World Cup: The grassroots desperate call to make tournament a lasting legacy in Wales

Gareth Bale and co. have put Wales on the world stage, but clubs back home are holding out for lasting change. Credit: ITV/PA

Volunteers working for grassroots football clubs have called on the Football Association of Wales (FAW) not to repeat the mistakes of the past when it comes to making sure the impact of World Cup qualification is felt across Wales. 

Four million pounds has been made available to clubs across Wales following Cymru's qualification for the World Cup - its first since 1958.

The FAW has said it will spend every penny of the prize money from FIFA on grassroots football. 

Luca Conibeer has been involved in the game in a voluntary capacity for a decade.

It has been met with excitement from within the footballing community. But Peter Jones, the secretary of Llanidloes Town FC, told ITV Cymru Wales, it is vital the FAW does not “repeat the mistakes of 2016”.

He told ITV's Wales this Week programme he thinks the FAW "missed a trick" in 2016, when the team qualified for France.

Peter added: “I remember making points at the time when Wales won the Grand Slam in rugby that every school in the area had a rugby hub officer promoting the game to ride that wave.”

Llanidloes were founding members of the League of Wales, now the Cymru Premier, in 1992. 

The club remains a focal point in the Powys town, as they now play in the Cymru North.

It is run by volunteers like Peter and made up on the pitch by a number of players who have been through the club’s junior system. 

“We need the money to filter down,” he continued.

“Our set up is good, we are really proud of it but again you should always look to improve. 

“It is ridiculous that some of the money in the top tier [that’s] just spent on academies, when clubs like ours could do so much more.”

While clubs such as Llanidloes are semi-professional, the vast majority of the county’s 953 clubs are entirely amateur.

Baili Glas AFC, who play in Merthyr Tydfil, have seen membership grow over the past couple of years.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the club now runs a team in every age group, from under six up to senior level.

Chris Evans is one of thousands of volunteers who keep grassroots clubs going across the country.

Chris Evans, who coaches at the club, told ITV Cymru Wales: “I think grassroots football in general is going to expand because of the success of both the men’s national team and the women’s national team.

“We’ve seen girls football explode within the club and within the local area so it would be brilliant to see the success at the top level trickle down to the bottom levels.”

Like many clubs across Wales, Baili Glas face a constant struggle with facilities. 

The club has two grass pitches it can play on and two changing rooms that Chris believes are badly in need of upgrading.

“On a Saturday when the seniors are here there can be up to 16 players and four members of staff in here.

“[That makes] storage an issue for us and we have no facilities for making teas or coffees. 

“The youngsters don't really tend to use the changing rooms, they just go straight down onto the fields, [change into] their shirts, play and then shoot off.”

Chris believes that it is clubs like Baili Glas that should be directly in line to receive additional support in order to improve facilities.

Noel Mooney has taken a proactive approach in his dialogue with clubs across Wales. Credit: FAW

The FAW’s chief executive, Noel Mooney, hasn’t been shy in admitting facilities across the country aren’t good enough and has prioritised it as an area that needs addressing.

Mooney, who was appointed to the post in July 2021, told ITV Cymru Wales it is vital the £4 million is spent in the right areas to maximise its impact.

“We’re trying to punch above our weight. Our facilities here are third world so we’ve set out on a very long journey.

“It’s a long walk to freedom to make sure we have the facilities we need for girls, increasingly, and boys to play football on.

“We have mirrored the English model which is the football foundation which has given out hundreds of millions of pounds across England over the last 20 years.

“That is great for them, but it has put us at a significant disadvantage because we are lightyears behind them in terms of the facilities.

“We’re out many evenings with the area associations with the leagues and with the clubs looking at the pinch points, where things are not working quite well as they should be. 

“If we get this right over the next couple of years we’ll be absolutely unstoppable.”

Peter Jones doubles up as announcer and secretary at Llanidloes Town

Another area the FAW are keen to improve is coaching. The FAW’s coaching programme has recently produced top coaches such as Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta, Patrick Vieira and Roberto Martinez. 

However, for some coaching at lower levels, there have been barriers to progressing.

Luca Conibeer volunteers with Undy FC in Monmouthshire where he manages the under 19’s and also works with the senior team.

Despite having coached at the club for seven years, he doesn’t feel any closer to making it more than a vocation.

“[Football] is my sanctity,” he said. “Even though I’ve got a fulltime job I love football for what it is.

“It’s what I want to pursue full time. I’m 26 now and have been involved in the game for 10 years but I can’t see an end in sight.

“It’s how much more motivation and commitment I can give to that for the next few years or beyond because it takes up so much of your personal and professional life. 

“The more that Wales does well and the more they progress in the world cup hopefully more funding streams and avenues open up for clubs like us to apply for funding to develop volunteers like coaches.”

The FAW has an ambition for every team in Wales to have a qualified coach.

Asked about the FAW’s approach to coaching, Noel Mooney said it is a fundamental area the FAW are looking into.

“We have to make sure we’ve got the right boots on the ground who can deliver great sports development,” he continued.

“Our coaching system here in the FAW is amongst the best in the world. We’ve got thousands and thousands of grassroots coaches, but we need more.

“We need to make sure we have more high quality grassroots coaches. We need a lot more people on that ladder so that every team across the country has a qualified coach.”

You can watch Wales This Week: Game Changing Legacy? on ITV Cymru Wales at 8:30pm on Thursday, November 17.