Point FM’s sports editor Gareth Joy assesses what may happen to the Lillywhites and Seasiders as the FAW prepares to decide which teams can play in the Welsh Premier next season.
One club has cruised to the league title and all set for a return to the top flight next season. The other narrowly avoided the drop last season – but finds itself in a familiar setting twelve months on.
Yet whatever defines a campaign on the pitch, the strange end-of-season politics of Welsh league football can, will and does turn events upside down. Welcome to the annual cliffhanger of the FAW domestic licence.
Next Thursday, the governing body meets in Cardiff to decide which clubs – including those with promotion or relegation in mind – meet the criteria to play in the Welsh Premier. And the stakes couldn’t be higher on the Denbighshire coast.
Theoretically, Prestatyn Town – champions of the Huws Gray Alliance – have the right of way for a return to the WPL for the first time since a prolonged hangover from Welsh Cup and Europa League glories ended in relegation two years ago.
But it must be remembered that the Seasiders may not have even made it to this end of the season. Its fans, players and directors had to raise £53,000 to fight off a High Court winding-up order from the taxman in November.
Back then, the FAW told the club that their financial worries would not affect their bid for a licence – infact, it would improve their application. The HMRC investigation at the centre of the winding-up order had thwarted their bid for a licence last season, with the club choosing not to appeal.
If the governing body’s verdict goes against Prestatyn – despite all their efforts on and off the pitch – the club will still have a chance to appeal on Friday 21st April.
The same rules and regulations apply at Rhyl – but for the Lillywhites, it’s a question of results.
Last season, having undergone a late change in management from Gareth Owen to Niall McGuinness, the Lillywhites found themselves down and out of the WPL by Easter Monday. But a reprieve came was to follow when Port Talbot Town and last season’s HGA champions Caernarfon Town were refused licences.
The Steelmen ended up as the only club relegated – and as it transpired, worse was to come when they became embroiled in a match fixing scandal following a 5-0 defeat to Rhyl. Eleven people were later arrested.
Fast forward a year and Rhyl’s prospects have a worryingly similar theme. Proverbial cup finals during the second phase have yielded just five points from a possible 21. With three games left, they remain two points off safety after a disappointing 2-0 loss to Newtown last Sunday.
If you want an easy way out of trouble, at least two wins against bottom club Airbus (8th April), chief relegation rivals Aberystwyth (Good Friday 14th) and Llandudno (22nd) may keep the Lillywhites safe for another season. And if it inspires to read the form book, Aberystwyth are without a win in six games at time of writing.
And what if it doesn’t work out? It may all come down to whether Prestatyn are judged to be rewarded for coming back from the brink and easing to the championship. But then, there’s a potential third party in all of this…
The outcome of Caernarfon Town’s title-winning season sounds like it serves as a warning. Like Prestatyn, they dominated the Huws Gray Alliance last season and were deserved champions.
But their Welsh Premier ambitions were thwarted – because while they played through their title-winning campaign of 2015-16, they didn’t legally exist. The Canaries had been liquidated in August 2015 because they didn’t file their accounts.
Prestatyn’s 3-2 win over the Canaries just before Christmas was the surest sign that the title defence wasn’t to be for Iwan Williams’ side. But they’ve already sown up runners-up spot in the HGA with two games to go – and that could be their making.
If Prestatyn’s licence bid fails, but Caernarfon are considered to be in line with the FAW criteria, they’ll return to the Welsh Premier instead – if nothing else, marking an incredible decade-long recovery at The Oval.
Dependent on the final standings – such a scenario would also save Rhyl from relegation, but only if they hang on above Airbus, who are unbeaten in three games. If the Wingmakers overtake the Lillywhites and both Denbighshire clubs lose out, the county will be left without a top flight Welsh league outfit for the first time since the League of Wales kicked off 25 years ago.
But that’s the worse case scenario. There is confidence in both clubs that all the right boxes are ticked and their houses appear to be in good working order – with Rhyl continuing to seek out a future under fan ownership and Prestatyn learning from past mistakes while toasting this season’s achievements.
If only the ways Welsh football governs itself was a bit easier to digest…
Join Gareth Joy for MatchPoint Live, Saturdays from 2-6pm on Point FM 103.1 and online at pointfm.co.uk