Monday, 1 April 2013

Wednesday and an Anglo-Welsh alliance

I was first told of this story on Sunday morning, just as David Cameron was making sanguine comments suggesting that he wouldn't stand in the way of the Old Firm moving into English football. If anything this made me suspicious of the timing of what I was about to be told.
I was emailed by a man who, for obvious reasons, I will refer to only as Ralf. He works in the administration department at Hillsborough and has seen a few items of correspondence that, as a fan of many years standing, have shocked him to the core. He claims to have seen evidence of an ongoing dialogue between Wednesday and the Welsh FA regarding the Owls taking a place in the Welsh League from the 2013-14 season. Sitting alongside it is a change of name that may surprise, but harks back to a much earlier age.
My first reaction was shock. Firstly that a club would consider such a move and secondly that I had been approached with the story. I emailed him my phone number and we had a lengthy  conversation.  I was told that both he and his colleagues were so shocked and angered by what they had read that they thought of no better way of embarrassing the club than if the story was broken by a Blades fan. They felt that the wider fanbase had a right to know what was happening.
He gave me information that verified who he was and then we talked some more and I explored what the motivations for the move were.
"We have a big stadium and a massive potential fanbase, yet there is a belief that it cannot be sustained on being Championship relegation fodder. The prospect of another relegation to League 1 cannot be contemplated."
"The 30,000 loyal supporters who turn up week in, week out deserve success. You know, with the size of club we are and our massive fanbase, we are bigger than half of the teams in the Premier League. We would sell out every week if we got there. If only your league position was determined by crowds and ground capacity, not success on the pitch. But I think Mr Mandaric has realised the long game he was playing is going to be longer and more expensive than he thought."
"Getting to the Premier League is going to be tough. Therefore sell-out crowds and European matches are the way forward. He invested with a view to moving the club forward, allowing him to sell up at a profit and move on. There is a belief that this gives him that opportunity."
"The club may not make the millions that Premier League football will bring, but getting a squad together to get through the Champions League qualifiers to the group stage will net the club around £10m in prize money, plus gate receipts from at least 5 home games."
"I don't agree with the thinking,  but the belief is the fans would love to win trophies and we'd walk the Welsh League. Then we are into the Champions League - and the fans still love to talk about the UEFA Cup campaign of 1992. They are imagining heady nights under floodlights against the cream of European football."
I ask if replicating 1992 means beating the champions of Luxembourg and losing to the 4th best team in the Bundesliga.  I get short shrift and our discussion is nearly over before it has begun - I just couldn't help myself!
Over the next half hour we further discuss the correspondence Ralf has seen and it actually begins to make some sense. The exploratory talks were opened with one eye on the plans of former Blades Chief Executive Charles Green and Rangers. Whilst Green's aggressive rhetoric on its own may be derided as repetitive bombastic bluster, the news that other clubs could follow suit will cause ripples in the game. The fact that they believe such a move could be accelerated in advance of the five year objective of Green will cause shock waves.
What gives them that hope is the clear overlaps between English and Welsh football. For this reason, the plans for a new Cardiff City taking the Bluebirds name and with plans to enter the English pyramid are also of significant interest.
If a new Welsh club is accepted by the English FA and chooses to play in England for what they assume are beneficial reasons, why shouldn't an English-based club be accepted in Wales? After all there is a precedent within the Welsh League, with TNS playing over the border in Oswestry, England.
But what is in it for the Welsh League?  Late on Sunday night I spoke with Dai Profollays, a Cardiff-based journalist and a man with contacts at the Welsh FA. Surely, allowing this would be like turkeys voting for Xmas? Everyone else playing for second each season? A staleness that has paralysed Scottish football for years? Seemingly not.
"They think this could be the boost Welsh football, and the league in particular, needs. They think that few clubs have the pulling power of the Owls. The club (Wednesday) have sold them the history and the levels of support. The words of former chairman Lee Strafford, when he spoke of Wednesday's catchment area of 500,000 fans, particularly resonated within the Welsh FA, as did the claims of 30,000 crowds when last in the top flight."
I consider raising the point that due diligence may prove some of these claims unfounded but Dai is in full flow - "The club chairmen, meanwhile, are wooed by the potential cash cow club. They are particularly excited by the talk of the 5,000 fans the Sheffield club take away every other week. That is a significant cash injection to clubs in a league where 2-300 is an average matchday crowd. The away support at that one match alone would double most club's total attendance for the whole of a season."
But surely many of the existing grounds would not be able to cope with the influx?
"That is true but, one possibility is that Wednesday pay a one off payment to gain entry to the League. That would be distributed to the clubs with the expectation it would be used for ground improvements. "
"All international football associations will be following the Rangers case very closely. But this could be the game changer."
The other big change is potentially with the club's name. Although it is change for the old, not the new. As Ralf explains,
"The papers I have seen refer to the team being known as "The Wednesday" - the original name of the club when it was founded. The feeling is that the club have a unique name and don't need the city association, especially with the move. This is what rankles the most; cutting the ties to the city. The club thinking it is bigger than all that. The sad thing is, I've read fans talking of this on the forums and they'd happily accept the change. Sometimes our fans make statements that make us look foolish. Some people might well be laughing at my club right now."
Thanks to Ralf Poolis. Being a mere blogger I have been unable to get a direct response from the club or Welsh FA. I hope to have this by 12pm today.

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