The highs and lows of Welsh Football in 2016
2016 has seen significant shocks and huge headlines, with the past 12 months of Welsh domestic football no exception. From title wins, European exploits and promotion drama, fans of one football’s nichest pyramids have seen another action packed year.
Here, we take a look at the highlights, low points and biggest moments of Welsh domestic football in 2016.
The New Saints dominate
For the past five years The New Saints have been the top team in Welsh football, but during 2016 their strength hit new heights. They stormed to a second consecutive treble, brushing aside Denbigh Town and Airbus UK to win theWord and JD Welsh cups respectively.
In the Dafabet Welsh Premier, they were never really in danger of missing out on a fifth consecutive title win, losing just four games all season to finish top by seven points.
During the summer, pundits tipped their title defence to be tougher than ever with gap Connah’s Quay and Bala Town exerting serious strength, but these predictions have been undone with a spectacular run of 27 consecutive games won to seal a new world record.
Nothing is ever certain in football, but more dominance from TNS in 2017 looks a safe bet from all angles.
Heartbreak at the Oval
With a passionate fanbase, quality squad and dynamic young manager, Caernarfon Town looked set to re-enter the top flight for most of 2016. They stormed to the Huws Gray Alliance title with 75 points from 30 games, but around a month after winning both the league and league cup they were told they would not be promoted.
An error in the Cofi’s domestic license application meant they were refused promotion and consigned to another season in the second tier, sending Cefn Druids back up to the Welsh Premier by default.
With most of their squad remaining together they started the season strong favourites to retain their title, but a resurgence of Prestatyn Town has set them chasing promotion in second place.
Caernarfon were not the only side to be refused promotion by the FAW in 2016, in a common recurrence seen in the domestic pyramid over a number of years now.
Welsh National League Premier Division club FC Nomads won their league and were expecting to enter the Huws Gray Alliance, but a technicality involving an application for a groundshare with Airbus UK was submitted late unbeknown to the club.
Strict and complicated licensing policy can even be found as low as the North East Wales league, when despite finishing eighth, Maesgwyn were promoted to the Welsh National League Division One, overlooking second placed Sychdyn who had applied for promotion.
Glory in Europe
The New Saints, Llandudno, Bala Town and gap Connah’s Quay were 2016’s European representatives in Wales, with the summer turning out to be one of the domestic games’ best campaigns on the continent.
The New Saints breezed through the first round of European Qualification, but had to face up against Cypriot giants Apoel Nicosia, and held them to a 0-0 draw at Park Hall before succumbing to a 3-0 defeat away.
Llandudno and Bala faced poor fortune in their draws, drawing Swedish outfits Goteburg and AIK Stockholm respectively. For all of their efforts, they were brushed aside in the first qualifying rounds with Llandudno losing 7-1 on aggregate and Bala 4-0.
It was gap Connah’s Quay who were the most successful side of the summer, as they became the first Welsh side in 24 years and 212 games to not concede over two legs in Europe. Andy Morrison, who had been at the club for less than a year, masterminded a 1-0 win in Norway to send the Nomads through, in a serious statement of his ability.
Nomads were then sent to Serbia to face FK Vojvodina, and ultimately lost 3-1 in a curtain call to a stunning European summer for Welsh football.
Welsh Football League Division two side Llanelli Town recorded one of the biggest coup signings of the summer when they secured the services of Lee Trundle. An esteemed former professional, he played for the likes of Wrexham and Leeds before becoming a cult hero at Swansea.
Despite his age of 40, Trundle’s skill and composure has never left him, with a three minute hat trick to defeat Abergavenny Town in injury time just one of his outstanding feats for Llanelli which has helped put the club and Welsh football on the map.
A new era at Nantporth
A seismic change was felt in Bangor during the summer of 2016 this season, when the club was taken over by a Cheshire-based consortium which wasted no time in heralding changes at Nantporth, with the club wallowing in the bottom six for the past two seasons.
Legendary manager Nev Powell parted ways with the club, and ex-Wales international Andy Legg took the Bangor hot seat after a lengthy spell away from management since leaving as Llanelli Town boss in 2012.
Legg enthused a vibrant squad consisting of the likes of Gary Roberts, Rodrigo Branco and young Wrexham loanee Jordan Davies, quickly shaping the side into contenders for Europe as they cemented a position of third in the Dafabet Welsh Premier.
However, Bangor fans were rocked by the new administration’s decision to part ways with Legg in November and appoint Ian Dawes in his place.
Although Dawes was a not name many Citizens fans even knew, he has so far guided Bangor into the fourth round of the JD Welsh Cup and kept the Citizens well in the race for Europe with top six qualification.
The students arrive
Cardiff Met earned promotion from Welsh Football League Division One in 2016, and went on to exceed all expectations in the top flight.
After a difficult start some had them wrote off as relegation fodder, but the organisation of Dr Christian Edwards’ side paid off, as they took points off the likes of Bangor City and gap Connah’s Quay to become serious contenders for the top six.
At the time of writing they are preparing to face Carmarthen Town in a New Year Eve meeting of huge proportions, as a win or possible draw will seal top six, strengthening Cardiff’s dream of competing in Europe during their inaugural season in the Welsh Premier.
12 or 16 teams in the top flight?
The debate as to whether the Welsh Premier League should be re-extended to 16 teams dominated footballing discussion in 2016 again, as it has done for a few years now. Whilst some say the 12 team league has lifted standards to the next level, others have criticised it as boring and repetitive format for the fans.
There were signs the league was in for change when a motion for a 16 team league was brought to the FAW council, but this was defeated unanimously in a vote with the most recent WPL Chairmen’s also rejecting a 16 team format.
These decisions triggered a backlash from fans who are growing tired of watching their sides play the same opposition four times a season, but as it stands, the super 12 will stay for 2017 at the very least.
Hope for the future in the feeder leagues
A welcome curtain call to Welsh Football in 2016 was a bumper attendance in the Huws Gray Alliance on the 27 December. A total amount of 3,530 people turned out for a festive football fix in the Northern second tier, with 1,247 at Caernarfon vs Porthmadog and more than 800 at Holywell vs Flint.
Furthermore, growing quality in the southern leagues is continuing to create positive headlines as clubs look for for future growth, and even in the third tier Welsh National Premier Division, there are teams with Welsh Premier level ambition.
In a year where doom and gloom dominated worldwide, Welsh football can look back at 2016 with pride in its achievements and motivation from the challenges it will face in the year ahead.
A Happy New year to all readers and stay tuned for all things in Welsh domestic football right here at Y Clwb Pel Droed.