburgh, that the strongest team would be playing in their league fixture. Newport County eventually lost their tie against The New Saints and so came to an end the exiles’ run in the Welsh Cup.
If any of the exiles do accept the invitation to the Welsh Cup next season, I would hope it would be with the intention of winning it, regardless of whether they would qualify for Europe. However, if the intention is to play a second string team, I would prefer they gracefully rejected the invitation. The view that the competition is an easy path to Europe for a team outside of the Welsh pyramid system is not a healthy one for the image of Welsh Cup football. Cardiff City and Swansea City dominated the Welsh Cup back in the late eighties / early nineties (the cup was won five times in six years by either Cardiff or Swansea), and I’m sure they would now if they put out a full strength team against any Welsh pyramid opposition. However, without their involvement in the Welsh Cup I feel the competition has improved and will further improve in the coming years. It would be a shame to take a step backwards now.
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