The ‘Welsh Premier League’ officially known as the “Principality Building Society Welsh Premier Football League” was rebranded in 2002, but has existed as a recognised league since 1992. Unable to match its English counterpart in glamour or sheer excess, the Welsh league has its own story to tell. Faced with a series challenges from inception, the leagues very existence is a testament to integrity of Welsh football.
In the beginning
The ‘League of Wales’, created in 1992 represented the first concerted effort to unite teams from across the principality into a single, recognised competition. The driving force behind its creation was the growing fear the Welsh National team’s independence was under threat. Certain FIFA members were aggrieved that the UK had four separate football associations, when arguably it could have one. The creation of a Welsh league strengthened Wales’ position as a sovereign football nation as it was now officially recognised by UEFA (European football’s governing body).
Barriers to Success
Barriers remained to the success of a unified Welsh league. Poor transportation links from the north of the country to the south had traditionally encouraged Welsh teams to travel eastwards into England. As such, the most popular clubs in Wales: Swansea, Cardiff, Wrexham and Newport ply their trade in various tiers of English football. With the prospect of low attendances and logistical issues yet to be resolved, could the fledgling league sustain itself? With the independence of Welsh national team inextricably linked to the success of the League of Wales, the experimental leagues success was of paramount importance.
A league commences
The inaugural season/ present day So it was that on the 15th August 1992 that 19 clubs from across the country came together to compete in the official League of Wales. The first champions of the league were Cwmbran Town, who consequently qualified for the initial stages of the Champions League. Barry Town would become the fledgling league’s most dominant team over the coming years, winning the league seven times between 1995 and 2003. Their dominance in the league would be challenged by ‘Total Network Solutions’(now known as ‘The New Saints F.C’) and Rhyl. Whilst the league was rebranded as ‘Premier’ in 2002 following fresh sponsorship, it did not undergo any significant restructuring until 2009 when it was decided in advance that the 2010/2011 season would see the single league split into two, with 10 teams in each league.
A bright future
The league ‘split’ now enables a promotion / relegation system more familiar to other European league counterparts and is arguably conducive to greater competition. With continuing UEFA membership and greater financial rewards for participation in European competitions - the Welsh league, despite its comparatively fledgling status is in good shape.