Football clubs in EFL League Two – including Newport County – have taken the decision to end their season after the current shutdown and now Welsh clubs in the Cymru leagues are considering whether to follow suit. Matthew Burgess looks at their options.
The coming week could prove to be a turbulent one even by Welsh football standards.
The domestic scene, which is continually littered with administrative disputes and threats of legal challenges between the clubs and its association, must find a workable solution this week amidst the chaos and uncertainty brought by Covid-19 to determine the outcome of the 2019/20 season.
By midday today, every club from the Cymru Premier, Cymru North and Cymru South will need to individually submit their preferences as to how they would like the season to be finished.
The final decision will not sit with the clubs but the National League Board, who convene on Tuesday and a decision could be made as early as then.
Among the options being considered are playing out the rest of the season, identifying a new format to determine final league places, or using results from the matches played so far to arrive at a conclusion.
The former is believed to be the least likely option with the latter the most likely.
The hurdles that would need to be cleared and level of consideration required to resume the season seems impossible at this level of football despite it being the fairest way to settle the outcome of the season.
Some of the big obstacles that would need to be overcome are player insurance, financing and sourcing PPE (personal protective equipment) and the need for testing and possible quarantine.
Basing a final decision on the outcome of the games played so far is a reasonable solution given the circumstances, yet the devil is very much in the detail.
The two formats under consideration are the weighted points-per-game average (which has been adopted by other nations) or using the exact standings from the end of Phase 1.
This would ignore the four or five matches teams have played in Phase 2 but at least provides an even ground for the Cymru Premier clubs who have played each other once home and away.
The two options give two very different outcomes: Connah’s Quay would be declared champions on points-per-game while based on the Phase 1 results, The New Saints would be first.
How might the issue of the other European qualifying places will be decided remains unclear (two Europa League places are made available to the Cymru League runner-ups, the play-off winner and the Welsh Cup winners).
My understanding is that one of the considerations around European prize money is that it is evenly distributed amongst all 12 Cymru Premier teams.
With football suspended, we have recognised the individuals who are making a difference in their community during the current pandemic in our monthly awards
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— JD Cymru Leagues (@CymruLeagues) May 13, 2020
Overarching all this, of course, is the possibility that UEFA will be unable to schedule its usual pre-qualifying rounds this summer and non-competing clubs would instead be compensated.
There is also the highly contentious issue of relegation and promotion.
Cymru North runaway leaders Prestatyn Town have already made clear their intentions to challenge the FAW in the Court of Arbitration after failing to achieve a Tier 1 domestic licence (necessary to play in the Cymru Premier) upon appeal.
This may or may not see second-placed Flint Town United, who were awarded a licence, gain promotion.
In the Cymru South, leaders Swansea University were also unsuccessful in gaining their licence leaving Haverfordwest, second, as the other club who could possibly be promoted.
Relegation from the Cymru Premier is a possibility but demoting bottom teams Airbus and Carmarthen abruptly would give both clubs strong grounds to challenge the decision legally.
Personally, I do not believe either club will be relegated on this basis – but that in itself opens up the very real possibility of expanding the league.
Those who have been in favour of expanding the Cymru Premier might unexpectedly get their wish very soon, should the league agree to absorb the two promotion candidates from the Cymru North and Cymru South.
The FAW has confirmed the curtailment of mini, junior and youth football leagues in Wales.
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An expansion to 14-clubs would almost certainly be a short-term measure with the league gradually reducing back to 12 (i.e. not having four clubs being relegated in one season).
Although were this to happen, with the league at 14 clubs, I would expect there to be a demand from fans to add a further two clubs and increase the total to 16.
At this stage it is important to acknowledge that nothing has been agreed and that the clubs themselves will not be making the final decisions.
The clubs’ role is to merely express their views in private to the FAW’s National League Board.
It is this panel who will have the responsibility of making some of the toughest and most controversial decisions in recent Welsh football history thrust upon them.
Something tells me we’ll be hearing more about this…