The Welsh Premiership is the national football league for Wales and is at the top of the Welsh football league system. Prior to 2002, the league was known as the League of Wales, but changed its name as part of a sponsorship deal. Currently, the full sponsored name of the league is the Principality Building Society Welsh Premier Football League.
A troubled start
The league was formed in 1992 by Alun Evans, Secretary General of the Football Association of Wales, as he believed that the Welsh international football team was under threat from FIFA. Wales, along with the other three home nations, have a permanent seat on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and it was thought that many FIFA members were resentful of this and pressing for the four nations to unite into one combined side for the whole of the United Kingdom.
At the time, Wales was almost unique in world football in that it didn't have a national league of its own (Puerto Rico, part of the United States, also has football and baseball teams that compete in the larger country's system, though no promotion and relegation exists). Traditionally, the best teams in Wales had always played over the border in the English leagues. Cardiff City, Swansea City, Wrexham ply their trade in the Football League whilst Aberdare Athletic, Merthyr Town (both now defunct) and the original Newport County were all members of the English football league. Famously, Oswestry Town F.C. an English team did the reverse and used to play in the Welsh football pyramid.
Because of poor transportation links, it has always been much easier for Welsh clubs to travel east-west than north-south so clubs tended to look east to England for competitors and many of Wales' top semi-professional sides also played in the English football league; Bangor City were founder members of the Football Conference and famously reached the FA Trophy final in 1984.
The formation of the League of Wales saw the start of a bitter dispute between the Football Association of Wales (FAW) and those non-English League clubs who wanted to remain part of the English football league. The 'Irate Eight', as they were dubbed, consisted of Bangor City, Barry Town, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County, Newtown and Rhyl.
Prior to the inaugural season, Bangor City, Newtown and Rhyl returned to play in Wales. However as Rhyl's application to join the league was late, they were placed in the second level of the pyramid system. Because of FAW sanctions, the remaining five clubs were forced to play their home matches in England. Following a season in exile at Worcester City, five became four, as Barry Town joined the Welsh league system.
A court ruling in 1995 allowed the remaining four clubs to return to Wales to play their home matches while still remaining within the English system; despite this victory, Caernarfon Town decided to join the League of Wales. However, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport County remain in the English league pyramid system.
One of the problems facing the league is its failure to break into the major population centres. As Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham all possess professional teams playing in the English Football League it is unlikely that a smaller League of Wales club could compete. As such the League is made up of clubs from smaller towns and even villages.
This failure to develop clubs in the four or five biggest settlements could hamper the league's chances of attracting high attendances and its long term sustainibility.
Promotion and relegation
Clubs are promoted to the league from the two regional feeder leagues; the Cymru Alliance in the north and the confusingly named Welsh Football League in the south. Clubs who finish as champions - or as runners-up if the champions decide not to seek promotion - of the feeder leagues are promoted subject to an application for membership being received and accepted and the stadium and infrastructure safety criteria of that League being met.
No teams were promoted to the Premiership following the 2005/06 season. However, Cardiff Grange Quins, who finished bottom of the top division, resigned leaving the league to operate with an odd number of clubs for 2006/07.
Eighteen clubs will compete in the Welsh Premiership for the 2007/08 season as both Neath Athletic (Welsh Football League) and Llangefni Town (Cymru Alliance) have been promoted while Cwmbran Town have been relegated to Division 1 of the Welsh League.
The champions of the Welsh Premiership qualify, along with the champions of every European domestic league, for the UEFA Champions League. The second placed team qualifies for the UEFA Cup with a place in the Intertoto Cup going to the third placed team in the league. A place in the Uefa Cup is also awarded to the winners of the Welsh Cup. If the winners of the Welsh Cup have already qualified for Europe via their league placing (e.g. finishing first and winning the Cup) the third placed team inherits the UEFA Cup spot, and the Intertoto spot passes on to the fourth placed league side.
Results in Europe have been mixed-some notable successes, such as Barry Town's run to the first round proper of the UEFA Cup, drawing 3-3 with Aberdeen F.C. at Jenner Park, and Barry's 3-1 victory over FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League, combined with some heavy defeats, such as TNS' 12-1 aggregate defeat to Amica Wronki of Poland.
The aforementioned Barry Town have been by some way the most successful Welsh side in Europe in the league's 15-year history, winning a total of six games in Europe.
In recent times results in Europe have generally improved vastly, where in the past Welsh sides had been on the wrong end of some heavy scorelines, all Welsh sides now enter Europe with the realistic aim of at least winning their first round tie. In the last two years particularly European results have been good, with Rhyl FC, Carmarthen Town and Llanelli AFC all enjoying success.
There is no doubt that the advent of the League has brought increased media coverage for its member clubs. Although there is sometimes complaint about the lack of it at times, the league does enjoy coverage by the Welsh national (notably the Western Mail and Daily Post) and local press. The league also enjoys a weekly magazine show broadcast on S4C in Wales and throughout the rest of the UK, Y Clwb Peldroed, and occasional live matches have been broadcast both on BBC Wales and S4C. Welsh Clubs' European games are sometimes broadcast live also, again, usually on the BBC or S4C (although TNS's Champions League tie against Liverpool was live on ITV2).
Composition of the League 2007-08
Current teams in the Welsh Premier are:
At the end of the 2006-2007 season: Cwmbran Town were relegated to the Welsh Football League First Division, Neath Athletic were promoted in Cwmbran Town's place and Llangefni Town were promoted from the Cymru Alliance.
Former members of the League of Wales
The following teams have played in the League at some time:
- Abergavenny Thursdays (1992-1993)
- Afan Lido (1992-1996, 1998-2005)
- Barry Town (1992-2004)
- Briton Ferry Athletic (1992-1994, 1995-1997)
- Cardiff Grange Quins (2005-2006)
- Cemaes Bay (1995-1998)
- Conwy United (1992-2000)
- Cwmbran Town (1992-2007)
- Ebbw Vale (1992-1998)
- Flint Town United (1992-1998)
- Holywell Town (1992-1997, 1998-1999)
- Llanidloes Town (1992-1993)
- Maesteg Park (1992-1995)
- Mold Alexandra (1992-1995)
- Oswestry Town (1996-2003)
- Rhayader Town (1997-2002)
- Ton Pentre (1993-1996)
- UWIC Inter Cardiff (1992-2001)
- 1992-93: Cwmbran Town
- 1993-94: Bangor City
- 1994-95: Bangor City
- 1995-96: Barry Town
- 1996-97: Barry Town
- 1997-98: Barry Town
- 1998-99: Barry Town
- 1999-00: Total Network Solutions
- 2000-01: Barry Town
- 2001-02: Barry Town
- 2002-03: Barry Town
- 2003-04: Rhyl
- 2004-05: Total Network Solutions
- 2005-06: Total Network Solutions
- 2006-07: The New Saints