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Cymru Premier set for overhaul: More clubs, friday night games, and VAR on the cards

WELSH football’s Cymru Premier is poised to undergo a significant transformation, heralding the most substantial shake-up in its history. The Football Association of Wales (FAW) officials disclosed these plans to clubs earlier this week. Anticipated changes in the top division of Welsh football include the adoption of video assistant refereeing (VAR), an expansion of the league with more clubs, and a potential adjustment in its format, which is slated to be unveiled later this year.

The proposed alterations may entail a regionalised structure for at least the initial half of the season, alongside a potential shift to an earlier start in the calendar. While an independent panel is set to present its conclusions to clubs by September, several initiatives have already received approval from FAW authorities. These encompass an augmentation in the number of teams, albeit the precise figure will await confirmation pending details on the format.

Additionally, a trimmed version of video assistant refereeing, known as VAR Lite, has been greenlit for implementation once the necessary infrastructure is in place. In a bid to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Premier League and EFL, the default fixture slot is slated to transition from Saturday afternoons to Friday evenings in the upcoming season. This move aims to maximise both supporter attendance and screen time. The frequency of Friday night games is anticipated to escalate in subsequent campaigns, eventually becoming standard practice by 2026.

The timeline for these proposed changes aligns with a six-year strategy outlined to club officials by Jack Sharp, the FAW’s head of domestic football, with 2026 set as the target date. These initiatives follow an injection of £6 million in funding announced in February, representing the most substantial investment since the league’s establishment in 1992. A portion of this funding, approximately £1 million, will be allocated to novel marketing strategies, with an emphasis on exploring additional broadcasting coverage.

Clubs are slated to receive funding over a three-year period to bolster their development efforts, including a grant programme earmarked for full-time roles such as general managers. Elite club development managers, provided by the FAW, aim to assist clubs in modernising and professionalising their operations. Furthermore, approximately £1 million is earmarked for facility development.

These changes are the culmination of a two-year consultation period with clubs and stakeholders, with FAW chief executive Noel Mooney advocating for a rejuvenation of the league. Other measures encompass utilising a ‘work experience’ loophole to enable clubs to loan scholars from Welsh EFL clubs outside of the typical transfer windows, establishing minimum ‘athlete contact time’ to mandate players’ training with their clubs at least twice weekly, and transitioning from reserve-team football to an under-23 style competition, following the lead of the English Premier League.

Under these plans, clubs qualifying for European competitions would receive support from the FAW, including assistance in arranging warm-up fixtures and logistical aid.