Ill Met by daylight

A grand total of 134 people were at Cyncoed Campus last Saturday to watch Cardiff Met play The New Saints (TNS) in the Welsh Premier League (WPL). Cardiff Met’s smallest crowd of the season so far is not a new world record for the fewest ever to attend a top-flight football match in any capital city anywhere – but, never fear, our ‘Proud Capital’ (sic) already comfortably holds that record, and it is unlikely to be beaten this side of Armageddon. The two other clubs from Cardiff that have had stints in the WPL, Grange Harlequins and Cardiff Met’s disowned forerunners Inter Cardiff/Inter CableTel/UWIC Inter Cardiff, regularly ‘attracted’ sub-100 gates to the old Leckwith Stadium they both briefly called home. It was all three incarnations of the latter that jointly set the record Cardiff low of 52 paying customers through the turnstiles on three separate occasions: Inter CableTel v Holywell Town in March 1999, Inter Cardiff v Conwy United in May 2000 and UWIC Inter Cardiff v TNS in November 2000. Cardiff’s claims to be “world class” are certainly accurate – just not in the way intended. The city’s humiliation can’t be mitigated by the fact that the record for the WPL’s all-time smallest attendance resides elsewhere (42, Maesteg Park v Flint Town United, April 1995), because that still amounts to 0.3% of the population of the Llynfi valley town, a percentage far, far beyond the wildest dreams of Cardiff’s clubs. Just 0.04% of Cardiff’s 350,000 population, for instance, turned up to see Met take on the newly-crowned WPL champions – a proportion so infinitesimal it effectively means nobody after you take into account the players’ friends and families, fellow students getting in for a quid and the TNS entourage.

Cardiff Met have had a surprisingly good debut season in the WPL, playing well-organised, skilful football on their 3G pitch and making the half-way cut to finish in the championship group and so guarantee safety from relegation. Meanwhile, TNS have had an unsurprisingly great 24th consecutive season in the 25-year-old WPL. Before the clocks have gone forward, the Saints have won the title for the 6th time in a row (manager Craig Harrison equalling the record three titles of Barry’s Gary Barnett and two of his TNS predecessors Ken McKenna and Carl Darlington) and the 11th time in total, while establishing a new world record of consecutive victories by a top-flight team (27, topping the previous record of 26 set in 1972 by Dutch giants Ajax until held to a draw by Newtown in January) and still being in contention for an unprecedented ‘Treble Treble’: the WPL title + League Cup (both already won) + Welsh Cup (semi-final against Connah’s Quay upcoming) for the third year running. Pretty high quality live entertainment was guaranteed, the weather was not too bad, and the mainstream sporting alternatives (Cardiff City v Ipswich Town, France v Wales rugby on TV, yawn) could hardly be described as compelling. Yet the pitiful attendance was less than half Cardiff Met’s average, currently 284 with three home games to play. How can this be explained?

I’ll tell you. Foremost, of course, is the reason why WPL attendances are generally so miserable, and have been since the inaugural 1992/93 season: a systematic, deliberate, relentless and virtually total media blackout. No league in the world can possibly build a spectator base in these circumstances. The London newspapers and broadcasters that dominate the Welsh media give the WPL zero coverage, while just getting a mention in their supposedly Welsh-specific sub-branches is almost unheard of. The starkest example of this is the BBC, the UK’s biggest provider of football news and information via TV, radio and its website. Not only is the WPL ignored by the corporation’s TV and radio coverage, whether emanating from London or Llandaf, but also, in complete breach of their legal requirement to be both impartial and truthful, the BBC website’s ‘Welsh Football’ section is all about English football! Apart from news about the Wales national team, it consists entirely of material pertaining to Swansea City of the English Premier League, Cardiff City and Newport County of the English Football League and Wrexham of the English National League. All the top five divisions in England, along with each of the 116 clubs involved, have their dedicated web pages. These four clubs are thus covered in micro-detail in their correct leagues already, yet the BBC’s ‘Welsh’ section is hijacked by pointless duplication of that excellent coverage (very preferential treatment enjoyed by none of the other 112 English clubs). The BBC do this to conceal their absolute refusal to give Welsh football any coverage at all, or otherwise the pages would be blank. Let’s get this quite clear: their Scottish website is devoted to the Scottish pyramid, Northern Irish to the Northern Irish pyramid, English to the English pyramid – and ‘Welsh’ to the English pyramid also, leaving our domestic pyramid nowhere to be found. This is simply a lie, as wrong as putting Aberystwyth Town or Berwick Rangers under England – Swansea City really do play in the English Premier League and are officially categorised by FIFA, UEFA and the FA as an English club. In most circumstances imaginable the BBC would immediately correct such patently and demonstrably incorrect information were it brought to their attention. But not in this case. As a licence-payer I have tried for years to have the lie withdrawn and the bias against Wales rectified, and repeatedly found that it is well nigh impossible to get so much as an acknowledgment let alone a response from the arrogant, unaccountable propaganda machine.

Those directly responsible for this blatant breach of explicit BBC charter obligations to not knowingly misinform and to not discriminate against any part of the UK are all Welsh: Director of BBC Wales Rhodri Talfan Davies, Head of Sport Geoff Williams and Head of Digital Richard Thomas. Betraying Wales for personal advantage has long been a defining characteristic of our colonial governors, cadres moulded in the image of the colonisers and installed to control Wales from within. Rhodri Talfan Davies, for example, has done such a superb job for the British State that the knighthood his conscientious forelock-tugging deserves is surely only a matter of time.  The Audience Council for Wales, the Welsh government, Senedd committees, the Open Democracy movement and Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media & Cultural Studies have all comprehensively trashed the appalling record of Talfan Davies, who has presided over a 32% cut in already meagre Welsh-specific programming. But their withering attacks on the non-existent service provided to English-speaking Wales and his complete failure to address the issue have provoked no reaction. Talfan Davies merely puts the finishing touches to an entirely superfluous vast new luxury HQ for him and his 1,200 staff (not one of whom can be spared to cover the WPL) being erected slap bang in the centre of Cardiff where a rather useful bus station used to be. Oh yes indeed, it takes a special sort of smug self-satisfaction to control the Welsh media. The talent must be inherited, given that his father, grandfather and great uncle all held the equivalent job in their day. Or perhaps that’s just the Divine Right of Talfan Davies, carved in tablets of stone…

The absolute absence of a dedicated Welsh media plus the refusal of Westminster to devolve Welsh broadcasting to Wales mean that Talfan Davies and his lamentable operation answer to nobody, are never called to account and thus can blithely carry on neglecting Wales with impugnity. So, for now, WPL clubs just have to keep on doing their utmost to generate support locally. In Cardiff Met’s example, the club could implement one measure immediately that would cost nothing and might even encourage a few more to turn up: make it possible to find the bloody ground. There is not a single sign giving directions on the spreadeagled, chaotic mish-mash that is the Cyncoed Campus site and, with the University embarking on a £22 million programme of improvements to other facilities (new swimming pool, sports hall, running track and rugby pitch), the solitary entrance to the football ground (a gap in a fence) is now practically inaccessible because of the building works. A first-time visitor must walk miles around the perimeter, in and out of various annexes, down endless corridors, through courtyards and doorways, thwarted at every turn, before finally locating the way in – and if she’s lucky she might catch some of the first half. Hey, Archers: where are the arrows?