FAW face tricky decision on Blatter

The Football Association’s call for FIFA elections to be cancelled in the face of alleged corruption has left the FAW Chief Executive Jonathan Ford in an awkward position. Ford is currently in Zurich as part of a three man team from the FAW, and must decide whether to stick or twist in the diplomatic game that is played out in FIFA’s marbled halls.

I am sure that in their hearts, Ford and his team would love to stand shoulder to shoulder with the English and Scottish associations and help reform the dictatorial system which leaves Blatter and his cohorts untouchable and unaccountable. There are historic precedents – competitive football began in the British Isles, and the relationships between the four home associations was never less than cordial in those early days when football was run by the International Board (IFAB), without interference from the Continent.

When FIFA was founded, it existed as a minority body, distant from the all powerful IFAB. The FAW received an invitation to join the new European association in 1904, but John Davies, the Welsh secretary replied, “thanking them for the invitation, and to say that the association could not see their way clear to join”. FIFA wrote again a few years later, asking that a place be allocated on the International Board.  Sadly the FAW could not agree to their request, saying “Time is not ripe to invite a delegate to board meetings”.

FIFA were finally given a place on the International Football Association Board alongside the home countries in 1913, though the voting system meant that it could not over-rule the combined votes of the UK, a system which has helped maintain the UK’s original position in the game’s governance. FIFA were granted a place with the proviso that a 4/5 majority would be required to implement any rule changes. The IFAB meetings were central to the development of the game and every year, representatives of the four home countries, plus one FIFA representative would convene to propose and discuss rule changes, and fixture arrangements. (On one memorable occasion in 1950, the whole board, including Henri Delauney met at the Buckley Arms in Beaumaris).

In 1928, Wales joined the other United Kingdom associations in resigning from FIFA in protest at their insistence on expenses payments for players who competed at the Olympics. The UK believed that there was a still a place for the amateur game, and that the Olympics should remain untainted by professionalism. The resignation letter included a snide poke at the International Association:

“The great majority of the associations affiliated with FIFA are of comparatively recent formation, and as a consequence cannot have the knowledge that only experience can bring.”

In 1947 Great Britain team faced the Rest of Europe at Hampden Park with only two Welshmen in the team. The game was conceived as a gesture to FIFA after the decision to rejoin the organisation, with all proceeds going to the international association, who were severly in need of financial assistance. In effect, FIFA was rescued from ruin by the generosity of the very associations that now look to challenge it. By 1958, the Board agreed on its current voting system, with each UK association having one vote, FIFA four and six votes being required to carry any motion. And that’s why Wales and the rest of the UK have unique powers, which are resented by many now that the World game has outgrown the history of the sport.

It is in this climate that Jonathan Ford has to decide whether to back Blatter or his fellow British associations. He has a lot to lose, like many other small countries who will back Blatter in the election. The English have left it too late to co-ordinate any form of effective opposition, and Wales will be left as sitting ducks when Blatter is re-elected by his friends.

It may be morally right to stand alongside the English, but let’s not forget that a few months ago, they were only too happy to play the game – flying their Prince around the World to shake hands, and bowing prostrate to the decision makers. Wales has nothing to gain by upsetting Blatter in the current system. Our independence is at threat from Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, and Ford has made it clear that he has ambitions to host a junior tournament in the country. Wales is also due to have a vice-President’s place on the council, and will be reluctant to place that privilege under threat. In this case, diplomacy may be wiser than a brave but futile stand against injustice.

The best Welsh footballers that were never capped

carldale The best Welsh footballers that were never cappedThe defeat to Scotland last night got me thinking. Gary Speed and Raymond Verheijen’s decision to pick a team primarily from Championship players has been criticised in some quarters. I can see what the pair are trying to do – win over the trust of club managers by protecting their players in the hope that players will become more readily available for key internationals – but it could be considered that their choice has devalued the honour of playing for Wales.  I don’t buy that personally – the honour has been devalued for a long time, and we need to be realistic about the harsh realities of modern international  football.

Nonetheless, the Welsh team last night contained some players that you might not expect to become internationals based on their domestic situation. The team contained reserves from the Championship, and players who have never really set the world alight. It got me thinking that any Welsh-qualified player who turns professional these days can expect to be capped. So who are the best Welsh players that never did make it into the national side? There can’t be many. I did a quick poll on twitter.

The player that came to most people’s mind most readily was Carl Dale (above left), who starred in the Chester and Cardiff sides of the early 1990s. As Dale spent most of his early career in non-league, he was overlooked for minor honours and only came to note with a £12,000 move from Bangor to Chester. He went to Cardiff in Division 3, where he became one of the club’s top ten scorers of all-time.  It remains a surprise that he was never approached by a club higher up the Divisions and this undoubtedly affected his chances of international honours.

There were other Cardiff players of that era that never played for Wales. Lee Jarman, Scott Young and Damon Searle might have expected caps in a the modern era when Steve Evans played against Russia while playing in the Conference with Wrexham.  I’m not saying they were great players, but Jarman at his peak was as good as Adam Matthews and Darcy Blake, who played last night against Scotland.

I can go further back for better Cardiff players that never got a chance to wear red. How about John Lewis, who was a key member of a Cardiff side that played at Championship level in the early 1980s? Both Lewis and Linden Jones were every bit as successful as Chris Gunter, but finished their careers unrewarded.  Another player from that era was Tarki Micallef, who turned down Greece to play for Wales at youth level but never got a cap.

One of the most classy players that came up in discussion was Jason Price, who did well for Swansea and Hull. He’s another player that would surely have won a cap if he was still at his peak last night. And from the modern era, Christian Roberts blew his opportunity by hitting the bottle in San Jose when called up to the squad. Leon Jeanne is more an example of unfulfilled promise than a deserving case.

There were players that excelled in the League of Wales that might have earned a call up too. Marc Lloyd Williams and Mike Flynn of Barry have been cited by tweeters. I remember that Barry’s Garry Lloyd was called into the squad but never made it onto the pitch against Belgium. I think Lloyd would have been a more deserving case than Ryan Green.

But I’ll leave you with the overwhelming winners from the survey. The best Welsh footballers never to have been capped for Wales? I give you Owen Hargreaves, Kevin Sheedy and Michael Owen.

A good year for the WPL

IMG 56331 A good year for the WPLThe FAW have announced that Welsh premier League attendances in 2010/11 reached a record high in the 17-year history of League. With an average of 343 supporters passing through the gates, the season past has shown a startling increase on the previous season’s average of 276, and it is almost 15% higher than the previous record average of 300, set in 2003/04.

I know what you’re thinking. Those crowds, are pitiful, laughable even. Well maybe so, but you can only work with what your given, so in this case, I think it’s appropriate to congratulate the FAW for taking positive steps and introducing a split league system with playoffs which has been a huge success despite initial reservations.

The record attendances are even more impressive when you consider that they were achieved without some of the biggest clubs in the league’s history. Both Rhyl and Barry Town have suffered relegations, denying the league of big gates across the country which would have boosted the league’s figures. A few other of the better supported clubs have also seen crowds diminishing this season as they have struggled on the field. If Carmarthen and  Aberystwyth could challenge for the title, then I’m sure the crowds would double at those clubs. Caernarfon Town showed its potential by attracting the biggest attendance in Wales for a semi-pro game when 1,927 people watched a local derby in the Barritt Cup – in the fourth tier of Welsh football. Surprisingly though, a recent poll showed that only 73% of Caernarfon’s supporters want a return to the WPL – some would prefer to stay in the Cymru Alliance with more local games.

God knows what has happened at Llanelli. Historically, Llanelli has been a big club in Wales, with a long history in the FA Cup and attracting crowds of up to ten thousand in its heyday. Even very recently attendances have been decent, but this season they have dropped off badly. Something is wrong at Stebonheath. Maybe Swansea’s success is attracting supporters that may otherwise have chosen their local ground. The League also suffered this season with postponements. Many many Saturday fixtures were lost during the Winter, and all clubs were denied their annual biggest gate for the Boxing Day derbies.

I believe that the League has a chance now to move on. I have always thought that there is a tipping point. In my opinion, crowds attract crowds. The 1,700 people that watched Bangr’s final game against TNS will have enjoyed that experience. They 900 that gave Neath a try for the game against Prestatyn will have had value for money. If the WPL can just get up to crowds of 500 for most of its games then I believe that can be sustained.

So what’s to be done? Well we can stick with the split league for a start. And we look forward to the return of Rhyl and Barry at some point. But maybe it’s worth thinking about the artificial pitch at TNS. Postponements are a blight on the league, and when playing surfaces are no better in the top tier than they are in the feeders, what real incentive is there for players to progress? Should the whole league move over to artifical grass? Those facilities would be a huge boost to the grassroots game in Wales, as local clubs could share the pitch throughout the week. I’m not a fan of games on astroturf, but maybe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Perhaps Wales should turn to 3G en masse?

Why Dave Jones Must Go

David+Jones+Stoke+City+v+Cardiff+City+FA+Cup+EiapAfLR pvl Why Dave Jones Must GoI’ve taken plenty of abuse in the past as I’ve defended Dave Jones’ record at Cardiff City and his managerial skills in general. I still stand by his record as the best Cardiff manager in my lifetime, but I’ve now reached the point where I believe that his position is untenable and that it’s time for him to leave.

My first doubts were raised in the middle of the season. I was shocked by the way that Jones came out and scapegoated young Adam Matthews for the defeat at Ipswich. Matthews had scored an own goal in a game which plenty of other players had underperformed. I didn’t like Jones’ public humiliation of the young player then, and I don’t think any mitigating circumstance warranted that dressing down. Maybe Adam Matthews answered back – maybe he wasn’t happy at taking the blame when others had escaped such a public mauling for similar individual errors, but that wasn’t good management. There was no going back for the player who was a future star a couple of years ago, and now he’s being shipped off to the Parkhead grazing paddock.

Then there was Gabor Gyepes. An international defender who showed patches of good form. Jones blamed him for conceding a penalty at Middlesbrough and he too was cast aside in a season when we struggled in defence. When there were injuries, McNaughton was drafted in, and even Darcy Blake was preferred at centre-half. It’s no wonder Gyepes wants to leave. Another centre-half, Anthony Gerrard was sent to Hull, presumably after another disagreement. Gerrard was Hull’s Player of the Season.

It was at Hull that other doubts crept it. Cardiff won a very difficult game in style. But at the end of that match, I just felt that there was something lacking in the team spirit. It was nothing too obvious, but I just felt that when it came down to the vital games, clubs like Swansea, Norwich and QPR looked to be a little more together. We played like a group of talented individuals rather than a team.

I accept that there are massively mitigating circumstances here. There was a transfer embargo, financial concerns, and Jones was forced to play the loan field for his
signings. That policy, forced or otherwise, led to a couldn’t give a shit culture which saw an end of season bender that killed morale if it didn’t physically affect players. A team cannot be as committed when half its players are temporary signings.

There were obvious failings in this Cardiff side which Jones bizarrely failed to address. Once the real Naylor was unmasked as a weak point, he should have been replaced. But he kept on playing in the hope that his form would turn round. It didn’t and eventually we saw JLloyd Samuel, who was scarcely an improvement. Darcy Blake looked better when he filled the role as an emergency at the end of the season. The centre-half slot was another concern. Jones’ gamble on Riggott didn’t pay off. It also took too long to sign John Parkin, who for all his failings at least allowed City to keep the same game plan when Jay Bothroyd was out of the side. The problem is that after Parkin arrived, Bothroyd’s game changed, and we saw Jay’s goals disappear as he found himself deep, or on the left wing. Andy Keogh was a disaster who was played often despite his lack of success.

I don’t acccept the general criticisms about Jones being a “choker”, or even the criticisms of his substitutions. It was the players that let him down, and he suffered some terrible luck in those final games. Who would have thought that McNaughton, and Keinan would disintegrate so readily? Bywater’s disaster was all too easy to predict however. Jason Brown must have been dreadful in training. Jones was also unlucky that Hudson, McPhail, Marshall and Heaton were unavailable. And that Craig Bellamy chose self-preservation instead of Grant Holt’s self-sacrifice.

But all of this I could live with. Jones’ good points outweigh his bad. My concerns listed here may seem overly negative, but I am mainly redressing points in made in my previous post. It was he that created the most successful Cardiff team for fifty years. Other good managers have tried and failed badly at this club. There is no guarantee that Jones’ replacement will improve things. In many ways , we find ourselves in a falsely high position, when we can’t even fill the ground for a second leg of a play-off game. Our “record” attendances are skewed by a ticketing system which practically requires the purchase of a season ticket. Many of those seats remain unfilled and our actual attendances are thousands lower than those recorded. This is not a massive club. This is not yet a club that is entitled to Premiership football. Jones’ successor will discover how difficult it is to work here.

But he does have to go. He lost the support of the local press and a large section of the fans some time ago. This has created an unhelpful divisive atmosphere at Leckwith which can only stifle the club’s ambitions. This is a modern era when people get bored easily. New managers sell newspapers, and create interest in supporters. There will come a time when managers are changed annually, like kits. And Dave Jones’ time has come. For whatever reason, he is disliked and I just can’t see another season with him at the helm. I’ll back him to succeed at another club, but sadly, he can no longer remain at Cardiff. The haters have won.

Steffan Jones’ Showreel

Cardiff City announced their retained list of players today. Sadly, Steffan Jones was not offered a professional contract after his progression through the academy. Described as a right-sided defender, I wondered who he was until I found his showreel on youtube.

When fans became strategists

It used to be so simple. At first, fans would go to football matches as a day out. There would be beer and hats and an area where women could promenade in their Sunday finery, with no view of the pitch. The players were gentlemen and would refuse penalties on the grounds of decency – they simply could not believe that their opponenents had intended to cheat. And they were probably right.

And there was a time in the 1950s when supporters would be disappointed if the opposition’s best players weren’t on view. Yes, of course, they went to support their team, but they wanted to watch a drama where all the main characters were on the stage. Blackpool without Stanley Matthews just weren’t worth beating. It would be like going to see Star Wars with no Darth Vader. Yes, the good side would win, but it would be a hollow, worthless victory.

And until very recently, for supporters, football was all about the event. If your team reached Wembley, it was an excuse for a day out, and the scarcity of the opportunity forced you to wallow in the occasion. Your team playing at Wembley allowed you to be a part of history – you could walk in the same steps that created the mythology of the greatest sport. Your voice would be added to the “abide with me” chorus. A play-off final at Wembley is now belittled by reference to the financial prize for the winner.

Football used to be a day out, with ninety minutes of drama in the middle. It was an entertainment – a chance to experience high and low emotions that were extreme but somehow addictive, even when you lost. But that was it. Nobody knew what was going on away from the pitch – newspapers contained match reports and injury news. People went back to work on Monday and looked forward to the next time they could have a few pints and get out of the house with their mates. Football was a short term diversion. It isn’t any more.

We’re all in it for the long game now. We want promotion because of the financial windfall it will bring to the club. No matter that in reality this means that the same players will earn twice their current wage and we will pay more to ticketline. Money for the club can only be a good thing. The club will be “big”. Oh and we all want our club to be “big” don’t we? Then we can be a “bigger” club than our rivals and sleep contentedly. When did popularity become a stick to beat your opponents with? Are Manchester United to be admired more than AFC Wimbledon because they sell more seats?

When I asked around recently whether it would be better to lose most of our games in the EPL and finish fourth from bottom, or win most of our games and finish fourth from the top of the Championship, the answer seemed clear. It would be better to lose to better teams. But why is that?

Have Wolves fans really had more fun that Cardiff fans throughout the season? Wolves lost twenty games – that’s a lot of miserable weekends. And yet they celebrated having the chance to be just as miserable next season. We seem to have taken on a fantasy boardroom role in our club. We concern ourselves with the growth of the business. If selling our best player would realise a good profit, then we don’t mind if he goes.

I can understand cheering the news that an opposition star is unavailable for your game. When Jimmy Kebe was missing for Reading in Cardiff’s recent playoffs, I celebrated like everybody else (in a small internal, unvoiced sort of way of course). On the other hand, Craig Bellamy’s non-appearance for Cardiff was left uncriticised. It was barely mentioned that while Norwich captain Grant Holt could play through a torn hamstring to earn his club promotion, our own totem was preserving himself after feeling some “tightness” – a warning sign of an injury which might affect his value in the close season.

We didn’t criticise Bellamy because we’re all sophisticated now. We all understand that players need to play less games to prolong their career. We accept international retirement because “a footballers career is a short one”. We hear that periodisation is the new buzzword in player performance. We nod sagely, and empathise with the long-term plan, when really we should be screaming at him to get on the fucking pitch and earn his fucking money.

The most perverse result of our new long-term strategical emphasis is the bizarre notion that most fans would prefer their team not to compete in less prestigious competitions. Thus, the Europa League is treated as a burden rather than an opportunity for glory and trips abroad. This is the UEFA Cup, a very desirable trophy in the 1970s when the game was played on the pitch, and not in the bank. We buy in to the warning that participation in Europe’s second biggest club competition is a distraction from the forthcoming game away to Stoke which would cement our team’s position in 15th place.

I blame “Football Manager” for all this, and “Management Mode” on FIFA. A whole generation has been brought up playing simulation games where accounting ability is as important as the match. Our involvement continues throughout the week, as we fret about players’ contracts, sell-on fees, about loan notes, third-party ownership and five-year-plans. Call me a luddite, but I think I might have preferred it when we were blissfully ignorant, and our involvement ended on the final whistle.

One night at Ashton Gate

In 2003, Cardiff City faced Bristol City in a 2-legged Division 2 play off semi final. Cardiff had won the first leg, but were not expected to progress, as Bristol City were a talented side, and confident that they could beat Cardiff by a couple of goals at home. It turned out otherwise as the Bluebirds held on with a magnificent defensive display. This game was the beginning of their transition from joke team into serious contenders. I wrote this poem about the occasion:


In a corner of West England
The people sat in wait
For seventeen hundred bluebirds
To pillage Ashton Gate
Their sounds of guilt were carried
On The Waterfront’s lapping waves
The streets were paved with gold they earned
By selling African slaves.

In a cold and windy tunnel
The ghost of Scoular howled
At the injustice of that April day
When the ref said Gabbi fouled
But tonight it would be different
As Lennie called them in”
Remember you don’t always need
To score a goal to win.”

The bridges were suspended
And Gareth Ainsworth too
So Wille Boland played out wide
And did the work of two.
Old Leggy ran away the years
Defending City’s honour
But when his limbs began to ache
We replaced him with Mark Bonner

The Robins swarmed around the pitch
But they found no way to goal
Their only hope a Christian,
Who they thought had sold his soul.
But you can’t turn a Cardiff man
With tainted trader’s plunder
And when he lunged to get sent off
We just began to wonder.

The daffodils wilted and the dragon breathed
A defiant roar of fire
And its spirit filled the heart that night
Of the reborn Spencer Prior
Then Wilson played his final cards,
But all their hope was gone
When they saw the man they had to beat
Was Daniel Gabbidon

The Celts stood strong against their foe,
And the Anglo-Saxons whined
As Tinnion’s header met the palm
Of Braveheart on the line
The night closed in and the lights came on
As the Bristol air grew darker
And still the enemy were repelled
By Weston, Croft and Barker

And as the moon shone brighter
The Men of Harlech sang
And they waved the black and yellow cross
Of Pembroke’s Water Man.
The whistle went, and battle-hardened
Men began to cry,
You won’t forget this famous night,
And brother, nor will I.

The problem with Junior Football

fulham 91 The problem with Junior FootballI’ve been involved with the FAW Development Department (Welsh Football Trust) for a long time now. I first took my Football Leaders Award five years ago and studied (but didn’t complete) my C Licence in 2008. Before that I was involved in coaching resources, employed as an external contractor to produce the Trust’s website, and the multimedia elements of its coaching materials. You could say that I’ve been embedded in the culture of modern football development for a decade, and this has influenced my attitude towards the junior game.

In those early days, the WFT was run by Mark Aizelwood and was held up as a fine example of development practice by UEFA -The FAW was one of a first footballing associations to win JIRA approval from UEFA’s Development Committee for its coaching programme. If Wales have failed on the field, its off-field development activities have been more than impressive. But has it worked on the ground?

I am still involved in the junior game, as a coach and a Father of three boys who are all currently playing junior football – i.e. small-sided football at Under 11 age group. (I was astounded recently to find that England are only now adopting small-sided games, and still run competitive league competitions at all ages.) You would think that the WFT message would have been digested in the past decade, but sadly, I find myself pretty much a lone voice, a barely tolerated evangelist for non-competitive football in my area.

The WFT recently introduced the concept of 4v4 games on small pitches for the U7 age group. There are no goalkeepers and small pop-up goals. It sounds rubbish doesn’t it? It’s not proper football. But we’ve been playing it for two seasons now, and it is absolutely bloody fantastic. Weaker players get more time on the ball, there are more goals, there is more fun, and crucially, there is less stress eminating from the watching parents and coaches on the touchlines. It has proved a huge success.

Except. But. Although.

It still isn’t quite working in the way that it should. Not quite. Coaches should be putting out teams of mixed ability on the field, but they don’t. If there are eight players, they will chose the best four and the weakest four. Players are allowed, and occasionally encouraged to stand in front of their goals throughout the game, as a de facto goalkeeper, when the system is designed to encourage free play. Often this is due to the influence of a parent rather than the coach. But generally it is a huge improvement on the old system which would see parents screaming with joy as their oversized hero lamping his 7th goal of the game past a weeping goalie who will never again return to the sport.

At other junior age groups, we still get official requests for results and scorers to be published in the local papers despite WFT guidelines that publishing results is not acceptable. I know of one manager in our un-competitive U9s league who collated all results of the best teams, counted the points, awarded his own club a trophy and announced themselves as Under 9′s league winners in the local press. Stop laughing, it’s not funny.

The WFT sent out this missive last year.

Organisation of games, festivals and fun days
The FAW believe that the game of Mini Football provides children with
the necessary introduction to competition. The game itself is a
sufficient skill development challenge for children. As a consequence
no league or knockout competition must be organised (or will be
sanctioned by the FAW) involving Mini Football
.” (Their emphasis)

It has been completely ignored.

Like a fool, I read it and thought that it was meant to be taken seriously. Our club organised a tournament at U7 level, and we just arranged a series of games with no outright winner and no collection of results. It seemed to go down well, and it was certainly the best tournament day that I’ve experienced. We repeated it again this season and nobody entered. Not a single team.We asked the WFT about competitive U9s tournament and we were told that it was up to us. Fearful of a poor response if we moved from the traditional format, our U9s tournament carried on as normal.

At the same time, our local league announced its annual tournament for Under 7s. It was competitive last year, despite the WFT notice,  and I had complained. I requested confirmation that this year they would be following WFT guidelines. The league pointed out that the “V” in “4v4” suggested that it should be competitive and told me they would be awarding a trophy to the winner of the lague/knockout tournament like they always had done.  I felt like a letter-writing Mr Angry of Leamington Spar. Why am I so out of touch? The league correctly pointed out that the local FA’s own tournaments were competitive.

I am a councillor on the North Wales Coast Football Association, and a member of the Development Committee. When I questioned the traditional competitive nature of the NWCFA’s annual junior tournament at a meeting, the other councillors looked at me like an alien. But wasn’t I right?

no league or knockout competition must be organised (or will be sanctioned by the FAW) involving Mini Football

I discovered that it is possible to receive special dispensation to hold competitive tournaments after all. Why? Isn’t it a straghtforward case that competitive football is either good for the game or bad for it? How can there be exceptions? When I raise the question of WFT’s non-competitive guidelines , the attitude from administrators is “oh we can get around that”. The question is why do we want to get around it? Am I the only person who actually believes in the WFT’s philosophy? Because that’s how it feels. I have even spoken to senior old-school WFT coaches in the past who are less than enthusiastic about the liberal “fun-for-all” approach of the organisation’s policies.

I believe that the WFT realise that the culture of competitive, lung-bursting, winner-takes-all football culture is so deeply engrained in this country that only a gradual approach can work. There would be a revolution if it imposed its new guidelines too rigidly. Unfortunately this sends out a mixed message which leaves believers like myself looking foolish.

I think there is a problem too in the term “non-competitive”. In football development circles this means that there are no league tables, no knockout total, no goal difference, and no single prize winners. In normal life, the term “non-competitive” is used as a semantic argument by reactionary opponents to the new liberalism – sugggesting that teams don’t try to win – that it’s a jolly kickaround with no tackles and no emphasis on scoring a goal. Nonsense of course, but old habits die hard.

Part of this is a generational thing. There are still many people involved in football administration whose formative years occured when this rule still stood on the FAW rule book in 1970.

Clubs, Officials, Players or Referees are not permitted to associate themselves in any way whatsoever with Ladies’ football matches.

I was at a meeting recently where one councillor left during a discussion of the women’s game with the words “I don’t want my Andy Gray opinions to get me in trouble.” Is it any wonder that I am seeing a decline in the number of girls taking part junior football? Our Under 11′s squad has six girls from just one small school, yet nearly every single team we have faced this season has been boys-only. We regularly get hammered as a result. How can this be good for the future of girls football development? We have had several players leave our village club because their Dads didn’t agree with our policy of equal game time for all sexes and abilites and our emphasis on participation over winnning.

Another problem is that junior coaches at the youngest age are often young fathers, mad about football, who have been chomping at the bit to play the role of Alex Ferguson since their child was born. Their enthusiasm is often dampened after they undertake a Football Leaders Course. I have heard several stories of new coaches walking out of the course, disgusted by the WFT’s emphasis on participation and criticism of a “winner-takes-all” attitude. “I’ve been playing the game for twenty years” said one bloke on my course. “Why are you trying to teach me not to win?”

I am always reminded of an enlightening discussion I once had with Kevin Thelwell, who now manages the Academy at Wolverhampton Wanderers. I had just begun coaching and was complaining about the lack of facilities available for my new team. “Just put bibs on them and use corner flags as goalposts” he said. I argued back vociferously. “But the kids want fancy kits, they want touchlines marked out and they want proper goals with nets, like they see on the telly.” “No he said, that’s what you want. The kids just want to play.” He was absolutely right, and we sometimes lose sight of that I think. It is very easy to project our own sophisticated concept of football onto the children, stifling that raw enthusiasm for a simple ball game.

I have just returned from a football tour to a club in Holland which has left me despondent about the way our junior game is played. We visited a club called FC Beeres Boyes which serves a population of 5,000 near Eindhoven. It’s just a village club, but it runs 50 teams. There are six teams at each age group – including girls in all teams. There are 2 disabled teams, womens teams, veterans teams as well as the seniors. The club trains its own referees and coaches from the youth teams. It has six pitches inluding a 3G astroturf pitch and a small stadium. Their parents watched the game from a distance in near-silence while we all crowded the touchlines shouting encouragement and instructions. You get the picture.

It is very difficult to be critical of junior football provision in our own country because it is  nearly always provided by unpaid volunteers. If we want to provide football for our children, we do it ourselves. That means raising money, paying for coaching courses, and meeting the ever growing raft of licensing conditions which all costs money. There are small grants available, but generally junior football in Wales is privately funded, which is an outrage while the Government pays lip service to the benefits of sport. No wonder we fail to compete with Holland and its council-supplied facilities.

I realise that all of this makes me look like a smug, Guardian-reading, pompous and pious twat. And to be honest, that’s how I feel when I voice support for the Welsh Football Trust’s philosphies in a country which historically emphasises the macho, battling aspect of the sport and treats football more like a war than a game. If we are to change that cutlure (and surely we must to progress), then the Welsh Football Trust needs to use ambassadors to get that message across.

While our Welsh football heroes are distant figures like Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes and their emphasis on winning, the competitive side of the game will prevail. Respected figures should be used by the WFT/FAW to push through their development message. Ian Rush needs to head a team of influential figures that visits all Welsh regions to speak to administrators and coaches and try to develop a culture that is currently being resisted by those at grassroots.

Welsh Cup Final 2011

I’ll get my moan over with at the beginning. I complained about this venue to Jonathan Ford in midweek. When I pointed out that the choice of Llanelli as a venue was a handicap to North Wales clubs, he suggested that today’s game was the equivalent of Newcastle playing at Wembley. Well it’s not. It’s a six hour train journey from Bangor = It’s less than five hours from Newcastle to Wembley. If you drive, you share the road with chicken chasers, drive at 20mph behind old men wearing hats in their cars, and through villages that weren’t designed for two lane traffic.

Considering those circumstances, the number of Bangor fans that made the game was astonishing. I estimated that there were 400 City fans that made the 10 hour return journey, mostly by coach. That’s about 75% of the average attendance. The equivalent would be Cardiff taking 17,000 fans to Scunthorpe.

IMG 60551 Welsh Cup Final 2011I hadn’t been to Parc Y Scarlets before now, and I was quite impressed. It’s a very smart stadium and the FAW did their best to make an occasion from the Welsh Cup Final. I accept all their arguments about a special venue – it’s just unfortunate that the stadium is located in such an inaccessible part of Wales (at least for the Northerners).

On my way into the media room, I bumped into David Collins, who edits Welsh Football magazine. As I unpacked my cameras, he nipped off in the direction of the toilets and I followed soon after. As I went into the gents, I passed David at the urinals and went into one of the cubicles. I shouted over the top.

“I’m going back to Cardiff if you need a lift mate”

“Erm….no it’s OK”, he answered.

“You’re going to cardiff aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I’ve got my own car thanks.”

Now I knew David hardly ever drives to games, so I had to check something.

“That is Dave isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is”

“Ah, right …Dave Collins?”

“No, not Collins”.

Bloody hell, what must he have thought? Here he was having a wazz in the stadium when a stranger walks in, sees him peeing and offers him a lift hime without even introducing himself”

I left hastily.

The Barry Horns played for a while before kick-off, and they were pretty good. I’d like to hear them at a decent venue. They were very similar to a band I used to play in called Kelly’s Heroes, later Wonderbrass who combined with Samba Gales to play during the Wales v Brazil game twenty years ago. They were better than we were.

IMG 4762 Welsh Cup Final 2011Miss Wales was up next, singing the National Anthem. She wasn’t bad looking and she can sing well enough. I caught her looking at me, and I think she fancied a bit of ginger.

IMG 4805 Welsh Cup Final 2011There were some interesting looking pop art images of some of the players behind the dugouts. I’m not really sure what they were for, but I expect they’ll be raffled off at some point.IMG 4755 Welsh Cup Final 2011The crowd was disappointing, with more Bangor fans than Llanelli. What has happened at Stebonheath? This was a club that could attract 500-600 for big games a few years ago, but they struggled to take 400 fans to a Welsh Cup Final. The crowd was announced as 1,700, which seemed to be at least 500 more than I could see.

Of course, a Cup Final is more than just a match with supporters. It is a blue riband event for all of those who support Welsh football, including sponsors, officials and others. There was a large section of blazered councillors on the half-way line. IMG 4822 Welsh Cup Final 2011I can’t say too much about the game. My position was at ground level at least 20 yards behind the goal-line due to the rugby ground’s dead ball area . I had predicted a comfortable win for Llanelli and so it proved. Bangor have won games recently by force of will. They are not the best footballing side, and Powell’s long-ball tactics are well suited to the rutted turf of Farrar Road and other WPL grounds. This feather-bed surface was perfect for Andy Legg’s footballing side.
IMG 6118 Welsh Cup Final 2011Bangor were also without their captain Brewerton, due to the FAW’s delay in announcing a suspension for an offence committed in February. The WPL secretary John Deakin would have been mightily embarrassed to hear the abusive chants aimed at him, ringing around the stadium from the Bangor End.

IMG 4820 Welsh Cup Final 2011

Bangor’s fans were just fantastic. they sang throughout the game, aided by the helpful acoustics at the Scarlets ground. They kept going when Bangor were obviously out of the contest, and even when the Cup was being presented. They respected the Llanelli team, and gave them a good ovation. But their team was gutted, with Johnson and Sion Edwards particlarly affected.

IMG 6326 Welsh Cup Final 2011Last week I had the honour of watching Les Davies celebrate his team’s Championship, but today I looked on as he shared a less ecstatic moment with his supporters. It was no less emotional, and I piggy-backed onto the moment, feeling the love and admiration for Big Les from a position alongside him on the pitch. No wonder players turn down better money to stay at Farrar Road. This really is a special club.

IMG 4881 Welsh Cup Final 2011Gary Speed presented the Cup to llanelli, and nobody begrudged them their moment. they were by far the better side on the day and deserved the win. They will challenge once again next season.IMG 6374 Welsh Cup Final 2011
Full gallery of 100 pics at www.copamedia.co.uk.

FAW Roadshow Report

Since Jonathan Ford’s appointment, the FAW have embarked on a series of road shows around the country aimed at improving relationships and communications between supporters and the association. I happened to come across the information that one of those road shows was taking place in Llandudno this evening and decided to pop along. There were about 35 people in the clubhouse, which I think is one of the better attendances at these events, which have been poorly promoted and scarcely advertised. This is particularly ironic, when you consider that one of the key messages from the new FAW is that communication and marketing will be improved.

At this particular event, Ian Gwyn Hughes, the FAW’s PR man, and Jonathan Ford, the Chief Executive were presenting, and the first half consisted of a well rehearsed power point presentation “selling” the FAW and and announcing its aims and targets. Jonathan Ford is a very charming man. He speaks with panache and delivers his message in the style of a media-savvy politician. He is dapper, and has the air of confidence usually seen in former public schoolboys.

The pair obviously understood some of the key issues for Welsh football supporters, and addressed those questions head on in the first session. For example, there was some positive spin put on the new badge design. Apparently because of the way our brain reads from left to right, the new dragon is facing forwards to the future. I am very aware that I need to be very careful not to put words into Ford’s mouth. He choses his words very carefully and was purposely vague on some key political points. I will try to represent him accurately.

Ford is very keen to change the culture of football in Wales. He feels that we have a cyclical atmosphere of expectation followed by disappointment after the failure of the mens senior team to qualify for a major tournament. He feels that we place too much importance on qualification as a measure of the sport’s success in our country, while acknowledging the massive impact that qualification would have on the Welsh game.

He presented some statistics that place football as the national sport. There are 100,000 registered football players, compared to 45,000 registered rugby players. There are 1,176 football clubs as opposed to 323 rugby clubs. There are 10,000 registered football coaches. More females (5,000) play football than any other sport. The next closest, hockey, only has 2,000 players.

Ford was bullish about our future chances. “It’s not a question of if we will qualify, but when?”, he said. He dismissed the usual reasons given for pessimism. “Wales has the same population (2.8m) as Uruguay who were World Cup Semi Finalists. New Zealand is deemed a rugby nation but they were at the World Cup.”

He spoke about the importance of television deals – they bring in 40% of the association’s total income. But he was also aware of the need to balance exposure with maximising income. In other words, he admitted that he had to weigh up the benefits of a Sky deal over a terrestrial contract. He did this by denying Sky total exclusivity and striking a deal with S4C for a highlights package which also contained a commitment for coverage of the WPL. The FAW lost some money by doing this but felt that some terrestrial exposure was important.

He reported that the S4C deal has been very successful and that the weekly live WPL game will continue next season. He did however state in an answer to a question that he would need to make a decision on whether the large quantity of coverage offered by S4C was more beneficial than a possible weekly highlights programme in the English language at peak time. IGH’s connections with the BBC were put forward as a key factor in his appointment. IGH was full of praise for S4C , who he said were the only company to send any reporters to the FAW’s recent briefing about the Welsh Cup invitation to exile clubs. The current television deal ends in 2012.

David Collins 2009 Strategic Plan is currently being reviewed and Ford has been building his own review since he was appointed. He wants to create a census of football in Wales which will allow the FAW to target spending priorities. Parts of that plan will be retained – for example the FAW are still aiming to develop international grounds in Mid and North Wales. The new Development Centre at Newport is intended to be the first of other regional centres across the country, though no commitment of any kind has been made, and I personally, am sceptical about this claim.

The FAW currently runs 8 international teams at a cost of £1m each annually. In total this means that the FAW administration has to manage more games each season than an English Premiership Club.

The Kick Back scheme at the recent international against England was very successful with 600 clubs benefiting financially. The scheme was driven by the FAW’s desire to supply tickets through clubs, but also the police’s refusal to allow general sale. Unfortunately, there was an issue with ticket supply due to the FAW initially allocating seats which were needed for press and disabled areas. Ford is keen to repeat the scheme for some future internationals.

The FAW are launching a new website on May 30th and for the first time, the site will be bilingual. Ford spoke very positively about the Welsh language being an integral part of the FAW brand and Ian Gwyn Hughes’ appointment was central to an improved language policy. When the FAW strategy is published, the Welsh language will take prominence in the document. The FAW will be present at the National Eisteddfod and the Royal Welsh Show.

Futsal is a key element of football development strategy, and a national competition has been announced. There will be a national futsal side in the near future.

All attendees were invited to submit questions on paper during a break, and both presenters seemed surprised at the large number submitted. They would only have time to take six or seven , and embarrassingly they chose three of mine. The rest will be answered on the FAW website next week. Here are my questions.

1. How can you justify the choice of Llanelli as the Welsh Cup Final venue, when this is a handicap to North Walian teams?

JF: We have to make a decision on the final venue at the start of each season, and each team knows that decision when they enter the competition. Llanelli player Rhys Griffiths asked a few seasons ago why the pinnacle of his season couldn’t be played at a more special venue than the grounds he played on every week. The FAW concurred and Parc Y Sgarlets was chosen after discussion with S4C. JF compared the Bangor/Llanelli situation with Newcastle playing at Wembley. I suggested it was more like the FA choosing Norwich as their Cup Final venue. JF said that he would like to see the Final moving around the country. He denied that Parc Y Scarlets offered any financial incentive to host Finals and International matches.

2. With a new stadium being built at Nantporth in Bangor, is this not an ideal situation for the FAW to develop one of its regional international grounds?

JF: We need to consider many aspects, including location, and Bangor is very much in the far North West corner of the country. We are currently developing the Newport Centre and will look at the North some time in the future. 3G pitches are essential but they are very expensive.

3. Why was Raymond Verheijen appointed as assistant manager rather than a more experienced international coach?

JF: You’ll find that Raymond is very experienced and has worked with several national squads. When I questioned in what capacity he had worked, Ford told me that he had been assistant manger. Surprised by this, I pressed again, asking if he had not been a physiotherapist, and was told “he has worked as part of the coaching staff in several international teams”. The appointment was made by Gary Speed and Ford was not involved. It was Speed’s choice and he is so far very happy with his setup.

How much money has the FAW got in the bank?
JF was evasive, using his political skills well. “I can tell you that we do not keep any money. It all goes back into football. We have a couple of pots of reserve, but not much”.

Is there any intention to reduce the number of area associations from 6 to 4?
JF: No. We are reviewing the situation, but there is currently no intention to do that.

Other Points:
Next year CRB police checks will be portable meaning that the FAW will accept volunteers with existing CRB certificates from other organisations.

Llandudno and Porthmadog both complained that they were being forced to meet strict licensing regulations which included the provision of a junior academy, but received no funding from the FAW to help.

A complaint was made that the planned boundary changes which will move the Clwyd League from the NWCFA into Wrexham Area were undemocratic.

The roadshow is an ongoing initiative and the FAW will consider invitations from any club which wishes to hold an event.