AN ambitious restart plan announced by the Football Association of Wales could see Barry Town playing upwards of 25 games before the end of the current season.
The governing body for football in Wales has confirmed a proposed playing calendar of 5th March to 31st May to complete the current JD Cymru Premier campaign, dependent on either the relaxation of Wales’ lockdown restrictions or the restoration of the league’s Elite status.
Despite the 21st January edition of the Barry and District News suggesting a truncated 22-game season, without its regular Phase Two finale, as a possible best-case scenario, the FAW’s latest master plan includes a full Phase Two programme and subsequent European play-offs, after all 12 member clubs have completed their outstanding Phase One matches.
Football could return to Jenner Park this March but there’s no news on the fans
Barry, who have played 17 competitive fixtures during the pandemic, including an ill-fated UEFA Europa League qualifier in the Faroe Islands, still have six games remaining in Phase One, with the proposed Phase Two plans adding another ten, all against repeat opponents.
The announcement also revealed the FAW’s intention of completing the Nathaniel MG Cup tournament and a slimmed-down JD Welsh Cup competition, all between March and the first week of June.
As a result, Barry could end up playing local rivals Penybont as many as seven times in this period; starting with their two postponed Phase One meetings, then twice more in Phase Two pending league positions, plus potential European play-off, MG Cup and Welsh Cup encounters.
Faced with such a packed calendar, midweek trips to north Wales appear almost inevitable, raising the question if such an aggressive approach to restarting the season is desirable, or even necessary, in the current climate.
With teams outside the top two tiers prevented from entering, the decision to press on with a 44-club Welsh Cup has been met with particular criticism, one noted observer arguing it degraded and undermined the 144-year-old competition.
Despite former winners Wrexham, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Merthyr being continued absentees, 135 clubs entered last season’s Welsh Cup, but the tournament was abandoned on 30th July at the semi-final stage.
Should it get the go-ahead, this year’s version will consist exclusively of sides from the Cymru Premier, Cymru North and Cymru South divisions.
With no news on spectators in the FAW announcement and an apparent lack of consultation with any supporters’ groups, the idea of playing this many matches between the same set of sides appears a real head-scratcher, particularly should the policy of playing behind-closed-doors continue.
Some will outline the need to determine Wales’ four European entrants, while others might emphasise fees or obligations to contracted players, as well as those to sponsors JD Sports and Nathaniel Car Sales and broadcasters S4C, who are bereft of football coverage with the current season on hold.
Nevertheless, as Wales assesses its exit strategy from crippling pandemic restrictions, it is difficult to justify playing more matches than are really needed; even more so should so many of the other rules dominating our lives remain locked in place.
Barry, whose contracted player agreements have allowed them to train across the current lockdown, will likely be raring to go, their last fixture being a 4-1 victory over Cefn Druids at Jenner Park on 19th December.
However, a short springtime sprint to the Phase One finish line would surely be more appropriate than the glut of games proposed, especially in light of the hundreds of clubs and thousands of players below the Cymru Leagues, all banned from playing competitive football for almost a full year.
With Welsh government policy in relation to sport still in a state of flux, there is no guarantee any of the FAW’s outlined plans will come to fruition, leaving Barry in fourth since the season froze in December; its second extended hiatus, following a month-long firebreak stoppage.
While last year’s abandonment worked in their favour, few would relish another campaign with silverware and European entrants decided on a Points Per Game basis or in a Handforth Parish Council-esque Zoom meeting.
Indeed, a repeat of this abandonment in the early days of Phase Two could trigger the same kind of messy contention that took deposed champions The New Saints and their decreed successors Connah’s Quay Nomads all the way to the High Court.
As vaccination sweeps the nation, the goal of resolving matters on the field is an achievable one, yet the FAW’s vision of playing so much football in so little time seems fraught with potential disaster from the kick-off.