Two Halves of Welsh Football
29th April 2013
On the face of it, Welsh football has had a fantastic year. The team I support, Swansea City, has brought the League Cup to Wales for the first time, Cardiff City (only football fans will understand how difficult these words are to write) have clinched promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship and either Newport County or Wrexham will clinch promotion to the football league on May 5 when they play each other in the Conference play-off final. Wrexham have also won the FA Trophy - one more piece of FA silverware to make its way to Wales this season.
But there is another side to Welsh football this year. A previous edition of the Socialist reported that Swansea is one of a number of clubs implicated in exploiting unpaid interns. I was in Cardiff on Saturday (27 April) for an excellent Wales TUSC organising meeting. In the pub afterwards, prior to the game where Cardiff were to be presented with the Championship trophy, it was possible to see a lot of fans in the club's traditional blue. I suspect that not all Cardiff fans are happy with the Malaysian owners' insistence of throwing out tradition, branding the club in red rather than the bluebirds. The club has also massively increased their debt in the pursuit of the promised land - the money of the Premier League.
The worst news for Welsh football though this season is the winding up of Llanelli AFC. The club was liquidated last week (22 April), following a winding-up petition from HMRC for unpaid tax revenues. This was the fourth such winding up order this season.
Players and other staff at the club say they have not been paid for months. They say they have appealed to the FAW (Football Association of Wales) but the FAW either won't or can't help them.
In the last few years Llanelli have enjoyed some of their most successful seasons, qualifying for European football 7 years in a row and winning the Welsh Premier League. But that success has been paid for by taking risks with the club's long-term financial future. Llanelli have been paying professional footballers on finances generated by gates of a few hundred (having to compete for crowds with a successful rugby team). Even away from the glamour of the top leagues, the world of football finance is littered with owners taking risks with clubs that should really be community assets.
The result in this case is the winding up of a club with well over a century of history - Llanelli AFC were founded in 1896 and has included amongst its ranks Jock Stein the legendary Scottish player and manager. Like many historic clubs, it was formed by workers, in this case, migrant pottery workers from Staffordshire. I wish the supporters and staff of Llanelli AFC pob lwc in resurrecting the club in one form or another. Sadly Llanelli is just one more victim of the marketisation of sport in general and football in particular. How many more will there be unless we can reclaim the game for supporters and their communities?