The unveiling of the latest batch of Welsh Premier League clubs to benefit from the UEFA ‘Hat-trick’ funding via the FAW means that the majority of clubs in the league next season could be competing on artificial turf. Like it or not, 3G is here and it’s here to stay…
Aberystwyth’s Park Avenue and Carmarthen’s Richmond Park will both be equipped with 3G next season after it was announced on Tuesday that four more WPL clubs will benefit from funding.
Joining them will be Cefn Druids, who are yet to determine whether a 3G surface will be installed at The Rock or at a local school, and Connah’s Quay, who have already confirmed that their new pitch will be a school-based facility.
Airbus UK and Newtown are in their first season of having 3G while TNS first set the trend seven years ago.
And should all the above steer clear of relegation and Cymru Alliance runaway leaders Llandudno achieve promotion, the Welsh Premier League could have seven clubs playing on 3G. That list doesn’t even include Port Talbot who have a clear interest in adopting an artificial surface while you suspect other WPL clubs also harbour similar ambitions.
Much like anything related to the Welsh Premier League – i.e. format, seasonal calendar, promotion criteria – the general opinion on 3G pitches is divided.
In an ideal world, yes, every club in the league would be playing on a pristine surface akin to Bangor City’s pitch at Nantporth. But reality paints a very different and often muddy(!) picture.
The clear selling point of 3G surfaces is that it drives two things which underpin the clubs ability to improve their sustainability – community engagement and revenue.
Admittedly, it will take a certain length of time for the clubs to reap the rewards of utilising the benefits of 3G and in my view, the true success of 3G can only be measured in the improvement of standard in the WPL and results in European competition.
The ideal scenario would be that 3G empowers teams to raise standards closer to that of The New Saints’ and create a more competitive league and better product.
The dominance of The New Saints should be considered as one of the biggest threats to the Welsh Premier League and how I wish for the league to have 12-clubs of the Saints’ standard.
Following Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga defeat on the weekend, TNS are now the only top-flight club in Europe to remain unbeaten. The culture of acceptance of their superiority amongst the rest of the league is not a healthy one but where is a challenge, albeit a sustainable challenge, going to come from?
You do wonder whether TNS have hit a ceiling as to how far they can progress within the WPL and the situation that the league finds itself in is not dissimilar to that of the SPL, which is suffering from Celtic’s complete domination. At least in Scotland, there is the potential for Rangers to rebuild and regroup. As things stand right now in Welsh domestic football, any such challenge would be reliant on a benefactor being prepared to back a club at a loss, and that hasn’t worked out well in the past, has it?!
Sticking with The New Saints, Sam Finley has been provided with the opportunity to showcase his talents in the English pyramid.
One of the best talents in the WPL in recent seasons, Finley links up again with Carl Darlington at Wrexham. Finley’s had some bad luck with injuries this season but you suspect he should be able to hold his own at Wrexham in the knowledge that he could attract attention from clubs within the Football League.
My understanding is that there isn’t a long-term arrangement in place between TNS and Wrexham, and that he moved to the Racecourse only after the Saints were unable to agree on a deal with a number of interested clubs on deadline day.
I don’t believe joining Wrexham, who’re 12-points off the Conference play-off spots, is necessarily a step up for Finley but rather a stepping stone to put himself in the marketplace.
It seems that Finley has played his last game in the WPL but given their superiority over the rest of the league, it’s unlikely his absence will cause Craig Harrison too many headaches domestically at least.
The fourth round of the Welsh Cup comes around this weekend. Caersws host Newtown in the TV game on Sunday (12.45) in what should be a feisty mid-Wales derby. Caersws, like Newtown, have been struggled for consistency for much of the season but you get the feeling that this tie has the makings of tasty cup tie.
Meanwhile the banana skins have been laid out for a trio of WPL clubs. Bangor City will be attempting to avoid a slip-up at home to Conwy Borough, Airbus UK will also be carrying similar fears when they make the trip to Cardiff to face Welsh League pacesetters Cardiff Met and Aberystwyth travel to Holywell Town, who remain undefeated in the Welsh Alliance (Level Three).
Another tie worth keeping an eye on is the all-WPL clash between Connah’s Quay and Bala Town.
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