The coming week could prove to be a turbulent one even by Welsh football’s 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 themselves but the National League Board, who convene on Tuesday and a decision could be made as early as then.
Amongst the options being considered are playing out the rest of the season, identifying a new format to determine final league places and 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. Amongst the issues needed to overcome are player insurance, financing and sourcing PPE and the need for testing and possible quarantine.
Basing a final decision on the outcome of the games played so far is a more realistic 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. You would expect both teams to fiercely dispute the outcome not in their favour.
How might the issue of the three other European qualifying places will be decided remains unclear. Interestingly, my understanding is that one of the options that could be considered is that the European prize money is evenly shared amongst all 12 Cymru Premier teams.
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. Welsh clubs would almost certainly be affected should this materialise, as I suspect it might.
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 Uni 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. An expansion to 14-clubs would almost certainly be a short-term measure with the league gradually reducing back to 12 teams. 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 do not have the authority to make any final decisions. Their role is to merely express their individual 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…