The Founding Members of the League of Wales – Part One

Introduction

1992 was an epochal year in world football. The back-pass rule was introduced by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to discourage both time-wasting and defensive football, something which had hindered the entertainment of both the 1990 World Cup and 1992 European Championships, and to make football more attack-minded and exciting to watch, whilst forcing goalkeepers to start to become more influential in build-up play (the start of the need for a “sweeper-keeper” role). UEFA decided to revamp its flagship and oldest competition of the European Cup by changing its format, giving it an iconic theme, and renaming it the UEFA Champions League. Whilst the clubs of the English Football League First Division decided they wanted more sponsorship money and increased control of their television rights, and thus progressed alive and kicking into the “whole new ball game” of the Premier League.

Monumental change was also afoot across the border in Wales, where despite being the third-oldest football association in world football, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) was finally establishing its own truly national league. There had been failed attempts to create a national league numerous times throughout the decades, but it was external pressure that finally spurred the officials in Cardiff into meaningful action. An increasing number of nations within FIFA were questioning the fairness of the FAW’s influential position on the IFAB board, and the validity of the Welsh national team within international football when the nation didn’t even have its own national league. Therefore, Wales needed to create its own revolution in domestic football to keep the Red Dragons roaring on the international scene.

The former logo of the League of Wales.

As a result, it was announced by the FAW that the League of Wales would be created, taking clubs from both the northern Cymru Alliance and southern Welsh Football League to create a twenty-team national division that would sit atop the Welsh football pyramid. To add ‘legitimacy’ to their plans, they also decreed that all Welsh-based clubs playing in the lower divisions of the English football structure must move across to play in the new league, or else face sanctions. This led to a bitter dispute between the ‘Irate Eight’ of clubs (Bangor City, Barry Town, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Newtown, and Rhyl) who wished to remain part of the English pyramid and the FAW. Eventually, Bangor City, Newtown, and Rhyl reluctantly agreed to move across for the 1992-93 season (others would follow at later dates). Sadly for Rhyl, their application to join the League of Wales was too late, and they were placed in the Cymru Alliance for the first season, much to their chagrin.

The locations of the 20 founding members of the League of Wales.

The summer of 1992 saw the start of a truly national league for Welsh football, with the League of Wales morphing into the Welsh Premier League, and then into the current Cymru Premier of today. In this series of blogs, and to celebrate thirty years of the top flight league in Welsh football, we will look at each one of the twenty founding members who competed in that inaugural League of Wales season to see how they performed during the debut season, and how they have progressed in their history since the 1992-93 campaign.

The 1992-93 League of Wales table.
[IMAGE: Wikipedia]

In this first part of the series, the focus will be on the five teams that finished in the first to fifth positions in the 1992-93 League of Wales table: Cwmbran Town, Inter Cardiff, Aberystwyth Town, Ebbw Vale, and Bangor City.

1st: Cwmbran Town – 87 points

  • Ground: Cwmbran Stadium, Cwmbran
  • Best Top Flight Finish: Champions [1992-93]
  • Last Top Flight Season: 2006-07
  • 1991-92 League: Welsh Football League – 7th
  • Current League: Gwent County League Premier Division

Cwmbran Town became the very first Welsh champions when they clinched the inaugural title by winning 26 of their 38-game schedule to accumulate 87 points from their campaign. The 1-0 away victory over Llanelli at Stebonheath in the penultimate game of the season confirmed the title for Cwmbran. Certainly, it could have been considered a surprise at the start of the season that Cwmbran Town managed to win the inaugural League of Wales considering the club had never lifted the Welsh Football League title in its history. Nonetheless, the Crows’ defence was their main strength throughout the season as they conceded a division-best total of 22 goals, and lost just three games, to ensure they finished the season four points ahead of runners-up Inter Cardiff to claim the first League of Wales championship under the leadership of the late Tony Wilcox.

Naturally, the Torfaen-based outfit also became the first Welsh league team to play in the recently renamed UEFA Champions League in the following season. They were unfortunate not to progress beyond the Preliminary Round of the competition when Cwmbran lost on away goals after drawing 4-4 on aggregate to the Irish champions Cork City, despite winning the first leg 3-2 at the Cwmbran Stadium in front of over 3,500 supporters. The 1992-93 triumph would be Cwmbran’s sole league championship in the club’s history, with the Crows finishing in eighth position the following season as the defending champions. Despite not managing to clinch another league championship during their spell in the League of Wales, they did enjoy another successful period around the turn of the millennium with a couple of consecutive third-place finishes in the league and ending up as runners-up in the 2000-01 season.

Cwmbran Town also reached three Welsh Cup finals during their time in the top flight but they were unable to lift the old trophy, losing 1-2 to Barry Town in the 1997 final (although qualifying for the following season’s UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup as finalists), 0-1 to Bangor City in 2000, and to Barry Town again in the 2003 final, agonisingly losing in a penalty shootout after drawing 2-2 following extra time. The Crows also reached the final of the 2002 Welsh League Cup, but again suffered heartache at the final hurdle by losing 1-2 to Caersws. Sadly, by the mid-2000s, the club was struggling with its finances and was eventually relegated from the top flight by finishing bottom of the 2006-07 Welsh Premier League table ending a fifteen-season stay in the highest tier. The club then rapidly descended down the leagues as financial problems intensified but they have since halted their downward slide and stabilised their position in the regional Gwent County Leagues. This season, the club has maintained its place in the fourth tier of Welsh football and competes in the Gwent County League Premier Division.

2nd: Inter Cardiff – 83 points

  • 1992-93 Ground: Cardiff Athletics Stadium, Cardiff
  • Best Top Flight Finish: Runners-Up [Four Times]
  • Last Top Flight Season: 1999-2000
  • 1991-92 League: Welsh Football League – 12th
  • Current League: Cymru Premier (as Cardiff Met University)

Inter Cardiff was the only club from the capital to take part in the inaugural League of Wales season and they certainly had a great opportunity to win the title with a few games remaining, with the goals of Chris Summers (who scored 25 goals that campaign) fuelling their drive towards the title. However, a defeat to Porthmadog and a draw to Afan Lido in the final few weeks of the season gave Cwmbran the critical advantage in the title race, and eventually, Inter Cardiff finished in second position, four points behind their title rivals. The Gulls confirmed themselves as one of the strongest teams in the early days of the League of Wales by challenging for the league the following season. Alas, they agonisingly repeated their feat of the previous season when they finished by a narrower margin of two points behind champions Bangor City for a second consecutive runners-up spot. It would be this second runner-up finish that allowed the club to qualify for Europe for the first time, qualifying for the 1994-95 UEFA Cup preliminary round, but would lose 0-8 on aggregate to Polish side GKS Katowice.

The club finished as runners-up another two times during the 1990s, in the 1996-97 and 1998-99 seasons (behind the all-conquering Barry Town side on both occasions) under the sponsored name of ‘Inter CableTel’, enjoying further sojourns into European competition on both occasions. Their European highlight was a 1-0 victory over Slovenian club Gorica in the second leg of their 1999-2000 UEFA Cup qualifying round match, although the Gulls still lost the tie 1-2 on aggregate. Certainly, the latter second-place finish was further enhanced when they became the first Cardiff-based club (other than Cardiff City) to win the Welsh Cup by overcoming Carmarthen Town on penalties after a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes in the 1999 showpiece event.

The club reverted back to its original name by the 1999-2000 season but would eventually suffer relegation from the top flight for the first time in its history during the same season. It would be the final season of the club under that guise when the club followed up relegation with a merger with the football club of the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff to create UWIC Inter Cardiff. This team would eventually become Cardiff Metropolitan University, to reflect the name change of the educational centre, and currently compete in the Cymru Premier having earned a promotion to the top flight in 2016. Last season, the Archers topped the Play-off Group of the Cymru Premier by clinching seventh position but lost to eventual play-off winners, Caernarfon Town, in the semi-finals.

3rd: Aberystwyth Town – 78 points

  • Ground: Park Avenue, Aberystwyth
  • Best Top Flight Finish: Third [1992-93]
  • Last Top Flight Season: 2021-22
  • 1991-92 League: Welsh Football League – 3rd
  • Current League: Cymru Premier

Having finished as the third-best side in the previous season’s southern Welsh Football League table, it was no surprise to see Aberystwyth Town as one of the highest finishers in the inaugural League of Wales with another third-place finish. The Black and Greens finished the campaign five points behind Inter Cardiff with 78 points, but did finish as the league’s top goalscorers with 85 goals scored, as well as getting one of the largest away victories of the season by defeating Llanidloes Town 6-0 in April 1993. Kevin Morrison and Michael Davies were the main contributors to that large goal tally with 20 and 17 goals scored respectively. In addition, they did win 25 games of their schedule, just one fewer than the two teams above them in the table, but losing another 10 proved too costly in the end for the Ceredigion-based side. What is surprising about that season is despite Aberystwyth’s initial success in the League of Wales, that third-place finish has been the club’s best-ever finish so far, with the Seasiders finishing in fourth position another five times (most recently in the 2014-15 season) but not managing to match that initial season. Although they do have the distinct and proud honour of being just one of two of the founding clubs to have never been relegated from the top flight.

During their lengthy and unbroken spell in the top flight, Aberystwyth has qualified for European competition on three occasions, most recently playing in the first qualifying round of the 2014-15 Europa League, but lost 0-9 on aggregate to Irish side Derry City. They have also reached the Welsh Cup final on three separate occasions since 1992-93, but have lost all three finals, losing 0-2 to Bangor City in 2009, 2-3 to The New Saints in 2014, and 1-4 to Connah’s Quay Nomads in 2018. They are still awaiting to add to their (and Ceredigion’s) only Welsh Cup triumph way back in 1900. Last season, despite being threatened with a potential relegation from the top division for the first time in their history, a spirited fightback in the second phase of the season ensured that Aberystwyth Town maintained their ever-presence in the top flight for another season by finishing in eighth position in the 2021-22 Cymru Premier.

4th: Ebbw Vale – 66 points

  • Ground: Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale
  • Best Finish: Third [1996-97 & 1997-98]
  • Last Top Flight Season: 1997-98
  • 1991-92 League: Welsh Football League – 11th
  • Current League: n/a

Ebbw Vale was a historical name within South Welsh football. They became just the third southern-based side to win the Welsh Cup when they defeated Swansea Town 3-2 in the 1926 final of the old cup competition and continued to be one of the stronger sides within the southern Welsh leagues throughout their history. So, it was no surprise when the Cowboys were chosen as one of the founding members of the League of Wales and then finished as high as fourth position in the inaugural Welsh season. They finished twelve points behind Aberystwyth Town but had the league’s top goalscorer that season in Steve Woods, who scored an incredible 39 goals and contributed over half of the team’s total league goals. Ebbw Vale also inflicted the highest scoreline of the season when they defeated Briton Ferry Athletic 10-0 in early January 1993.

Ebbw Vale spent six seasons in the Welsh top flight and improved upon their initial fourth place finish in their first season when they finished in the third position in two consecutive seasons in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 editions of the League of Wales. This also saw them compete in the UEFA Intertoto Cup on both occasions, with a goalless draw with Austrian side Graz AK in 1997 being the highlight of their brief European adventures. Alas, just when it seemed Ebbw Vale would continue their rich vein of form and consolidate their position as one of Wales’ best teams, the story of The Cowboys came to a swift and sad conclusion. Despite competing in the Intertoto Cup that summer, the club was suffering from financial problems and was subsequently expelled from the League of Wales prior to the start of the 1998-99 season. Resultantly, the club then promptly went out of business. A phoenix club, Ebbw Vale Town, was founded in 2007, but it too also folded eleven years later. However, another club, RTB Ebbw Vale, currently represents the former steel-making town and plays in the fourth-tier Gwent County League Premier Division alongside former LoW champions Cwmbran Town.

5th: Bangor City – 64 points

  • 1992-93 Ground: Farrar Road, Bangor
  • Best Top Flight Finish: Champions [1993-94, 1994-95, & 2010-11]
  • Last Top Flight Season: 2017-18
  • 1991-92 League: Northern Premier League Premier Division – 20th
  • Current League: n/a

Despite being initially one of the ‘Irate Eight’ clubs that appealed against being forced to return back to the Welsh football pyramid by the FAW after competing in the English pyramid for so long, the then three-time Welsh Cup winners and historically well-supported Gwynedd team of Bangor City did eventually take its place in the inaugural League of Wales to become founder members (they were also founder members of the English Football Conference, now the National League). Before the season began, the Citizens were the favourites to become the first Welsh champions, but a damaging 0-6 home defeat to Holywell Town on Halloween frightened away all their initial confidence and momentum the club had. Eventually, Bangor finished the season in fifth spot with 64 points accumulated, and two points behind Ebbw Vale. However, they could take some solace by finishing as the best performing northern team in the division.

Bangor City made no mistakes in the second and third seasons of the league when they finally lived up to their lofty reputation by clinching the 1993-94 title ahead of Inter Cardiff, before successfully defending their Welsh title the following season by winning the title by nine points from Afan Lido. Alas, despite being a continuous presence in the Welsh top flight, it wouldn’t be until the final day of the 2010-11 season, at the final game to be played at the iconic Farrar Road ground, that Bangor City would clinch their third Welsh championship when they defeated league rivals TNS 1-0. Throughout that time, Bangor City were regular qualifiers for European competitions either through their high league placement or more commonly by winning the Welsh Cup. During their time in the top division, the Citizens won an additional five Welsh Cups, including three final victories in a row between 2008 and 2010 to bring their total amount to eight national cups won and be the fourth most successful club in the competition’s history.

However, in recent years, the fortunes of the grand old club of Welsh football have declined rapidly. Years of financial mismanagement under the ownership of questionable parties have resulted in a tumultuous period that initially saw the club demoted from the Welsh Premier League at the end of the 2017-18 season due to a failure to obtain a tier 1 licence for financial reasons despite finishing in second position. Then, after being fatigued by the relentless off-field mishaps at the club, the vast majority of Citizens supporters broke away to form their own supporters-owned breakaway club in Bangor 1876 (and are currently playing in the third-tier Ardal North West league). Finally, the death nail in the coffin of Bangor City came last season when the FAW suspended and then threw the club out of the Cymru North after failing to pay required debts by a set deadline. Despite assurances from the club’s current owner during the summer, Bangor City has not reappeared in the regional leagues for the 2022-23 season and looks set to have finally ceased to exist anymore. A sad end for a once mighty club…

That concludes this first part of the series that looked at the top five teams in the 1992-93 League of Wales. In the next part, we’ll look at the founding members who finished between sixth and tenth in the inaugural national league. If you have any comments, suggestions, or reactions to this blog series, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

Diolch!

One comment

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading that, I have followed the League since it’s conception and the article stirred plenty of memories for me. I look forward to part two.

    Liked by 1 person

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