Welsh Premier football should take place in summer too

By Marc Lloyd WilliamsWelsh Premier League's all-time leading goalscorer
Bangor and Llanelli will be challenging for the Welsh Premier League title
Bangor and Llanelli will be challenging for the Welsh Premier League title

Hi I'm Marc Lloyd Williamsexternal-link or better known in Welsh Premier League circles as 'Jiws'.

I am currently the League's all-time record goalscorer and I have played for a few clubs in my time over the past 20 years. I will be writing a regular column on the Welsh Premier League throughout the season.

My current profession is a Sports Science Lecturer at Coleg Menai and I also work in the media on a part time basis, mainly as a match reporter for BBC Radio Cymru on the Saturday afternoon sports programme Camp Lawn.

I have recently started a part-time BA (Hons) Professional sports writing and Broadcasting degree at Staffordshire University in conjunction with the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).

The new Welsh Premier League (WP) kicks off this weekend and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) has managed to get a new sponsor on board for their national league. Many of the member clubs had raised concerns with the FAW that unless a sponsor could be found the clubs would be financially worse off.

Although I have to compliment the FAW and WP directors for reducing the league to 12 clubs at the beginning of last season - which produced one of the most exciting seasons in its history - the WP now in my opinion has to bite the bullet, move with the times and give summer football a chance.

If the grass isn't greener, then revert back to winter football, but at least give it a go.

You only have to look at the recent European results of WP clubs, season 2010-11 excluded, and compare it with the League of Ireland, whose members have enjoyed considerable success on the European stage since making the switch to summer football in 2003.

The switch will, in my opinion, increase attendances, give the clubs a better chance of European success and hence improve the profile of the league. That would in turn generate more income for the clubs through better sponsorship deals.

There is no doubting since its inception in 1992 the League has had its critics and to this day it still does. However, with the WP now generating greater media coverage and on the back of a successful 2010-11 campaign both domestically and on the European stage, there is no better time to convert to summer football.

In order for this to succeed the FAW has to take the initiative and invest some of the vast amounts of sponsorship money they generate and divert it away from the national team and into the WP to help with improvements to stadia and the quality of the playing surfaces of the WP clubs.

Looking forward to the 20th WP campaign, current champions Bangor City will play their final season at fortress Farrar Road before moving to their new ground at Nantporthexternal-link.

The stadium has given many wonderful memories, not only to myself as a player but to many others, with the European games against the mighty Napoli and Atletico Madrid being the main highlights. But, can they sign off with a bang and retain their title?

TNS defender Steve Evans
Steve Evans will be a rock in the TNS defence

Champions are there to be knocked off their perch and no club has retained the title since The New Saints back in 2007. To be fair to Bangor what they achieved last year was phenomenal; WP title against the odds, the 15 match-winning run and another Welsh Cup final appearance.

Although Neville Powell has strengthened his squad for the forthcoming campaign, I believe that the loss of their influential captain Jamie Brewerton for their opening three games due to suspension will be pivotal. They entertain Llanelli on the opening weekend and then travel to my tip for the title, Neath, the following week.

Neath have become a full-time professional outfit over the summer and they have strengthened their squad, with some notable new signings including the return of Lee Kendall and Kerry Morgan to the WP.

The other full-timers, The New Saints, will be keen to avenge their final day disappointment at the hands of Bangor City. And, with the re-instatement of Wales international Steve Evans to their ranks after an internal suspension, they will no doubt be challenging at the top of the table along with Bangor City, Neath and Llanelli.

At the other end of the table, many will tip and expect promoted Afan Lido to go straight back down. However in Andy Dyer, they have a manager who has experienced leading a promoted team and making it a success. Dyer guided Neath into the WP and the Europa League, and I think that they will survive their return to the League, albeit in the bottom four.

The other teams I can envisage being in the relegation dogfight will be my ex-club Newtown, Prestatyn Town and Carmarthen Town. Both Newtown and Prestatyn have lost the services of key players to rival clubs and they will be handicapped by this.

Prestatyn, who finished fifth last season, are paying for their success with the loss of two of their key defenders in Jack Lewis and Kai Edwards, who have moved to Neat. More importantly Lee Hunt, who is one of the best strikers in the WP, has joined rivals Bala Town, and manager Neil Gibson will have his work cut out to emulate last season's performance.

My predictions:

Champions: Neath

Europa League: The New Saints (Runners-up), Bangor City (Play-off winners)

Relegation: any two from Newtown, Afan Lido, Carmarthen or Prestatyn.

Player to watch: Kerry Morgan (Neath) - an outstanding young prospect who spent his early days at Swansea City. He was loaned out to Newport County and helped them to the Conference South title in 2010. He already has WP experience with the Eagles and will eager to make an impression this season following his release by the Swans in the summer.