Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Llangefni Town v Bangor City, 8 April, 2008

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Originally uploaded by Phil Stead
I'll be totally honest with you. And this is hard to admit. I went to Llangefni v Bangor on a Friday night for one reason mainly. I wanted to update my visited grounds list on Facebook. The "football grounds" application is one of the few places that allows you to add Welsh Premier grounds to your tally.

Sad I know. Really sad. but it gets worse. I had already been to Llangefni once, to see Llangefni Reserves beat Felinheli 1-0 in the Gwynedd League. But in the obsessive world of the groundhopper, that doesn't count. It has to be a first team game.

But I can copnsole myself that i wasn't the saddest person there on that cold, wet Friday night. There was one geek decked out in Queen's Park colours. Not the Wrexham team called Queen's Park either, but the one from Glasgow. He was a proper groundhopper.

I knew where the ground was because I used to buy my chickens next door from the poultry dealer. And if you stand on the grassy West terrace you can hear the cocks crowing. Like most football grounds, it is poorly signposted. The only sign is opposite the front entrance which seems sort of pointless. Meanwhile, you drive past all manner of signs on the A55 across Ynys Mon. Garden Centres, Auction Houses, Museums. These all warrant a sign, as does the rugby club. But a signpost to a football ground which is visited by hundreds of people each week? (I am including the teams before you start).

Llangefni Town's progress as a Junior club has been impressive. It was only twenty years ago that they were first accepted into the Gwynedd League, 3 divisions below the top tier. At the same time, the town's rugby team has grown exponentially.

But that's where the growth stops for the rugby. You see, the WRU in its wisdom has banned the club from progressing beyond regional leagues. It's too far from the M4 corridor you see. The Southern teams refused to travel North even once a season. It is laughable for rugby to call itself the National game when it actively blocks the prgress of Northern clubs. Did you know that the North Wales Youth team plays its home games in Llanidloes to save the Southern Softies travelling too far to play them? It's all credit to the FAW and Welsh football that we have a genuinely National League.

If I'm honest, Llangefni have a lot of catching up to do with regards to the facilities at Talwrn Road. The progress in the 8 years since they moved there has been huge, and they will say that they are no worse than many other grounds in the Welsh Premier, which would be true enough. But that just demonstrates the poor condition of grounds in the top Welsh league.

There is a critical tipping point in Welsh football which needs to be addressed if we are to progress domestically. There are many players and even clubs in the Welsh League and Cymru Alliance who simply won't benefit from the step up to Welsh Premier football. Why would a Port Talbot player be excited at the prospect of travelling 510 hours on a Saturday to play on a muddy pitch in front of 100 people at Llangefni's muddy patch, when he could get exactly the same experience playing for Afan Lido in the Welsh League.

The onus is on the FAW to offer significant financial aid to Welsh premier clubs. We know their coffers are full according to recent reports, so why isn't the Welsh premier getting more aid. Until we have decent grounds with flat pitches, the level of football will remain at the poor standard of the game I saw at Llangefni last Friday. Yes, there were 800 people paying £6 each, but they had pretty much the same experience as I had watching the reserve team. Reasonably diverting, but not in the slightest bit compelling. In fact Llangefni fielded a player who played for Felin in that lower league game and he didn't struggle at all with the supposed increased standard.

The Welsh Premier simply has to be supported. With talk of reversion to regional Divisions, it is on its last legs. If regionalisation happens, the idea can be said to have failed. Welsh football will be back in 1991 and North and South will once again be divided as it is in the rest of Welsh sport and indeed Welsh life.

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