August 16, 2021

Article at Mark on Authory

Domestic refresh kicks-off milestone JD Cymru Premier season

Last weekend marked the start of the 30th season of the national league in Wales.

Now operating under the title of the JD Cymru Premier, the domestic top-flight has been a developing project that has continually challenged adversity from the ignorance of the mainstream press to the influenced perceptions of a cynical Welsh football public.

The new season began on the back of one of the most-challenging of times for the domestic game in Wales as the pandemic brought almost all of the Welsh football pyramid to a standstill and prevented any spectators from attending fixtures in the limited number of games that did take place.

With the top tiers of the men's and women's game managing to complete the 2020/21 season, those involved with every club concerned deserve great credit for ensuring that the campaign was played to a conclusion.

Thankfully, the easing of the strict safety protocols has now made things easier for the devoted band of volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes at clubs across the country.

Of course, the start of every new season generates a degree of additional interest and excitement, but there is every reason to believe that this could be the most-successful season for the national league since it's inception back in 1992/93.

With Connah's Quay Nomads and The New Saints again showing progress in their European performances, the champions and challengers both kicked-off the new domestic campaign with respective victories.

The JD Cymru Premier remains the flagship of the domestic game, and this could well be the season that finally removes the stigma that has maintained a negative impression of the domestic game despite the progress that has been made both on and off the field.

A fresh start following a season that just didn't feel right, now is the time for the domestic game as a whole to showcase the positives of what it has to offer. The opening weekend of the JD Cymru Premier season attracted almost 2,500 spectators across the six fixtures.

The Sgorio cameras were at The Oval as Caernarfon Town defeated Haverfordwest County 2-0 to kick-off another season of live television coverage, and their extended interest in JD Cymru North and South as well as the women's game will help raise the profile of a number of other clubs.

The new Tier 2 campaign began a few weeks ago and generated an unparalleled amount of interest with clubs enjoying a notable increase in attendances.

This welcome trend has continued over the last few weeks with clubs further down the pyramid, and there is a real momentum and incentive now for these clubs to maximise the potential of this new audience.

Combining the start of the new Tier 2 campaign with the hottest weekend of the year last month proved beneficial, but after the extended starvation of live football there is a new and very real buzz around the local football communities that exist across the country.

With Saturday afternoon traditions no longer taken for granted, the weekend void for those connected with the domestic game has finally been filled with normality.

The pandemic has changed people's perceptions on many aspects of their daily life, and few of our liberties will be taken for granted again anytime soon.

For the domestic game in Wales, lockdown has acted as something of a reset button, and the chance to reboot with a new professional image and a collective determination from the clubs and individuals involved to produce a product fitting for the status of the game in the top tiers.

The new Cymru Football app has already proved to be a hugely-popular tool for fans, players and managers alike with the opportunity to view real-time line-ups and match data from all fixtures played throughout the Welsh football pyramid.

There is new vibrancy that defers away from the generally ingrained negative opinion of the domestic game, and it is easy to see why the initial impression for new fans is a positive one.

The restructuring of the pyramid system and rebranding of the leagues in the top three tiers has now now been mirrored in the women's game with the launch of the Genero Adran Leagues, and the domestic game as a whole now has a unique and professional identity.

This has been a calculated marketing approach from the Football Association of Wales and will raise the status of our domestic clubs and the competitions that they compete in.

Former Welsh internationals in David Cotterill, Jazz Richards and Dave Edwards now find themselves raising the profile of the JD Cymru Premier, and they headline the list of a number of former professionals who are continuing their careers in the domestic game in Wales.

These names are a clear endorsement for the standard of football in the JD Cymru Leagues, but it stretches further than matters on the field.

Stricter licensing requirements have ensured that clubs continue to improve off the field, while the standard of coaching, physiotherapy and match preparation has earned the respect of the ex-professionals who have opted to compete at this level.

These are the players who will bring in the crowds, but it is the overall product that the crowds find when they arrive which will keep them coming back even when these players have moved on.

The opinions that were formed by the press that covered Welsh sport when the national league first came into existence in the early 1990's remained with them for the duration of their careers.

However, coverage of the league has changed as our media consumption has evolved, and there is a real movement through the likes of 'Y Clwb Pêl-droed' to cover the game in a positive light. Of course, the domestic game is not perfect, and it does not pretend to be.

This is a time of transition and change is not always welcome, and it is certainly not possible to please everyone.

Clubs will find their natural level over time, and like the introduction of domestic licensing, their progress in the pyramid will be dictated by their ability to adapt and work within a different environment from what they may be used to.

Certain elements of this change will put additional pressure on clubs and the volunteers who work within them, and this will be the biggest challenge.

It has taken a number of years to change public perception of the domestic game, but there is now a genuine respect for our clubs and what they are doing to ensure that they provide as professional a platform as possible. Increased crowds and interest across the pyramid is now becoming a reality.

While there remains a lot of work to do, the game in Wales is very much on the up, and this milestone season of the national league could well be the catalyst to a bright future.