Referee farce leaves Welsh Premier League reeling

Welsh Premier League

I thought it was an April Fools' prank when I heard the news that the Welsh Premier League (WPL) game between Carmarthen Town and Airbus was called off on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, especially when it emerged the reason for the cancellation was that the match officials had failed to turn up.

I then looked at my watch and it was well past midday. What an embarrassment to the league.

The league has done its best to make progress by reducing the competition to 12 clubs, with a mid-season split for the top and bottom half.

But all work aimed at silencing the doubters is in danger of being undone by a farcical situation of a game being called off because there was no referee.

Since its launch in 1992, the Welsh Premier League has had its critics and what more ammunition do they need when something as unprofessional as this happens in our national league?

I have been the first to praise the league's administrators in their attempts to increase its popularity. But someone has to carry the can for this farce, whether it's the Welsh Premier League, Carmarthen Town or the Welsh Premier League's Referees Officer.

If the officials had failed to turn up, surely there was enough time in the day to find three officials in the south or west Wales region capable enough to officiate the match, even if it meant delaying the kick-off a few hours. It's not as if Carmarthen do not have any floodlights.

If I was an Airbus player, I would rather have waited two or three hours to play the game on the day rather travel back north without playing and then having another seven hour round trip to Carmarthen on a Tuesday night in the next couple of weeks.

According to rule 20(g) in the official WPL handbook, it seems that there is fault with not just the WPL but also the home team.

From the home club's point of view, if they hadn't received confirmation by last Friday from the match officials, they should have consulted with the WPL Secretary, Gwyn Derfel, or the WPL Referees Officer, Rodger Gifford.

On the other hand, both the WPL secretary and the WPL Referees Officer should have confirmed the match officials' appointments following last week's original postponement of the match.

It will be interesting to hear the outcome of this unfortunate episode, and where the blame lies. It has certainly made the league look very amateurish.

On a brighter note, I must congratulate The New Saints on equalling Barry Town's record of seven WPL titles after retaining their crown with a rousing 3-0 win over Carmarthen on Saturday.

Airbus and Bangor City have done their best to bridge the gap against the full-timers, but TNS have been far too strong for this season.

Since the mid-season split, they have conceded only one goal in six matches. This without their defensive stalwart Steve Evans, who is out for the remainder of the season through injury.

At the beginning of the season, everyone thought that Greg Draper would be the one to score the goals for TNS. But Mike Wilde, who returned to the club in the summer, has been instrumental in their success, not only for his goal scoring exploits but also for his all-round team play.

During my time at TNS, Wilde was a hungry young striker who was willing to learn his trade from the experienced players around him and improve his game at every opportunity. He has certainly done that over the past few years. He is now in his prime and must be one of the contenders for WPL player of the season.

With TNS securing the title and a place in the Champions League next season, Barry Town and Prestatyn Town are a step closer to a place in Europe. If TNS beat Bangor City in their in the Welsh Cup semi-final at Rhyl on Saturday, then either Barry or Prestatyn will automatically qualify for the Europa League.

There's no doubt who Barry and Prestatyn supporters will be rooting for once their game has finished at Newtown.

But in the last five years, only Llanelli have managed to beat Bangor in the Welsh Cup. Although their league form hasn't been the best over the past few weeks, the Bangor players, supporters and manager Neville Powell love their Welsh Cup outings and will be all out to stop the holders from progressing to the final.

I predict Bangor City and Prestatyn will be victorious on Saturday and make it through to the final next month.

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