A slightly different version of this post appeared in an Australian fanzine edited by a nice man called Geoff Briggs.
I’ll come out and say it at the beginning, I’ve gone off the Welsh Premier League.
I feel a little naughty for admitting this in public. When you’re even slightly involved in this league there’s unsubtle pressure to support the league through its thick and thin. You’ve got help put the league on the map and so on. I can’t live this lie any longer, I have reached the end of my tether with the competition. I’m not trying to be a clickbait contrarian, it’s just how I feel.
At the start of September a freelance journalist came to our north Walean hinterland to see if we’d felt any “bounce” from Euro 2016. Aside from the anecdotes poured over agog audiences there was absolutely no connection between Bangor City and Euro 2016.
The only possible connections between the Welsh Premier League (WPL) and Euro 2016 were the rules of football and the word “Wales“. The European Championships were a passing manifestation of divine brilliance and the WPL is a moribund entity that’s evaporated my enthusiasm for leaving the house on a Saturday afternoon, or Friday evening, or Sunday afternoon.
This feeling didn’t emerge overnight, I’ve experienced five seasons of ebbing joie de vivre, I lost the last few traces of it in the gap between the magnificent Euros and cold stark reality. A combination of three things – The WPL’s nature, brainwaves and the unforeseen effects of the club licensing process – have caused the joy drain.
Firstly, “the WPL” should be re-initialised as “the BIP” (Boredom In Perpetuity). We meet the same clubs and visit the same grounds so the same club can win the title. The WPL contained eighteen clubs until the advent of 2010’s “Super Twelve”, a competition that divides into hermetically sealed sections after twenty two matches. Now there’s a top half that ends with European play offs and a bottom half that may end in relegation. Every August I dread another existential slog.
Playing clubs at least four times during a season is bad enough but during a recent season cup matches and European play-offs meant that we played Rhyl, our fierce local rivals, seven times. Even the fiercest rivalries becomes anaemic through unrelenting contact.
A run of decent league results normally allows an unlikely side to challenge for a league title but the WPL provides erstwhile pacesetters with two extra matches to catch uppity interlopers. The clubs coasting along are merely saddled with bothersome pacesetters they can’t catch. Repetition has bred so much contempt that some clubs have welcomed relegation and others have denied themselves promotion.
I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, success and near relegation, so I have experienced the full spectrum of boredom. The spectre of relegation is humiliating in any system but in the super twelve you stand to be punished by players that you’ve faced countless times on the WPL roundabout.
When you’re title challengers there’s no light relief. The relief of a win evaporates when you realise there’s another match next week and every defeat has two simultaneous effects; you miss out on points and any advantage you enjoyed is slightly eroded by the baying mob at your heels.
When you’re “enjoying success” there’s a horrible melange of stress, a flowchart of stress if you will; Expectation stress > spectating stress > defeat aftermath stress > realising that other sides have won stress > missing UEFA prize money stress > losing players that would bring you glory next season stress. Our championship winning season of 2010-’11 contained ten absolutely awful dread-stained weeks.
Club licensing has generally had a positive effect on the WPL in terms of facility development, rule application and ensuring that clubs are sustainable but it’s also inadvertently diluted the anticipation I used to feel.
Last summer Port Talbot Town, our friends in the south, were relegated and Caernarfon Town, our local rivals, were denied promotion. In both instances there were valid reasons for the decisions but the crumbs of comfort I doggedly put my faith in – the potential visits in a new season – had been hoovered up.
Lastly, the brainwaves. Aside from the Super Twelve, we’ve had the 3G pitch football community hubs and Sunday matches. The desire to create local community football hubs based around 3G pitches may sound laudable – an all-weather pitch that can be used by the local community – but what if an area already has a local council operated all weather pitch? Isn’t the competition risking local authority employment during our times of cynically manufactured austerity? Where’s the sense of community in that?
3G pitches aren’t without their problems either; recent research has shown that 3G pitches may have worrying health effects. There’s nothing wrong with a grass pitch if it’s looked after. The FAW could fund the annual salaries of highly qualified groundsmen for each club for less than the cost of one 3G pitch.
When they came up with Sunday matches last summer it was almost my final straw. Who in the UK prefers going to a football match on a Sunday? How are you meant to relax when Monday morning’s work is clearly visible on the horizon? What about the semi-pro players that work on Mondays? We all need a day off from football.
At the start of the season I scanned the fixture list in anticipation of away days to come and discovered that all of the away games that can involve a good day out – Rhyl, Newtown, Aberystwyth – were scheduled on days other than Saturdays. Then I noticed we were scheduled to visit Cardiff Met, the only ground I hadn’t visited, on a Sunday. Thankfully they’ve relented over Sunday matches but my enthusiasm remains comatose.
There are only two sensible options; return to an eighteen club league or change the course of the future with time travel. Based on the latest news – the clubs seems unwilling to change the nature of the league – the latter option seems the one most likely to happen.
We could back to the 1880s and set Wales on the same process of development as Scotland; a league based around one area – the Glasgow – Edinburgh Central belt – that eventually spreads over the whole country.
We could go to 1992 instead. We could convince Cardiff, Wrexham and Swansea and the rest to do the decent thing and join the League of Wales. This isn’t fanciful, Dynamo Kiev joined the Ukrainian league, Dynamo Minsk joined the Belarussian league and Hajduk Split joined the Croatian League. If it’s good enough for Eastern Europe it’s good enough for Wales!
Even with the obvious caveats – the geography of Wales prevented the development of a proper national league and the prospect of Football League promotion was always too persuasive – the only realistic prospect of pleasant change is using Doc Brown’s DeLorean.
I once owned a Manic Streets Preachers’ t-shirt that was emblazoned with the legend; “Baby, I’m Bored”, it’s a shame that I lost it ages ago because it feels rather apt. I’m not asking for much, some enjoyment is all I want, they seem to have enjoyment in the Cymru Alliance.
I’m sure that every point in this post can be refuted but my boredom feels tangible. I know change won’t happen, I’ll just have to concentrate and enjoy those conversations about films and comedy instead. Going to local football because of an almost perverse sense of duty may be the way forward.
What’s enjoyment anyway? A fleeting glimpse of a good thing that warps reality by causing unrealistic expectations.