Football in Wales
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Association football is one of the most popular sports in Wales. Wales has produced club teams of varying fortunes since the early birth of football during the Victorian period, and in 1876 a Wales national football team played their first international match. Football has always had a close rivalry with the country's de facto national sport rugby union, and it is much discussed as to which is Wales' more popular game. The Football Association of Wales (FAW), was established in 1876 to oversees the Wales national team and govern the sport in Wales, later creating and running the Welsh football league system.
Welsh professional club teams traditionally played in the same leagues as their English counterparts, structured into regional divisions. This often resulted in teams from North Wales and South Wales not facing each other as the transport links between the two regions were poor. In 1992 the Welsh Premier League was formed to create a national league. Six Welsh clubs who enjoyed success in the English leagues refused to join, but despite this the teams that come top of the Welsh Premier League have a greater chance of playing in European competition, as the top three clubs are drawn into the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.
The Wales national team has struggled to find success at international level, with its only appearance in the World Cup occurring in 1958. This has led to some world-renowned players from Wales not being seen at the biggest international tournaments, though many of them have made a name for themselves at club level. Welsh players of note include John Charles, Trevor Ford, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Neville Southall, Ryan Giggs, Cliff Jones and Gareth Bale while in Wales the likes of Ivor Allchurch, Fred Keenor and Jack Kelsey are cherished.
The game that would become Association football was first codified in Britain in the mid-19th century, and by the 1860s and 1870s became established in industrial towns in the Midlands and north of England. The north Wales towns of Wrexham and Ruabon also adopted the sport in this era. This interest led to the formation of the Football Association of Wales (FAW) in 1876 by Welsh solicitor Llewelyn Kenrick and this was followed in 1877 by the creation of the Welsh Cup. In 1877 the FAW formed the first Wales national football team who played their first game that year, losing 4-0 away to Scotland.
The Wrexham area was the centre of football in Wales for the first twenty years, with the south of the country preferring to follow the emerging sport of rugby union. The first time an international game was held in the south was in 1894, hosted in Swansea, which was the 46th match the Wales team had played. More telling in the north / south divide that existed in the sport was that it was not until the 67th fixture that the first southern player was selected for the national team. The 1890s and early 1900s saw an increase in competitive association football in south Wales, but the success of the Wales rugby team in the 1893 Home Nations Championship and the defeat of the 1905 New Zealand team saw football kept as a secondary sport in the area. The modern era of association football in Wales is agreed to have begun during the 1909–10 season when the first of six teams from the south joined the Southern Football League. Wrexham F.C. had already joined the Birmingham and District League during the 1905–06 season, but the introduction of Swansea, Newport, Ton Pentre, Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Riverside into the Southern Leagues saw an increase in popularity of the sport in Wales. This was cemented with vital wins in the league and then in 1915, Swansea's surprise win over the then reigning League Champions, Blackburn Rovers F.C. in the FA Cup.
The Welsh Premier League, originally named the League of Wales, was founded in 1992 as Wales did not have a national league at that time. Teams relegated from the Welsh Premier League are either relegated to the Cymru Alliance (North Wales) or the Welsh Football League (South Wales). Originally the Premier league had 18 teams, but for the 2010–11 season onwards there is only 12 after a proposal by the clubs in the League.
Second Tier and onwards
In the north the Cymru Alliance has only one division, and has a feeder league structure of its own with three regional leagues feeding it—the Mid Wales League (covering Brecknockshire, Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Ceredigion) the Welsh Alliance League (covering all of the north except Wrexham) and the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) (covering the small region around Wrexham). Again, the champions or runners-up of these leagues can be promoted into the Cymru Alliance, given suitable grounds.
Below these third tier leagues are even more localised leagues: in Central Wales there are four leagues feeding into the Mid Wales League (covering Ceredigion, Montgomeryshire, Mid Wales South, and Aberystwyth areas respectively), while below the Welsh Alliance there are the Gwynedd League and the Clwyd League and these even have feeder leagues of their own such as the Anglesey League. The Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) has three lower divisions of its own but no feeder leagues below it.
In the south, the Welsh Football League has three divisions all covering the whole of the South Wales geographical area, and it is not until the fifth tier of the pyramid that local leagues appear. Promotion to, and relegation from the Welsh League is structured, as in the north, on three regional football associations (Gwent FA, South Wales FA, and West Wales FA). Each can send one promoted team into the Welsh Football League. This is straightforward enough in the Gwent FA area, where there is one senior league, the Gwent County League, whose champions (or runners-up) are eligible, if they satisfy Welsh Football League criteria. (Below the three divisions of the Gwent County, there are the Newport and District, East Gwent, Central Gwent and North Gwent leagues)
The South Wales FA area is more complicated however, as this region has two senior leagues of identical status covering the same area, each with two divisions – the South Wales Senior League and the South Wales Amateur League – often the champions of these leagues have to play off for the single promotion place to the Welsh Football League. Below these two leagues are local leagues in the towns and cities of South Wales, the champions of which can confusingly be promoted into either of the higher leagues.
The West Wales FA area is the only one not to have set up a senior league in its area – this means that there are four local leagues (Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath & District) with all their champions potentially having to play-off for the one available promotion place. However, as few west Wales clubs can face the prospect of the travelling implications of moving up to the Welsh Football League, this four-way play-off idea is theory rather than practice. The latest clubs to gain promotion from this region were Llansawel in 2006 (from the Neath & District League), West End in 2005 (from the Swansea Senior League), Ystradgynlais in 2004 (from the Neath & District League), Cwmamman United in 2002 (from the Neath & District League) and Garden Village in 1999 (from the Carmarthenshire League).
Welsh teams in the English leagues
Swansea City presently play in the Premier League, Cardiff City are in the Football League Championship while Newport County compete in League 2. Wrexham, Colwyn Bay and Merthyr Town play their football in feeder leagues. These six teams have all played in the English football league system since their founding and all declined the offer to move into the League of Wales, now known as the Welsh Premier League, when it was founded in 1992. However, the Welsh teams Bangor City, Barry Town, Caernarfon Town, Newtown and Rhyl did move into the Welsh league system from the English league system. Welsh teams participating in the English football league system can enter the English FA Cup competition. Welsh teams participating below level 4 of the English football league system are governed by the FAW for disciplinary and administrative matters whereas Welsh teams at level 4 and above of the English football league system are administered by the English FA for the 2011–12 season onwards.
From 1996 to 2011 the FAW only allowed teams in the Welsh league system to enter the Welsh Cup. Prior to 1996 Welsh teams playing in the English league system were invited to participate along with some English teams located near the Welsh border. As this rule excluded the biggest Welsh clubs from the Welsh Cup, the FAW launched the FAW Premier Cup in the 1997–98 season to include the top Welsh Premier League teams and the top Welsh teams in the English league system. The FAW Premier Cup was discontinued after the 2007–08 season. On 20 April 2011, the Football Association of Wales invited the six Welsh clubs playing in the English league system to rejoin the Welsh Cup for the 2011–12 season with Newport County, Wrexham and Merthyr Town accepting. The invitation was not offered for the 2012–13 season.
There are also a number of English-based teams in the Welsh leagues, see List of association football clubs playing in the league of another country.
- Welsh Cup – Is the oldest and most prized cup trophy in Wales, the cup is open to teams in the Welsh football league system. Until 1995 any Welsh club playing in the English league were allowed to participate and, by invitation, some English clubs. The winner of the cup is given a UEFA Europa League qualifying place.
- Welsh League Cup – Is only open to the Welsh Premier League clubs.
- FAW Trophy – Is open to Clubs at level 2 of the Welsh football league system
- Welsh Football League Cup – Is only competed by the clubs participating in the three Welsh Football League tiers.
Qualification for European competitions
|UEFA Champions League second qualifying round||Champions of Welsh Premier League|
|UEFA Europa League first qualifying round||Runner-up of Welsh Premier League
Winner of UEFA Europa League play-off (3–7 place in league)
|8th place will take place of a domestic cup winner who finishes in 3–7 place|
|UEFA Europa League second qualifying round||Winners of Welsh Cup|
- Welsh football league system
- Welsh Cup
- Welsh League Cup
- FAW Premier Cup
- List of football clubs in Wales
- List of stadiums in Wales by capacity
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