Liam Pritchard: Welsh Cup Reform

Take one look down the opening round of matches in the 2012/13 Women’s Welsh Cup and you would be forgiven for thinking you were looking at cricket fixtures.

No less than three of the nine matches that took place saw winning margins in double figures, another three were won by five or more goals.

In summary, over half the games played in the opening round of the nation’s premier cup competition were whitewashes. Of the remaining ties, only one was settled by a single goal (Camrose’s 4-3 victory at Tregaron Turfs being the tie of the round).

It doesn’t make pretty reading, and the game in Wales at this time in particular could do without such a negative image being cast over all the positive steps it has taken in recent times. With the relative success of the national side in Euro 2013 qualifiers – reaching their highest ever World Ranking last month – the reform of the Premier League into a competitive and exciting single division and the forthcoming U-19 European Championships in Wales, interest in the women’s game in the country is at an all time high and still growing.

As it stands, the cup is Wales’ weak link in what is shaping up to be a strong chain. The authorities must act this summer to reform the competition to avoid at all costs repeats of the results we saw this weekend.

The gulf in quality (which will reduce in time, given the good work taking place across the country in developing coaches and improved participations levels that will hopefully follow increased coverage of the league and a successful U-19s event) between the Premier sides and the majority of the non-league (Cwmbran, PILCS and Prestatyn stand out above the rest at this time) means that the only practical solution is to keep the poorer teams away from the better ones as much as is possible.

Now, some might say that this contradicts the ‘magic’ of the cup competition and I would be inclined to agree under other circumstances, but at this time the status quo is damaging.

Damaging, not just for the image of the game (at a time when new interest is coming toward the women’s game in Wales, one look at those scores will draw derision from some circles and potential fans will be lost) but also for the development of the girls on the losing sides and the competition itself.

No one wants to watch a team lose 11-0. I know, I’ve seen it happen. Believe me, it stopped being entertaining after 4-0 and I started willing the other team to get at least one goal. Even fewer want to be playing in a side that loses by that scoreline (or worse). At best, it destroys your confidence, at worst, it could cause you to want to quit the game – denying the sport of potentially a promising player.

The proverbial ‘magic’ of cup competitions comes not just from seeing your home team take on some of the very best in the country (and occasionally, but not often, win) but also from the benefits it brings your club off the field. I don’t doubt Penrhyncoch would have minded losing 11-0 had Aberystwyth brought thousands (or even hundreds) of paying fans with them, bank rolling the remainder of the club’s season in one go. But it doesn’t work like that. In reality, clubs are paying (with entry fees, referee fees, pitch rental, kit washing, etc) significantly for the pleasure of being hammered once a year, in front of a sparse crowd, with little or nothing to show for it.

Sooner or later, these clubs are going to ask themselves what the point of entering is. Entry figures this season are down on last year already. It could be argued that the poorer clubs dropping out would improve the overall standard, but long term, the competition has to be seen as a opportunity for hopefully improving teams to test themselves against different and better opposition, aiding the overall development of our domestic game.

Reform of the competition is the only way to stop that rot. But what can be done? Uneven entry figures and the obscure distribution of quality sides means that any reform to the competition is going to be complicated, to say the least. The authorities have got their work cut out for them.

Having taken much time and effort, and scribbling on paper, I came up with the following less than straightforward solution for general consideration. The basis of my proposal is to stagger byes for the bigger clubs across the latter rounds. Specifically, bringing in the better quality teams in four at a time as the competition progresses. With 12 Premier League sides and, English based, Cardiff City Ladies to take into account, it can come across as a little long winded. But it is just intended as a starter to a vital conversation that needs to take place.

Taking this season’s entry numbers (26) as the basis, I suggest the four best sides (the League Champions, the previous finalists and Cardiff City Ladies) receive a bye straight to the Quarter Finals. Three of the four preceding rounds will contain 8 teams: the winners of the previous round’s ties plus the four sides receiving the bye to the stage (with teams entering later based on their Premier League finish, starting in the Second Round with the bottom based Premier side and the three non league clubs with the best record in the previous season’s competition).

With this season’s figures and working backwards from the quarter final stage, this would leave ten non league sides playing for four places in the second round, requiring four of these to take part in a qualifying round to bring the number to eight in round one.

The result of the above may be slightly convoluted and require adjustment in the earlier stages for increased numbers, but I am confident that it would see a more competitive cup that would be a credit to the game in this country.

To have your say, please see the Facebook group.

Summary of proposal:
26 teams enter.
Qualifying round: Four sides, two winners progress to;
Round One: Two winners from qualifiers plus six entrants. Four progress to;
Round Two: Four winners of round one plus 12th placed Premier side* and three best non leaguers. Four progress to;
Round Three: Four winners of round two plus 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th Premier sides. Four progress to;
Round Four: Four winners of round three plus 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th Premier sides. Four progress to;
Quarter Finals: Four winners plus League Champions, Cup Finalists (or 2nd and 3rd Premier sides) and Cardiff City.
Semis and Final as usual.

* League places illustrative only as sides finishing in these positions could qualify for Quarter Finals as Finalists previous year.Delete ReplyReply ForwardSpamMovePrint Actions NextPrevious

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