We still exist up here you know!

21 04 2013

Yesterday Michel Platini and Wales’ first minister opened Dragon Park, near Newport, as this BBC photo shows;


You can read about it as well – “Michel Platini praises Welsh facilities but insists nation does not have infrastructure to host Champions League final“. When I saw the news coverage of the opening I remembered a blog post that my friend Phil wrote just over two years ago;

“The Southification of Welsh Football

There are many good reasons why Newport has been chosen as the site for the new FAW National Football Centre. The FAW had the support of the local council; the City stands in an area of dense population, and the area is close to the main offices of the FAW, close to international match venues, and benefiting from a good transport infastructure. Newport is a worthy choice for the FAW, who had been through a process of “rigorous testing of a number of potential sites across South Wales.”

Get that? “Across South Wales“.

Politically, Welsh authorities have been advocating a policy of decentralisation in a United Kingdom context for almost 15 years. Ironically, when it comes to our own country, we are more than keen to embrace that Centralisation which we claim to oppose. And while the Cardiff area thrives with nationalised investment across a range of sports, the north is being isolated, ignored and neglected.

Until 1986, the FAW headquarters were in Wrexham. They had been there ever since the foundation of the association in 1876. Football in this country was introduced by north-Walians, and played exclusively by north-Walians until mass immigration in the industrial south brought with it thousands of football-mad Englishmen. But gradually, since wrestling control of the game away from its historical cradle, the South-Walian influenced FAW has started to follow rugby’s path with its systematic isolation of the northern half of the country.

Let’s look at match venues. The last senior competitive game in the north was in 1999. The last senior Welsh friendly international to be held in Wrexham was over three years ago, against Norway in February 2008. Since that occasion, Wales have played thirteen home games, in a fifty-five mile stretch between Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli. Representative games at all levels are only occasionally held away from the M4 corridor.  The Welsh Cup Final has found a permanent home in a Llanelli rugby stadium, handicapping finallists Bangor City with a six hour journey for the past two years against local teams.

Aberystwyth has suffered too from centralisation. The Welsh International Super Cup  (Ian Rush tournament) has been held in Aber for the past twenty three years on the immaculate surfaces of the University Fields. It has gained a world-wide reputation and has become a fixture in the Aberystwyth calendar. But no more – from 2011, the tournament has been moved to Cardiff.

It would be churlish to oppose the fantastic new football facility which will benefit elite players across Wales. But if I told you that the young academy players at Bangor City will be training on the concrete car park of their privately-financed new stadium, or that the nearest 3G pitch is 2 hours away from Anglesey, at Wrexham FC, you may understand why north-Walians raise an eyebrow when they see another large investment in an area already rich with facilities. The lack of public pitches in Gwynedd is shameful, and the poverty of facilities across the county is set to worsen with the rumoured closure of local Leisure Centres.

The excuse that population density in the north did not allow the FAW to even investigate the possibilities of a central or northern site does not make sense. This is an elite facility intended for sportsmen and women drawn from across the country – the size of the surrounding population is irrelevent. The Italian National Football Centre is situated at Coverciano, 3 hours away from Rome. The English National Football centre will be sited at Burton on Trent, not in London. And here’s a thought – maybe there should be a responsibility on national bodies to assist the economy of the most vulnerable areas of the country by siting any new facilities in areas of low opportunity which are increasingly suffering from depopulation.

It would be easy to dismiss my arguments as the whining complaints of an Gog, but the FAW are in danger of disenfranchising an area of the country where football is traditionally the dominant sport. Midweek and Friday international games already make it difficult for north-Walians to follow our national side. The selection of south-Walian venues for minor representative games and domestic finals is another kick in the teeth. And now with a National Football Centre in Newport, the southification of football in Wales is almost complete.”

I don’t doubt the need for some kind of national academy, or football centre, as I’m sure that Dragon Park could help Wales’ national teams prepare in a better way or something. I can’t really criticise the location as practically speaking roughly two thirds of Wales’ population (may be incorrect at the time of publishing) live around and along the Swansea – Cardiff – Newport axis. Its location is probably more convenient for passing football dignitaries as well.

Dragon Park isn’t really a problem by itself. Like Phil I’d say that it only becomes a problem because of its part in a disturbing trend; the southification in Welsh football.

We’ve had time to get used to the loss of the FAW’s 110-year old and the lack of qualifying matches, as much as we dislike this  situation these points aren’t really an issue any more.

We know that the world’s oldest surviving international football venue just isn’t good enough for the hoity-toity officials anymore ………… ahem……………. we realize that the Racecourse doesn’t have the requisite standard of changing rooms or press facilities for the modern international game.

We accept that the Racecourse hasn’t even been good enough to host friendlies against such giants of world football as Bosnia, Luxembourg, Georgia or Estonia, in the last five years. We’re all aware of this, we’re used to it. We’re happy that the FAW deign to let us have Under 21 matches and the odd couple of Under 17 friendlies.

Well, we used to be happy.

We probably won’t remain happy for much longer. North Wales now appears unfit to receive crumbs from the table; The last under 21 qualifying match, versus Moldova, took place on the day of Wales’ qualifier in Hampden and was played in Parc-y-Scarlets in Llanelli.

We shouldn’t be surprised, the North’s time in the sun was bound to end. The FAW types are always attracted to the south. For example the FAW may have allowed Wrexham to play host some Under 21s qualifying matches in the last few years but they always played  the  matches against bigger and better countries – France, Italy, the play-off versus England –   in Cardiff or Swansea.

Of course there is a running theme, this summer Wales will host the European Under 19s Womens’ championships and all the matches will be played in south Wales, This year Israel will host the European Under 21s Championship. The FAW tabled a bid to host the tournament and they were going to hold the tournament in south Wales.  To further underline the point, the FAW’s website tells us that teams representing Wales have played 58 home matches in the last three years at all levels (men, women and semi-pro). The website tells us that of those 58 matches 39 were played in south Wales.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that  they choose to schedule qualifying matches for Fridays or their apparently hands-free, and guilt-free, attitude towards Wales’ national football league.

There’s a large irony in Welsh sport at present, the creation of the RGC 1404 regional rugby side and the scheduling of Under 20s six nation matches in Colwyn Bay, indicates that the perpetually southern based Welsh Rugby Union seems to care more about north Wales than the north Wales founded Football Association of Wales.




One response

21 04 2013

The facilities used by RGC at both Eirias and Llandrillo could in theory be used as a satellite academy by the FAW, with a small amount of funding.

One only has to look at Allianz Park, home of Saracens rugby club, to see how the FAW could invest/help in creating a venue at Eirias capable of hosting matches against the lower ranked nations. All pie in the sky, of course.

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