With declining attendances and financial issues, the FAW need to hand Welsh clubs to the committed fans so that communities can enjoy their football
The current situation at Barry Town, and the saga which has dragged on at the South Wales club for the previous ten years, demonstrates some of the threats to Welsh league football recently and the actions of their fans shows the way forward that many clubs may need to adopt in the near future.
Issues at Barry Town began in 2003 when the club had to be saved by Stuart Lovering, who took over the team to bring it out of administration and deal with debts totalling £1 million. By the following year the team had had to leave its home at Jenner Park after Lovering refused to pay the rental payments (believing them to be overpriced) and the club was relegated from the top division.
Supporters began to feel increasingly alienated when admission prices were increased to make them to most expensive in the division, fan committee meetings were no longer allowed in the clubhouse and fundraising events on match days outside the ground were banned by Barry's owner. A breakaway club was created in the form of Barry FC and they were threatened with legal action by Lovering (although he later abandoned this).
In 2011, the Barry Town Supporters Committee took over the running of the club while the owner began on a search for potential buyers, leading many to believe that the supporters should take control but any attempt to purchase from Lovering was rejected. The BTSC got a lot of public backing for Joe Calzaghe and Barry-born Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
On May 14th this year Lovering pulled the Dragons out of the Welsh League after sending a request to the FAW to have his team's results expunged. His withdrawal of the club was an action he had threatened in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 when he couldn't find anyone to take the club off his hands.
BTSC are now launching a bid to become members of the FAW and take control of Barry Town, and are hoping that they can retain the league position they held before being withdrawn by Stuart Lovering. Similarly, fans of Llanelli AFC are petitioning the FAW to be able to create a phoenix club (after the Reds were wound up this season) called AFC Llanelli who will also retain their old club's league position.
Last year Welsh football lost another club in the form of Neath FC who were wound up after huge financial difficulties, resulting from their sponsorship deal collapsing in 2011.
These issues with finances aren't new to clubs in the Welsh League, especially when they have to compete with rugby clubs, who of course represent the national sport, and the attraction of Premier League football in South Wales.
Teams from North Wales are thriving and bring in the league’s highest attendances (Bangor City had average attendances of 558 this season, compared to the league average of 279). However, a Welsh League needs to have representatives of from all over the country, and clubs who can help improve the nations UEFA coefficient (the league is ranked 48th out of 53 by UEFA).
In some of the more remote areas of Wales these football clubs are of huge importance to the sporting community, and sometimes are the only outlet people have to watch and compete in the sport.
At a time when youth unemployment in Wales is so high, and above the national average, the FAW needs to encourage the existence and sustainability of clubs which offer young people an outlet that promotes inspiration and self-belief. Hopefully the FAW will allow football fans in Llanelli and Barry to take over their respective football clubs and carry on the great volunteering work they do to keep football alive in their communities.
image: © joncandy