In previous blogs that I have published on The 94th Minute, I have delved and explored other leagues around the world to get a better understanding and knowledge of football in those particular countries. Whether it be the exciting K League of South Korea, or exploring the multiple top flight leagues of the Nordic countries, I have enjoyed every exploration in learning about the history of the leagues and the teams who compete or competed within them. The links of the previous blogs can be found below should you wish to read more:
- South Korean K League PART 1; PART 2
- Danish Superliga
- Swedish Allsvenskan
- Norwegian Eliteserien
- Finnish Veikkausliiga
However, whilst exploring these foreign leagues, it dawned upon me that perhaps a lot of my readers may not know too much about my own top-flight national league in Wales, and a league I know a lot about (or think I do), the Cymru Premier.
Originally, when it was established in 1992, it was known as the League of Wales, before eventually changing its name to the Welsh Premier League (WPL). Another name change occurred this summer when the Football Association of Wales (FAW) took direct control of the second tier leagues in North and South Wales, and changed the league’s name to its current name. This is a result of the top two tiers of Welsh football being under the same banner – the Cymru Leagues. Therefore reflecting its position within the FAW controlled umbrella, the top-flight league became the Premier whilst the northern and southern leagues’ names were changed to Cymru North and Cymru South respectively.
Therefore considering the recent change in the league’s name, I felt it was only apt that I wrote about the Cymru Premier and provided more information about Wales’ national league for those who want to know more about this fantastic competition, which is sadly overlooked by its English and Scottish equivalents. In this first part of my guide, I will initially talk about the history of the league and its origins for creation, the past winners of the league, as well as other information of its history.
History of the Cymru Premier
Creating the League of Wales
It may be surprising to some readers but a national football league has only existed in Wales since 1992. This is in stark contrast to the other major national competition within Welsh football, the Welsh Cup, which has existed since 1877, and is football’s third oldest cup competition after the English FA Cup and the Scottish Cup.
Prior to the foundation of the national league in 1992, Welsh league football was largely regionalised between the northern, central and southern Welsh leagues. This was historically a result of the geography of the country, with the middle of the country being very mountainous and difficult travelling through. However, more importantly, there were poor north-south infrastructural links within Wales (something which sadly still exists today and is becoming increasingly stark). Whereas it was easier for England to create a national league, due to the railways connecting up big towns and allowing easy travel for teams to play games, it was not so much the case in Wales. As a result, no national league ever became fully created.
The infrastructural situation made it far easier for Welsh clubs to travel east-to-west rather than north-to-south. As a result of this, many Welsh clubs tended to look across the border to England for additional opposition. The obvious examples of this situation, at the time were Wrexham AFC, Cardiff City and Swansea City, who were competing in the English Football League (and had done for a number of decades). Whilst many of the top semi-professional Welsh sides were also playing in the English football system, rather than the Welsh regional leagues. An example being Bangor City, who were founders of the Alliance Premier League (now the fifth-tier National League or Conference National).
The landscape of Welsh football changed in October 1991 when it was decided by Alun Evans, the then Secretary General of the Football Association of Wales (FAW), that Wales needed a fully national league. This was a response to external criticism from other FIFA members, who did not like the fact that Wales had their own international team, and a permanent seat on the important law-making International Football Association Board (IFAB), but did not even have their own national league. These FIFA members were starting to press for a combined ‘Team GB’ side that would represent the whole of the UK, and would force the four home football unions to merge. Therefore to protect its individuality and independence in the world of football, the League of Wales had to be created to eliminate that criticism from other countries.
With the creation of the League of Wales, the FAW encouraged all the Welsh sides who were playing in the English system (with the exception of Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham who were playing in the English Football League at the time), to move across and join the new league. Unfortunately this demand caused a bitter dispute between the FAW and eight sides who wished to remain part of the English football system. These eight clubs were dubbed the Irate Eight, and consisted of:
- Bangor City
- Barry Town
- Caernarfon Town
- Colwyn Bay
- Merthyr Tydfil
Unfortunately this dispute became increasingly bitter due to a FAW ruling which sanctioned any club that would not be willing to compete within the Welsh system, would be unable to play their home games within Wales. This meant that the eight clubs would have to play in exile, over the border in England. Thankfully this ruling was overturned by a court decision in 1995, but it did force the hand of a number of clubs.
Because of the initial sanction imposed by the FAW, Bangor City, Newtown and Rhyl agreed to move across to join the inaugural League of Wales, although Rhyl’s application was late and thus they had to play in the second tier of the Welsh pyramid for the 1992-93 season. The remainder of the twenty-team proposed league was made up of teams from either the Cymru Alliance (which covered north and central Wales) and the Welsh Football League National Division (which confusingly covered southern Wales). Sadly the names of the regional leagues were and are very confusing…
Therefore with teams moving across from England or being plucked from the northern and southern Welsh top divisions, the founding members of the League of Wales were the following, and the FAW were conscious to picks teams that were spread from around the country. However curiously, there were no teams from the major conurbations of Wrexham, Swansea or Newport, and only one team from the capital:
- Abergavenny Thursdays
- Aberystwyth Town
- Afan Lido
- Bangor City
- Briton Ferry Athletic
- Caersws FC
- Connah’s Quay Nomads
- Conwy United
- Cwmbrân Town
- Ebbw Vale
- Flint Town United
- Inter Cardiff
- Haverfordwest County
- Holywell Town
- Llanelli AFC
- Llanidloes Town
- Mold Alexandra
- Maesteg Park
- Newtown AFC
- CPD Porthmadog
Of the clubs within the original Irate Eight, only two still remain in the English football system; Newport County and Merthyr Town. Newport County gained promotion to the English Football League (EFL) in 2013, after being Wrexham in an all-Welsh Conference National playoff final. Whereas Merthyr Town are the phoenix club of Merthyr Tydfil, who were liquidated in 2010, and continue to play at Penydarren Park. The Martyrs currently play in the Southern League Premier Division South (seventh-tier of English football). Despite continuous discussions for Merthyr to join the Welsh league, Colwyn Bay were the latest club to move over to the Welsh system. The Seasiders moving into the second-tier Cymru North for the start of the 2019-20 season.
The First Season [1992-93]
- Champions: Cwmbrân Town
- Relegated: Llanidloes Town & Abergavenny Thursdays
- Top Goalscorer: Steve Woods (Ebbw Vale) – 29 goals
In that inaugural season of the League of Wales, it saw the south Welsh side, Cwmbrân Town, surprisingly become the first ever national champions of Wales. The Crows won the title by four points from Inter Cardiff, their nearest rivals in second position. Aberystwyth Town finished nine points behind the leaders in third place (still a record position for the Seasiders), whilst early league favourites, Bangor City, could only finish in fifth place, two points behind fourth-placed Ebbw Vale. The best team from the teams who came from the Cymru Alliance was Holywell Town, who finished in sixth position on 59 points, much to the writer’s own enjoyment.
There was just two teams relegated that season from the League of Wales, with Llanidloes Town and Abergavenny Thursdays being relegated to the Cymru Alliance and Welsh Football League First Division respectively. Sadly for both teams, neither have reappeared in the top flight since then. Powys-based Llanidloes Town have fluttered between the second and third tiers and the Daffodils currently compete in the Mid Wales Football League Division 1 (third tier), whilst Monmouthshire-based Abergavenny Thursdays actually went out of business in 2013. They have since been replaced by Abergavenny Town, who now play in the same Pen-y-Pound Stadium as the Thursdays did. The Butchers currently play in the third tier Welsh Football League Division 1.
The top goalscorer that season was Steve Woods of Ebbw Vale, who scored an amazing amount of 29 goals for the Cowboys. His nearest challenger was Tim O’Connor of Afan Lido, who scored 26 goals, whilst David O’Gorman (Connah’s Quay Nomads) and Chris Summers (Inter Cardiff) scored 25 goals each.
Changes in League Format & Names
The top-flight of Welsh football has seen many changes throughout its history, especially during its early period when the number of teams competing in the league fluctuated. This was dependent on teams either folding or moving across from the English football pyramid.
It was initially set up as the League of Wales, and started with twenty teams for the first three seasons. The number increased to twenty-one teams for two seasons due to one of the Irate Eight, Caernarfon Town, moving over into the Welsh football system in 1995. The league then reverted back to its standard twenty team format for the start of the 1997-98 season.
However, at the end of the 1997-98 season, four teams were relegated from the league (Porthmadog, Flint Town United, Welshpool Town and Cemaes Ynys Môn) to reduce the number of teams in the league down to 18 teams. Unfortunately, Ebbw Vale were also expelled from the league before the 1998-99 season began as a result of financial difficulties (which saw the club sadly fold). So instead the League of Wales was ran as a seventeen team league, before it reverting back to the planned eighteen teams in the following season.
The number of teams within the League of Wales (1992-2002):
- 1992-95: 20 teams
- 1995-97: 21 teams
- 1997-98: 20 teams
- 1998-99: 17 teams
- 1999-2002: 18 teams
The name of the league changed to the Welsh Premier League (WPL) at the start of the 2002-03 season as part of a re-branding exercise by the FAW, but the league would maintain its eighteen team format. Throughout the 2000’s, the league would fluctuate between eighteen and seventeen teams, depending if teams failed to get promoted from the second tier (due to ground regulations usually), left the league due to financial issues etc, although for only two seasons did the league run with just one fewer team.
At the end of the 2009-10 season, it was announced by the FAW that the bottom eight teams in the WPL would be relegated to the second tier to accommodate the change in format from an eighteen team league to the ‘Super 12’ format, which is still currently being used. The sides who finished between 14th to 18th, Connah’s Quay Nomads, Porthmadog, Welshpool Town, Caersws and Cefn Druids, all suffered relegation from the WPL, whilst the 11th to 13th teams, Bala Town, Haverfordwest County and Newtown were luckily spared from relegation. This was because the winners of the northern and southern second tier leagues, Llangefni Town and Afan Lido, were denied the newly enforced licences which were required to play in the WPL. Thus ensuring no team would be promoted for that season. In addition, the sixth-placed team, Rhyl FC, were also relegated as they failed to obtain a WPL licence for the following season due to financial problems – a huge shock considering they had won the league the previous season and were the then defending champions!
From the 2010-11 season onward, the league has operated a twelve team league, with a mid-season split and European play-offs involved. These will be mentioned more thoroughly in the second part of this series. In addition, before the start of the 2019-20 season, it was announced that the FAW were planning another re-branding of the Welsh Premier League due to the FAW taking full control of the second-tier leagues (and eventual third-tier leagues in 2020-21). As a result, the first and second tiers were named as the “Cymru Leagues”, with the WPL becoming the Cymru Premier, and the second-tiers becoming the Cymru North (previously Cymru Alliance) and Cymru South (previously Welsh League Division One) respectively.
The number of teams within the Welsh Premier League / Cymru Premier (2002-)
- 2002-03: 18 teams
- 2003-04: 17 teams
- 2004-06: 18 teams
- 2006-07: 17 teams
- 2007-10: 18 teams
- 2010-onward: 12 teams
Past Winners of the League of Wales / Welsh Premier League
- 13 times: Total Network Solutions/The New Saints
- 7 times: Barry Town
- 3 times: Bangor City
- 2 times: Rhyl FC
- 1 time: Cwmbrân Town, Llanelli AFC
There have been six different winners of the league since it was established in 1992. The New Saints have won the record amount of league championships, having won thirteen Welsh league titles, and winning the title continuously for the past eight seasons. A more detailed report about TNS will appear in a later part of the series, alongside the other 2019-20 Cymru Premier teams. Although below are brief descriptions of the other league winners.
Champions: 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02 & 2002-03
As mentioned previously, Barry Town were one of the Irate Eight and as a result, had to play a season in ‘exile’. Adopting the name Barri AFC, they played their home matches at Worcester City’s ground for their exiled season. Before they shockingly agreed to return back to the Welsh pyramid and starting back in the Welsh League Division 1 for the 1993-94 season. Their first season back in Wales proved to be very successful, as they managed to win the Welsh League Division 1 title and league cup, the FAW Trophy and also the Welsh Cup! As a second-tier side, they won their first Welsh Cup since 1955 by shocking beating EFL side Cardiff City 2-1 at Cardiff!
Barry Town would appear in the League of Wales for the first time in the 1994-95 season, where they finished in a respectable seventh position. However this would precede the start of the Barry dominance of the league! The Linnets managed to win seven league titles in eight seasons between 1995-96 and 2002-03, as well as winning four Welsh Cups, four League of Wales Cups and one FAW Premier Cup (a cup in which LoW and the Welsh EFL clubs played in). They also managed a famous victory over Porto in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, when they beat the Portuguese giants 3-1 at Jenner Park (unfortunately they were 0-8 down on aggregate after the first leg).
Sadly the professional era had financial repercussions with the club, as they started to struggle to fund their full-time status. In the end, with wages not forthcoming, all the professionals would quickly leave the club resulting in the club having to become an amateur club once again. The season after they had won their record-breaking seventh league title, and the Linnets were relegated back down to the second-tier in the 2003-04 season.
There they continued to compete in the Welsh League Division 1 for the majority of the 2000’s although it was a tumultuous affair, with the club’s owner constantly either slashing the club’s budget, locking the club out of the ground or regularly clashing with its supporters. Although the club managed to reach the Welsh Cup semi-finals in 2013, before eventually losing to the eventual winners Prestatyn Town, it would be the final hurrah for Barry Town in this guise.
At the end of the 2012-13 season, the owner controversially announced the withdrawal of the senior team from the Welsh Football League, completely against the will of the Barry Town Supporters’ Committee (BTSC). Rejecting this act of ‘sabotage’ against the club and its supporters, the BTSC outlined its intentions to continue with the club, but adopting the name of Barry Town United. Rather disappointingly, the FAW initially ordered BTU to start at “recreational football” level, but after a High Court judgement ruled in Barry’s favour, it allowed the new Barry side to return to the Welsh League structure but at Division 3 / tier four.
[NOTE: A description of Barry Town United will occur in a later part of the series]
Champions: 1993-94, 1994-95 & 2010-11
Bangor City were one of the biggest (if not the biggest) and best supported team in the Welsh league system after having an impressive history within the lower leagues of the English football pyramid. They were also one of the Irate Eight who opposed having to move across to the League of Wales.
Despite of their initial complaints, Bangor City were one of the founding members of the league, as well as being continuous members of the top-flight until 2018. The Citizens initially dominated the league by winning the second and third editions of the League of Wales. However they had to endure the Barry and TNS eras, and wait another sixteen years, before they could claim their third league title in the 2010-11 season. Although during that league-less period, they did win an additional six Welsh Cups during that period, winning three in a row under manager Nev Powell between 2008 and 2010.
The 2010-11 WPL season culminated in a historic final day showdown with defending champions, TNS, where the winner of the game would take the 2010-11 league title. Bangor won the close match 1-0 to claim the title once again amongst great celebration with the home fans. In addition, it was the final game at their iconic home of Farrah Road before the were scheduled to move into their current ground at Nantporth. A perfect conclusion to a ground with so much history!
Bangor City continued to be one of the strongest teams within the league, and qualified for European competition on a regular basis. However after supposed financial troubles for a couple of seasons, they were forcefully demoted at the end of the 2017-18 season because they failed to obtain an FAW license to compete for the following season due to failing some financial criteria required for a WPL license. A cruel blow considering they had finished as runners-up that season, and had seemingly qualified for Europe and the Scottish Challenge Cup that season (their place went to the Nomads in the end).
After a number of seasons where the owners and supporters continuously clashed, the Bangor Supporters’ Trust had had enough of the instability at the club and established a breakaway club, ran by the supporters, at the start of 2019-20 season called Bangor 1876. Today Bangor City still currently play in the Cymru North, although attendances have drastically decreased due to the split. Bangor 1876, who are the much better supported club in Bangor currently, are competing in the fifth-tier of Welsh football (the Gwynedd League) and look set to climb up the pyramid within the next few years! 1876 currently have a number of former Bangor City legends playing for them like Michael Johnson and Les Davies.
Champions: 2003-04 & 2008-09
Another member of the original Irate Eight, Rhyl FC had spent the majority of their modern history playing within the English football system, starting in the Cheshire League and then later moving to the Northern Premier League. Reluctantly after the FAW sanction and potential forced exile, they decided to switch over to the Welsh football system and the League of Wales. However because their application to join the new national league was late, they were instead placed in the Cymru Alliance and the second-tier of Welsh football. They would only spend two seasons competing in the CA before finally gaining promotion to the League of Wales after winning the 1993-94 Cymru Alliance title.
The Lilywhites would spend the majority of the 1990’s finishing in the bottom half of the LoW table despite getting excellent attendances from their loyal and partisan supporters at their excellent Belle Vue ground. The matches against their main and fiercest rivals, Bangor City, were the most passionately supported games of the season with both teams bringing a large number of fans for the North Wales Coast Derby. However early in the 2000’s, the club saw an upturn in fortunes after getting taken over by a consortium led by former player Peter Parry.
After a couple of improved sixth placed finishes, Rhyl achieved their best ever season in the 2003-04 season when Rhyl achieved a historical quadruple-winning season. They won their first Welsh Premier League by just pipping TNS by a single point to lift the league title. In addition, they claimed their third Welsh Cup (and first since 1953) by beating title rivals TNS 1-0 in the final at Newtown, won the WPL Cup and the North Wales FA Challenge Cup. They also reached the final of the FAW Premier Cup, but ended up losing 1-4 to Wrexham in the final.
Throughout the decade, the Lilywhites continued to be one of Wales’ strongest teams, finishing league runners-up a couple of times, winning a further Welsh Cup and WPL Cup, before claiming their second league title in the 2008-09 season. On this occasion, they clinched the trophy after finishing seven points clear of a resurgent Llanelli, and nineteen points ahead of old rivals TNS. Alas the glory days of Rhyl would soon come to a surprising and sudden conclusion. In the following season, they were demoted to the second tier after failing to obtain a WPL licence due to supposed financial reasons. A massive shock to everyone in Welsh football, especially considering they had also played in Europe that season also, and were one of the biggest teams in the league!
Their hiatus away from the top flight lasted three seasons, having finished runners-up for the first two seasons before eventually winning the 2012-13 Cymru Alliance title. The Denbighshire side managing to score 100 league goals whilst maintaining an unbeaten league campaign to earn promotion. Rhyl would compete in the top flight for the following four seasons, managing their highest league position of sixth in their first season back. Alas after struggling in the WPL for a couple of seasons, they soon returned back the second-tier by finishing in the relegation spots at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Rhyl currently compete in the Cymru North, having finished in fifth place last season in the Cymru Alliance. Despite playing in the second-tier, they still maintain good attendances within the league, and always take a good away support, especially to local games. The Lilywhites’ fans are also treated to fierce derbies against Bangor City once again, as well as local rivals, Prestatyn Town. The game against Prestatyn has grown in importance since Bangor’s demise and subsequent split in supporter base, and Prestatyn’s recent history.
From a ‘new town’ that was only established in 1960 in the county borough of Torfaen, the Crows were Wales’ inaugural league champions having won the very first League of Wales in the 1992-93 season (as seen above). A somewhat surprising league winner considering they had only finished in 7th position in the Welsh League in the previous season. Cwmbrân Town would only win the single league title during their tenure in the League of Wales although they became one of the stronger sides in the league throughout the 1990’s, qualifying for European competitions on a regular basis.
They encountered a resurgence in quality towards the end of the millennium when they achieved two third place finishes in a row, before following it up with a runners-up finish in the 2000-01 season. Cwmbrân just missing out on a second title by just three points from Barry Town. All of these highlights achieved under the management of their legendary manager, Tony Wilcox.
Sadly with the untimely and heartbreaking passing of Wilcox in 2003, the club started to falter in the league. As well as losing their talisman, the club started to suffer from severe financial problems, which would culminate in the former champions getting relegated from the Welsh Premier League at the end of the 2006-07 season. This would not be the end of the problems for the Crows, as they would experience another three consecutive relegations in three years, to fall out of the Welsh League and end up in the Gwent League Division 1 (fifth-tier of Welsh football) by the 2011-12 season. In addition to falling through the leagues, their once impressive grandstand at the Cwmbrân Stadium (which originally seated 2,200 people) was considered unsuitable for supporters and closed down on safety grounds in 2012.
The Crows are still in the Gwent County League, having agonisingly missed out on a potential promotion due to a dip in form at the tail-end of last season. However under a respected management team and a secure ownership, they are confident to return back to the Welsh League in the near future. Maybe a potential return to the top flight could be on the cards for this historic club in the near future??
Llanelli were one of the founding members of the League of Wales, and played in the first four seasons of the league. After finishing in the bottom half of the table for the first three seasons, they were relegated from the top-flight at the end of the 1995-96 season by finishing bottom of the table. They would spend the next decade fluttering between the first and second tiers before a massive overhaul of the club occurred in the summer of 2005. The Reds announced they would become a full-time club (to compete with TNS and Rhyl) for the first time since the 1950’s, and brought in eight professionals to bolster their squad. In that first season as a full-time team, they managed to finish as runners-up to TNS and qualify for Europe for the very first time.
With the goals of regular league top goalscorer Rhys Griffiths aiding them, they managed to achieve a third-place finish the following season, before they finally won their first and only league title in the 2007-08 season. Under the management of respected coach, Peter Nicholas, and with Griffiths contributing an amazing 40 league goals to the campaign, the Reds won the title by a margin of seven points from TNS. They would make it a double-winning season by also lifting the Welsh League Cup trophy by beating Rhyl 2-0 in the final.
The Reds finished as runners-up for the next couple of seasons, losing out to Rhyl by seven points, and then TNS by a slender margin of just two points, continuing to be one of the stronger sides in the league. They won their first ever Welsh Cup, under the leadership of former Welsh international Andy Legg, in 2011, beating defending cup holders Bangor City by a scoreline of 4-1. A brace from Griffiths, and goals from Craig Moses and Chris Venables ensuring the trophy went to Llanelli.
Sadly that would be last highlight of that Llanelli side, as financial problems dogged them throughout the 2012-13 season, resulting in the club finishing in eleventh position and facing relegation back to the Welsh League. The club would not go on to compete in Division 1 as in April 2013, the club was liquidated by HMRC with debts of around £21,000. A phoenix club, Llanelli Town, sprung immediately from the ashes of the old club and restarted back in the Welsh League Division 3. Amazingly the club, helped by the goals of Swansea City legend, Lee Trundle, managed to return back to the top flight in the 2018-19 season. Their stay in the WPL only lasted a season as they finished bottom of the table meaning the Stebonheath Park outfit are currently competing in the Cymru South this season.
All-Time Top Goalscorers
The league’s all-time top goalscorer is Marc Lloyd Williams, who has scored an amazing 319 league goals in his career, coming in 467 league appearances (an average of 0.68 goals per game). The majority of his goals (149 of them) came whilst playing for Bangor City on five separate occasions, as well as scoring 60 goals for TNS in his two seasons there. In the 2001-02 season, Lloyd Williams scored 47 goals for Bangor City in 34 games, making him Europe’s top goalscorer. However due to league coefficient multipliers, he did not win the European Golden Boot that season, with the award going to Mário Jardel of Sporting CP, who scored 42 goals for the Leões.
Second in the all-time list is Pen-y-Bont’s current manager, Rhys Griffiths, who has accumulated 269 goals. He scored 180 goals in 181 appearances during his time at Llanelli, and finished as the league’s top goalscorer in seven consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2012. Whilst third in the list is Lee Hunt with 209 goals, who most famously played for Rhyl and Bala Town. Despite his large amount of goals, Hunt never finished any season as the league’s top goalscorer unlike the two players above him.
- Marc Lloyd Williams – 319 goals [Porthmadog, Bangor City, Aberystwyth Town, TNS, Rhyl, Newtown & Airbus UK Broughton]
- Rhys Griffiths – 269 goals [Cwmbrân Town, Haverfordwest County, Carmarthen Town, Port Talbot Town, Llanelli & Aberystwyth Town]
- Lee Hunt – 209 goals [Rhyl, Bala Town]
That concludes this part of the Guide to the Cymru Premier. In the next part, I will talk about the format of the league and its two phases with European playoffs, plus what happened in the 2018-19 season.
If there you have any feedback, comments or suggestions on the guide so far, let me know either below in the comments box, tweet me @The94thMin or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!