It was on this day 30 years ago, 15 August 1992, that a new era began for the domestic game in Wales as the first national top division kicked off with 20 teams in action across the country.
However, the launch of the Konica League of Wales was not without controversy, and that opening weekend was a significant moment for those who believed and fought for its introduction.
On that very same day, the first whistle was also blown on the English Premier League, and the rest is history. With Simple Minds providing the backing track for what was labelled 'a whole new ball game', the £304m investment by Sky TV heralded the first step in what would become a 30-year upward trajectory in every single aspect. Now almost unrecognisable from those formative years, the size and reach of the English Premier League is unrivalled in the world game.
But while the decision of the 20 founder members of the English Premier League to breakaway from the Football League in order to negotiate their own television deal caused concern for clubs lower down the pyramid, the formation of the League of Wales was not without controversy either. While Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham would remain in the English Football League, the initial refusal of eight other Welsh-based clubs to switch over to their own domestic game, and the subsequent ruling to prevent them playing in Wales, sparked a long-running legal battle that would cloud over those initial early years.
The late Alun Evans was Secretary General of the Football Association of Wales at the time and was a passionate advocate of the League of Wales. With an appreciation of the importance of a national league for a country competing at international level and a member of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), Evans was a key figure in turning the league into reality, and there was no prouder individual than Evans when that opening weekend finally arrived.
Former referee John Deakin had taken over the reigns as secretary of the new League of Wales, and he would remain in position until his retirement in 2012. Like Evans, Deakin was a committed and outspoken advocate of the league, and he would oversee a number of significant changes during his tenure. Despite the negative press caused by the continuing legal challenge of the 'Irate Eight', Wales' first national league was now in place and the inaugural winners would claim a place in the Preliminary Round of the UEFA Champions League.
Holywell Town and Everton are based approximately 30 miles apart, and both teams were home on 15 August 1992. But while Everton opened their Premier League story with a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park, Holywell Town suffered a 4-1 defeat against Ebbw Vale to leave them bottom of the League of Wales table on that opening weekend. Steve Woods was on target for the visitors as he scored the first of his 29 league goals that would earn him the first Golden Boot award, an achievement helped by his six-goal haul in a 10-0 win over Briton Ferry Athletic later that season.
Abergavenny Thursdays and Llanidloes Town both suffered opening day home defeats against Bangor City and Haverfordwest County respectively, and the two clubs would find themselves occupying the two relegation places at the end of the season. Both teams would later suffer respective 6-0 home defeats against Afan Lido and Aberystwyth Town during the campaign, and over the course of the last 30 years neither club has managed to return to the domestic top-flight. Afan Lido would win the inaugural League of Wales Cup that season, and striker Mitch Patton scored the first League of Wales goal with his strike in the 2-1 win over Connah's Quay Nomads on that opening day.
Tomi Morgan has a long association with the domestic top-flight as a player, manager and now a Sgorio pundit, and he was in the dugout at Park Avenue on 15 August 1992 as his Aberystwyth Town side claimed a 3-2 win over Caersws. Mike Davies scored twice in one of the few games captured by the BBC cameras at the time. Morgan would play for and manage a number of clubs over the course of the next three decades, and holds the record of being the oldest player in the league having taken to the field for Welshpool Town at the age of 53 back in 2010.
Conwy United were also successful on the opening weekend with a 3-1 win at Briton Ferry Athletic, while Inter Cardiff and Llanelli also returned from North Wales victorious having defeated Mold Alexandra and CPD Porthmadog 1-0 and 2-1 respectively. However, the most entertaining match of that first round of fixtures took place at Latham Park as Newtown and Maesteg Park played out a 4-4 draw to each take a share of the points. Colin Reynolds scored twice for Newtown in what was the first of his record 516 league appearances.
The final match of that first weekend took place at Cwmbran Stadium as goals from Mark Smith and Mickey Copeman earned their side a 2-0 win over Flint Town United. Under the guidance of the late Tony Wilcox, Cwmbran Town would eventually become the inaugural League of Wales champions as they finished the campaign with a five-point advantage over Inter Cardiff. Their success meant that they would become the first club from the Welsh domestic game to compete in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers the following season, but they were narrowly eliminated on away goals against Cork City.
Evans sadly passed away in November 2011 at the age of 69, and he remained a supporter of the national league that became his Welsh football legacy. The JD Cymru Premier has come a long way since that first Saturday afternoon, and reflecting on what has already been achieved on this anniversary offers optimism for what the domestic top-flight can become in the future.
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