Just why do Welsh teams play in the English Premier League?

Ben Mountain

It’s not glaringly obvious, but it’s there. And it baffles us all. Why are there so many Welsh clubs playing football in England?

Well, when we say “so many”, we mean six. But that’s substantial enough, isn’t it?

We feel this could quite easily be the next question in your weekly pub quiz, so take a note of this. Alongside Swansea and Cardiff City, what other Welsh clubs play in English leagues?

We’ll tell you now; Newport County, Wrexham AFC, Merthyr Town and Colwyn Bay.

Massive credits if you managed to name the last two.

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But, pub quizzes aside: why are they there in the first place?

The commonly held opinion on this is that, today, Swansea and Cardiff are simply too good for the Welsh league and would dominate and suffocate their games over there. People assume that Newport and Wrexham had a similar standing previously and, let’s be honest, never really consider Merthyr Town and Colwyn Bay because they’ve never actually heard of them.

So Swansea, Cardiff and maybe the other two have kept these Welsh clubs from their home turf.

Although simple, that isn’t quite right. Surely we’d be cozying up with Rangers and Celtic in good ol’ Blighty if it was that straightforward.

Sadly, the rules of time and football associations dictate that the truth is a little more complex than that. We were hoping it was a matter of them being ‘big clubs’, too.

But it’s not, so let’s get down to it.

The Football Association of Wales was formed way back in 1876, and this is where Welsh football began. It was most popular in Northern Wales, where the country’s then biggest club – Wrexham – played their matches.

In the south, however, teams such as Swansea and Cardiff where relative minnows when compared with the following that rugby commanded.

Whilst football was taking off in England – with the Football League in 1888, and Scotland – with the SFL in 1890, organised Welsh football lagged behind.

Despite the Welsh FA having been long in existence, forming a competitive league proved too difficult and poor transport links from the north to the south did little to support the cause.

Whilst the failing Welsh League ground out its first few seasons in the 1890s, Wales’ largest club found greater profit just over the border. Wrexham AFC, only seven miles from England, were a part of the English Combination Minor League until 1911 and eventually worked their way up through the system so that today they reside in the National League.

The other clubs simply followed suit.

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Sadly, Welsh football was left without its biggest players. Though, with the ever-growing adoration of rugby, few people complained at the time.

Though, having said that, some actually did.

With Wales’ biggest exports still allowed to play in the Welsh Cup, controversy occurred when the Welsh Premier League was established in 1992. Yes, we’ve skipped forward a few years. The bit in the middle was mainly full of the likes of John Toshack bringing Welsh extravagance to the English scene.

Anyway, when this league was formed, the holidaying Welsh clubs were offered their place. Unsurprisingly, each of them declined. They were washing their hair or something of the like.

Naturally, the Welsh FA didn’t take too kindly to this and withdrew each team from the Welsh Cup.

Previously, that competition had been the only way for Welsh teams to earn themselves a spot to play in Europe. With their access to it having been removed, the teams were effectively blocked from the continent.

The only way to qualify for Europe then was to win the Premier League, the FA or League cup. At the time, these feats were almost impossible.

UEFA confirmed this in 2012, when they declared that Welsh teams in England could only qualify for Europe via the English system.

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This, wonderfully, means that the minnows of the Welsh League get a European run-out every season. Every cloud and all that.

UEFA automatically give the winners of the Welsh Cup – Bala Town, this year – a place to fight for in Europe. We’ve therefore seen teams such as Barry Town shaping up against FC Porto. Quite the contrast in calibre, we assume.

Anyway, that, in a relatively small nutshell, is why some Welsh clubs actually ply their trade over in England.

It’s not a big club concern, or even woeful geography, but the fault of bloody rugby. We can all agree on that, right?

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