Welsh Premier League celebrates 25th birthday as TNS aim to continue domination

By Dylan EbenezerBBC Wales Sport
Welsh Premier League celebrates 25 years

Happy birthday to the Welsh Premier League.

It is 25 years since the league kicked off in the same summer as the Premier League over the border.

There had been a national league in existence in England for over a century - that was a rebranding. In Wales there was a new beginning.

It was not without challenges.

With the big clubs such as Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham traditionally playing in England, the new league was always going to struggle.

Sides such as Bangor City and Barry Town were also keen to stay in the English system.

After a bitter dispute, most clubs decided to join the Welsh system but others such as Merthyr and Colwyn Bay have constantly refused to accept the change.

Can anyone stop The New Saints?

There have been a lot of changes over the years but the silver anniversary is certainly worth celebrating.

The last few years have been dominated by The New Saints. The only full-time professional side have won the league title six times in a row and 11 times since the year 2000. Can they be stopped this time?

For once, there are signs there just might be a chink in their mighty armour.

Scott Ruscoe
Scott Ruscoe played for The New Saints before becoming the team's manager

Manager Craig Harrison left in the summer after being offered the Hartlepool job. The transition has been smooth with the club appointing Scott Ruscoe from within.

The former player was part of the coaching set-up even before he stopped playing, but can he keep up the success in his first ever managerial role?

The challenge will come from the other clubs that played in Europe this summer who form the best of the rest.

Bala Town know they can perform on the one-off occasion after beating TNS in the final of The Welsh Cup last season.

Connah's Quay Nomads can also challenge on their day, and the decision to give four key players full-time contracts shows their intent.

Former champions Bangor City have continued to strengthen dramatically and will be a serious threat this time around.

Old friends

Barry Town
Barry Town, in green, played against Newport County during pre-season

The two newly promoted clubs are old favourites, and Barry Town United will receive a warm welcome.

They were the first team to turn pro and the first to dominate the league but paid a heavy price.

Relegation in 2004 was just the start and they very nearly disappeared altogether. But they're back from the brink and will be a huge boost to the league on and off the pitch with their support.

The other promoted side are Prestatyn Town, who won the Welsh Cup and played in Europe before being relegated in 2014. They're back after balancing the books and finding the right balance on the pitch again.

Cardiff Met were one game away form Europe after an impressive first season and are sure to be strong again. As will Carmarthen, thanks to the old head leading the Old Gold, Mark Aizlewood.

In mid Wales Aberystwyth and Newtown might struggle, although Aber will be hoping new boss Nev Powell can recreate the team spirit that bought him such success at Bangor.

Cefn Druids and Llandudno flirted with relegation last season, but the Druids ended up in their highest ever position and Llandudno will be desperate for better after storming their first season.

The league splits in two in the New Year so there's no time to waste. It could be frantic and fierce from first round of games. And it certainly could be some silver anniversary.

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