To merge, or not to merge?

Clubs are threatening to resign from the Welsh Football League in  South, North and Mid Wales left, right and centre and there seems to be no end to the number of clubs who are deciding to call it a day.

The old club vs council argument is often reignited as the cost of running facilities goes up, and often weighs a heavy burden on smaller clubs. Take Cardiff Grange Harlequins for example, a proud capital city club stooped in history, and yet the hefty price of paying rent at the fantastic Leckwith Stadium eventually took its toll on the club. Elsewhere we see players demanding wages, and some are not worth the amount being paid for their services, and sometimes this causes friction as a divide between paid and non-paid players causes turmoil within a club. There are a huge amount of reasons that would force a club to come close to ceasing to exist, but some clubs have attempted to rectify the situation with a club merger.

A merger may be a last resort at a club, but it does have its advantages. The issue is, we have several small clubs who are paying most of their income on simply keeping their home Welsh Football League criteria ground. Small clubs are all fighting over the few quality players within an area. For village sides, they have a lack of players to pick from, whilst city clubs do have a better pick of the crop, but as we have seen with the clubs in Cardiff and Newport, the competition is sometimes too rife.

A merger between two clubs could bring financial stability. Both clubs will only need to pick between themselves which ground they would prefer, thus saving the money that was previously spent on one of the former club’s ground. This free income could be spent on better players, better stadia, better infrastructure, and help expand the club from youth  up to senior level. A club with 25 fans attending games merges with another club with 50 fans, and straight away you have a gain.

Whilst merging with another club, many will probably feel that the previous club has been lost, but that is not true – in fact, it should be seen as an evolution of the club as it braces expansion with another club.

The disadvantages of a club merger also exist. A club that has a long existence may be reluctant to sacrifice its identity, and its clubs history. The displacing players, which forces them to either join new clubs, form new clubs, or alternatively just stop playing football altogether, and possibility of the newly formed merged club annexing resources are also factors. Would the club be able to stay local? Or would the club move to a new, unknown area, thus losing its links within the local community.

Mergers should without a doubt be considered as a viable option. Sustainability, bigger financial net, a better youth network, better facilities, and bigger supporter bases are all great reasons why a football club merger could indeed work.

However, to be done successfully, it has to be a well thought out process. The newly formed merged club will have to learn from the errors of the two small clubs that it was created from. A plan would need to be set out, a youth network would need to be formed to allow the club to be self sufficient. The new club would have to engage with the local community in order to grow support and coverage.

Pen-y-Bont Football Club of the Welsh Football League are advocates of the club merger, having done it successfully. In 2013, the club was formed after both Bridgend Town F.C and Bryntirion Athletic F.C merged. Pen-y-Bont play their home matches at the Kymco Stadium (formerly Bryntirion Park), where they installed third generation artificial turf during 2014, and was funded due to the sale of Bridgend Town FC’s former Coychurch Road ground to ASDA. Recently, the club made a huge leap forward as they announced the ex-Newport County striker Rhys Griffiths would succeed Francis Ford as club manager.

It’s an interesting idea, and one which could halt the demise of many Welsh domestic clubs.

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