The mental image of football’s administrators as ossified relics from a bygone age is a familiar one. Hidden away in oak-paneled boardrooms that are stained with the musty scent of decades worth of cigar smoke, they twirl their walrus moustaches whilst passing judgement, always ensuring that their own personal fiefdoms remain untouched by too much change. In England in recent years, this image has come to be replaced by the sharp-suited nonentity, the relentless moderniser with an obsession with “revenue streams” and at least one eye always fixed on a mobile phone, but in Wales things are somewhat different, and this week it has been the Football Association of Wales that has left onlookers flabbergasted over a decision which will leave two sizable communities without senior clubs from the start of next season.
The two clubs that have fallen victim to the whims of the FAW have been AFC Llanelli and Barry Town United. The former of the two was a new club formed after the winding up of Llanelli AFC in April after a winding up petition was brought against the club by HMRC over an unpaid tax debt of just £3,000. Five years earlier the old club had been the champions of Wales, but its closure led to the application of a new club which hoped to start the following season back in the the Welsh League, which has three divisions which run below the Welsh Premier League. In a country in which crowds in the top division largely run to hundreds rather than thousands, it didn’t seem like an unreasonable request to make.
If anything, though, the case of Barry Town United is even worse. The club formed after inevitable collapse of Barry Town, which had been under the ownership of Stuart Lovering since a previous financial crisis in 2003. Lovering ended up, over a period of a decade, alienating its supporters and eventually killing the club in a story that we have covered on here before and which ended with a chaotic last season during which the despotic Lovering first pulled the club’s under-19 team from its league claiming a lack of players while the Barry Town Supporters Club – who had been running the club on a day to day basis for the previous couple of the years – confirmed that the team had seventeen players available for it at the time, appointing himself as the club secretary, and then withdrawing the club from the league with two matches of the season left to play.
Barry Town United, the phoenix club formed from the ashes of the final collapse of Barry Town, had also been hoping to start the new season in the Welsh League, with a petition signed by more than one thousand people requesting that the club be placed into its first division. The matter was put before the Football Association of Wales’ Domestic Football Committee, who recommended the AFC Llanelli and Barry Town United should be placed respectively in Divisions Three and Two of the Welsh League, but when the matter was put before the organisation’s full committee, the recommendations of the Domestic Football Committee were overridden by a vote of twenty-one to three, and the two clubs were told that they would have to start again at the very bottom of the Welsh league system, nine divisions below the Welsh Premier League. The FAW’s statement on the subject offered no condolences to the supporters that have suffered under these losses, only mustering this terse comment on the matter instead:
The FAW Council held their bimonthly meeting at Betws y Coed on Thursday, June 13th 2013. On the agenda was the application of both Barry Town United AFC and AFC Llanelli for full membership to the FAW for the 2013-14 season.
The Council members considered a recommendation that both clubs should be admitted into the Welsh Football League. The FAW Council voted against this recommendation. Both Barry Town United AFC and AFC Llanelli have been instructed to apply for membership to their respective Area Associations.
At the time of writing, no further explanation behind the decision has been given, although it has been strongly suggested, most notably on the website of Wales Online, the online version of the South Wales Echo newspaper, that rival clubs may have been the motivating factor behind this decision, stating that, “the Echo has been told a number of other Welsh League teams, or those aspiring to promotion, kicked up a fuss about the matter.” Meanwhile, the Barry Town Supporters Club has reacted with a statement of its own, which dripped with anger and disbelief at the verdict reached by the FAW:
The Barry Town Supporters Committee is stunned by the news that the FAW Council have refused to ratify a proposal by its own Domestic Committee to allow Barry Town United AFC to become full members of the Football Association of Wales and the Welsh Football League. The FAW Council appears to have ignored the wishes of the football community, as well as letters of support from Alun Cairns MP, Jane Hutt AM and Vale of Glamorgan Council, and an online petition of over 1,250 signatories in arriving at their decision. This decision would appear to contradict of their own strategic plan for involving local communities in running their local clubs.
Anybody with any sort of moral compass must surely understand that Stuart Lovering was an encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the sort of people that run football clubs for either the purposes of their own enrichment or to fuel their own egos, whilst the Barry Town Supporters Club are his polar opposites, volunteers who work tirelessly because if they don’t, no-one else will. BTSC is exactly the sort of organisation that the FAW should be encouraging to flourish in Wales. Instead, those that would seek to get involved in the lower reaches of Welsh football could well be forgiven for wondering what the point of doing so might be. We might even argue that the FAW doesn’t deserve the sort of people that would give up their time in this way.
And here is what is so puzzling about the decision reached by the Football Association of Wales. Even if we set to one side for a moment the moral aspect of all of this, there are solid, practical reasons why places should have been found higher up the ladder than the roped-off park pitches of the nether regions of the Welsh league system. For both Barry and Llanelli, as at so many other football clubs, activities do not end at ten to five on a Saturday afternoon. In Barry, for example, the club’s youth set-up had been catering for over one hundred young players. These are substantial towns which will now be left without senior clubs and in South Wales in a country national league system of which cannot afford to lose supporters. It has been suggested that one or both of these clubs might now seek to decamp to the English league system. There is an appeals process that they can go through, but it would be difficult to blame them if they did after the way that they have been treated.
When the Football Association, Premier League or others in England act in a high-minded manner, we might not agree with much of what they have to say, but these organisations can at least fall back on the success of the English league system as vindication, whether rightly or wrongly, f0r the decisions that they make. The Welsh league system doesn’t have this luxury. Surely, we might contend, the divisions of the Welsh League could only benefit from having clubs that are capable of attracting two or three hundred people to matches, which might increase the profile of the league. As things stand, however, the only way in which the profile that has been increased has been in the form of intense scrutiny, most of it highly critical, including this eviscerating response to events from the S4C television channel reporter Gary Pritchard. It is also instructive to note that an article which highlighted criticisms of the ruling also has been posted elsewhere. If there is general consensus on anything today, it seems to be that it is the governance of football in Wales which requires urgent review above anything else.
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