At the top of the system, of course, is the recently-renamed the "Dafabet Welsh Premier League", formerly known as the League of Wales. This is our national league, established in 1992, and the only national competition - all leagues below it operate on a regional basis, the more localised the further down the pyramid you go.
The second tier, immediately below the Welsh Premier, consists of two leagues, each covering 'half' the country: representing the south of the country there is the Welsh Football League (Division 1) and representing the North and Central Wales areas is the Cymru Alliance. The champions of each may be promoted to the Welsh Premier, subject to ground criteria. If the champions are not eligible, the runners-up may be considered. So far so good, but things get less symmetrical and more complicated from now on!
The big difference between the two regions is that in the south the Welsh League has two more divisions below Division One, with promotion and relegation between these divisions (more of the south later) But in the north, the Cymru Alliance has just the one division, and has a feeder league structure of its own at the third tier of the pyramid, with three regionalised leagues feeding into it, each covering one of the regional football association areas: the Spar Mid Wales League covering the Central Wales FA region (Powys and Ceredigion) , the Welsh Alliance covering the North Wales Coast FA region (most of the old counties of Gwynedd and Clwyd) and the Welsh League (Wrexham Area) covering the small North East Wales FA region around Wrexham. As is the case higher up, champions are eligible for promotion, runners-up if champions cannot/will not be promoted.
Below these third tier leagues are even more localised leagues: in Central Wales there are four leagues feeding into the Mid Wales League (covering Cardiganshire, Montgomeryshire, Mid Wales South, and Aberystwyth areas respectively). Meanwhile below the Welsh Alliance there are the Gwynedd League and the Clwyd League and these even have feeder leagues of their own such as the Anglesey League. The Wrexham Area League has two lower divisions of its own but no feeder leagues below it.
Now back to the south: With the Welsh League having three divisions, all covering the whole South Wales geographical area, it isn't until you get down to level 5 of the pyramid that there is a more localised structure. But even then the picture is inconsistent. Promotion to, and relegation from, the Welsh League is structured (like the north) around the three regional Football Associations (Gwent FA, South Wales FA and West Wales FA). Each can send one promoted club up to the Welsh League. This is straightforward enough in Gwent, where there is one senior league - the Gwent County League - whose champions (or runners-up) are eligible, if they satisfy Welsh League criteria. (Below the three divisions of the Gwent County, there are local leagues in Newport, East Gwent, Central Gwent and North Gwent...).
Pyramid of Welsh Football Leagues (PDF version)
The South Wales FA region centred on Cardiff and the Valleys has managed to have TWO senior leagues of equal status covering an identical area! (the Thomas Carroll South Wales Senior League and the Regal Travel South Wales Amateur League). So the champions of these leagues often have to play off for the available promotion place. This year, Bryntirion Athletic won the play-off and claimed their place in the Welsh League's third division. Below these two, two-division, leagues there are local leagues in Cardiff, Barry, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Taff Ely, Merthyr, Aberdare and Rhymney Valley. Champions of these can progress to EITHER of the two senior leagues. Confusing, isn't it?
And finally there is the West Wales FA area, the one region that has not set up a senior league covering its area. This means that there are four local leagues (Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath) with all their champions potentially having to play off for the one available promotion place. But, as few West Wales clubs can face the prospect of the travelling implications of moving up to the Welsh League, this four-way play-off idea is theory rather than practice. In 1999 Garden Village won the only West Wales promotion play-off to be held so far. This year, Cwmamman United, the Neath League champions, were promoted without the need for a play-off.
So that's how it works. It could be a lot more consistent and more logical. But, for a variety of reasons such changes are hard to accomplish. But whatever the structure, only WELSH FOOTBALL magazine brings you the news from all around the pyramid in every single issue!
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