Welsh Premier League urged to move to community model by AMs

Training at Port Talbot Town The FAW says more work is needed to continue to raise the standards and the profile of the WPL

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The Welsh Premier League "will struggle to move forward" without better co-operation between clubs, communities and the Football Association of Wales (FAW), an assembly committee warns.

The Welsh government and FAW should work to make clubs community "hubs," a report by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee says.

It adds that investing in hard-wearing pitches would benefit clubs, local people and Welsh football.

The FAW says it will respond later.

The committee launched an investigation into the future of the league earlier this year.

Its report recommends that the Welsh government, local authorities and clubs "explore opportunities" for financing new types of football pitches, also known as third [3G] and fourth generation [4G] pitches.

'Irrelevant'

It says such pitches are low-maintenance, hard-wearing and versatile and could be used for other sports and activities across the community, while at the same time give clubs a much-needed financial boost.

Start Quote

Gareth Bale

To uncover the next John Charles, Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale there must be a strong, successful domestic league that will find and develop these players”

End Quote Ann Jones AM Committee chair

It says it invited clubs to air their views during the inquiry, and found that "many saw the sport's governing body, the FAW, as irrelevant and couldn't see the benefits of the strategies developed by the organisation at grass roots level."

Ann Jones AM, committee chair, said: "Wales has given the game of football some of the finest players ever seen.

"To uncover the next John Charles, Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale there must be a strong, successful domestic league that will find and develop these players.

"The basis of a successful Welsh Premier League lies in its sustainability, which is why we have recommended that the clubs, the FAW and the Welsh government explore existing avenues for community development and financial support.

"The installation of third and fourth generation playing surfaces is a big part of this community hub model due to their versatility, and can form the basis of top-class facilities to develop football academy structures."

She added: "The committee noted the significant development already achieved by the WPL since it was established and the more outward-looking culture from the FAW.

"But we urge all sides to begin building better relationships with each other.

"Without everyone's co-operation, the Welsh Premier League will struggle to move forward."

The committee makes nine recommendations, including urging the FAW and councils to seek financial support if they wish to pursue its community hub model.

It also recommends that the FAW priorities "communication and relationship-building" with the clubs to deliver their strategies.

'Way forward'

In a submission to the consultation, the FAW said it welcomed the inquiry.

It said the national league "grown significantly", but said "more work is needed to continue to raise the standards and the profile of the WPL further in the coming years".

It added that cooperation between the Welsh government and all involved with the league could only be good for football, local communities "and the health of our future generations".

Andrew Edwards, chairman of WPL club Port Talbot Town, agreed 3G pitches were the way forward commercially because they would allow clubs "to engage more with the community".

However, he said: "I'm sure my manager would tell you he would rather play on grass."

He said the current model was "unsustainable" because "the cost for a club at Welsh Premier League level far outweighs the money that comes into the club".

He said engaging the community was "definitely the way forward".

Mr Edwards said the club employed one of its first team players as a football in the community officer, regularly visiting schools and encouraging pupils into the club.

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