International Soccer Network

"Your Source for the Beautiful Game"

Welsh Football Q&A with Mark Pitman

Mark Pitman is the Welsh football correspondent for and also writes for a number of websites, blogs, magazines and programmes.

Visit for a full archive or follow him on @markpitman1 and @UEFAcomMPitman.

1. What should fans expect from the Welsh Premier League this season?

A few surprises are inevitable! Since the league switched to twelve clubs from eighteen there have been a couple of clubs who have surprised for both the right and wrong reasons every season, and this season is not expected to be any different. Champions The New Saints have been the quietest club in the transfer market over the summer, their only addition being talented young goalkeeper Chris Mullock from feeder-league club Cefn Druids, as cover for captain and regular goalkeeper Paul Harrison. A blow for The New Saints will be an injury to former Wales defender Steve Evans and he is not expected to feature. Airbus UK Broughton were their nearest challengers last season and they have again significantly strengthened over the summer, some of their key arrivals being former Northern Ireland international striker Steve Jones along with Chris Simm from Bangor City. Both signings should ensure the Wingmakers are impressive in-front of goal. It is difficult to see any other club challenging these two, and I would expect both clubs to finish in the same positions they finished last season, but maybe separated by a few less points. Elsewhere, Port Talbot Town have strengthened with the return of Rhys Griffiths. One of the most prolific strikers in the history of the league, Griffiths will make an immediate impression, while manager Scott Young has also improved his defence and midfield. Carmarthen Town and Aberystwyth Town have benefited in terms of players from the demise of Llanelli and will both look to improve on last season, while Bangor City could have a difficult season with influential defender James Brewerton expected to miss the season through injury. In fact, Nev Powell’s side could be the surprise team for the wrong reasons, and may even miss out on a top-six place at the time of the mid-season split. Afan Lido remain in the league despite finishing bottom, and new manager Paul Evans has made a number of signings as he aims to improve on last season with the smallest budget in the league. Newtown are another club with limited resources, but manager Bernard McNally has again shown his worth in the transfer market, and the Robins could cause a number of upsets this season. GAP Connah’s Quay have added to their squad but may not have enough for a top-six place at the split, while Prestatyn Town will benefit from the return of striker Lee Hunt from Bala Town. As for Bala and manager Colin Caton, a top-six place will be the initial aim, and they have the experience and quality to achieve it having brought in defender Ryan Valentine, but there will be stiff competition with a number of other clubs targeting this same ambition. One such club will be newly-promoted Rhyl. The former champions arrive looking to restore former glories, and manager Greg Strong has made a number of signings. However, the league has progressed since Rhyl’s relegation in 2010, and it may prove more difficult to break into the top-six than they think.

2. What do you think will happen with Gareth Bale? Where does he rank among current Welsh footballers? all-time Welsh footballers?

Obviously, Gareth Bale is an incredible talent. He has the ability to do anything on the field and this ability is complimented by his excellent attitude and level-headed approach to his career. I think he will move to Real Madrid before the end of the month. Will it be the right move for him? Only time will tell.  However, it is a one-off opportunity for Bale and also for his club, who are unlikely to ever receive such an offer again. In terms of where he ranks amongst the all-time list of Welsh footballers, it is too early in his career to say, but he certainly has the potential to be one of the greats.

3. What additions should fans take note of in the Welsh Premier League this season?

The return of Rhys Griffiths will be interesting following his move to Port Talbot Town. Another striker, Steve Jones, is a high-profile addition to the league and could make a difference for Airbus UK Broughton. Former Blackburn Rovers youngster Danny Laverty has signed for Rhyl following his release from Ewood Park and he will have a point to prove providing he can adapt to playing part-time football in a physical league. Bala Town have signed experienced defender Ryan Valentine and the former Wrexham defender has already impressed for his new club in the UEFA Europa League.

4. Who would you pick for a starting XI if you had to choose only from WPL players?

Difficult question! I would go with the following – Harrison (The New Saints) – Green (Port Talbot Town), Lewis (Prestatyn Town), Kearney (Airbus UK Broughton), Valentine (Bala Town) – Jones (The New Saints), Alex Darlington (The New Saints), Mark Jones (Bala Town), Ryan Fraughan (The New Saints) – Andy Parkinson (Prestatyn Town), Rhys Griffiths (Port Talbot Town).

5. How would you describe the current state of the Welsh national team? What does the future look like?

The national team is only now starting to move on from the Gary Speed era. Manager Chris Coleman has a very difficult job ahead of him, but there are small signs of progress evident in recent games. Craig Bellamy is a influential member of the squad, but he is expected to retire from international football after the current campaign. The long-term project for Coleman must now be to qualify for the European Championship in 2016. There are talented young players emerging such as Jonathan Williams of Crystal Palace and Jake Cassidy of Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there is no quick-fix solution for Wales at the moment. However, the progress is slow, but steady.

6. How important is it to have both Cardiff City and Swansea City in the EPL? What does this say about Welsh football at the moment?

Welsh football enjoyed a successful year last year, and the two flagship clubs defined that success with what they achieved. However, there are domestic issues that need to be addressed, and there are justified concerns over the entire governance structure of the Football Association of Wales. In terms of generating interest, success for Cardiff City and Swansea City is vital, and the national team will also benefit as a result. The Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League is making progress, but more investment is needed in order for this progress to continue. However, the general opinion is that this is indeed a positive time for Welsh football.


Ashley Williams: My Premier League Diary (Review)

Getting a behind the scenes look at the English Premier League is a special thing.  But when you get that look from someone who worked their way up from non-league football, it is priceless.

Ashley Williams: My Premier League Diary is truly a journey of excitement and expectation, tragedy and disappointment, and the world’s best football.  You see it through the eyes of Swansea and Wales captain Ashley Williams, one of the best defenders in the EPL.  The stats show that Williams had the most blocks and the most passes completed by any defender in 2011/2012.

In a single season, he experienced an entire range of emotions: the excitement of promotion, the struggle to stay up, the death of a national team manager, the loss of his club manager to Liverpool, and most of all the demands of a long season in the Premier League.  Simply put, it was an incredible and trying season to say the least.

Williams helped Swansea avoid relegation on their way to a very successful run, one that surpassed the expectations of pundits worldwide.

We see everything: training, league matches, preseason games, the FA Cup, national team games, and everything in between. All from the perspective of a top-flight player, one that makes a difference every time he steps foot on the pitch.

This book is an experience you can’t find anywhere else.  You will truly see what it takes to be a Premier League footballer: the long hours, the sacrifice, playing through pain and injuries, and stepping up your game against the world’s best players. Williams did just that, taking on the best the EPL has to offer. Yes I am talking about the likes Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez, and Wayne Rooney.

You could certainly just watch Swansea on TV or catch a game in person, but the book takes you to a place where no cameras or fans have ever been.  And most importantly you can hear what the players felt in the important moments.  Whether it was the playoff triumph that punched Swansea’s ticket to the top-flight or the big wins against teams they weren’t supposed to beat, you are there to catch every second of Williams’ debut season in the EPL.

The most interesting part of the book was when Williams opened his heart and mind to talk about the loss of two managers, two men that he affectionately called “The Gaffer.” While Brendan Rodgers going to Liverpool was disappointing, the death of Gary Speed was absolutely tragic and really put things into perspective.  Critics of Rodgers won’t be so tough on him once they read about the special impact he has on players. And the tragedy surrounding Speed was much worse than I ever imagined.

If I had to take away one thing from this book, I would have to say that 99.99% of today’s professional footballers are just like us, ordinary people with dreams and a drive to achieve.  Fans and supporters sometimes forget that they are real people who aren’t immune to the issues of everyday life.

Ashley’s story is inspiring and I think many people will have a new favorite player and team after reading this great title.

Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football by Phil Stead (Review)

Following the history of Welsh football is like riding a rollercoaster. Lots of highs and lows, ups and downs. And the fact you never really know what is coming up next.

Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale, and Ashley Williams represent the modern Welsh footballers, but there were many that blazed the trail before them. This is their story.

Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football by Phil Stead is the definitive history of a football nation defined by potential, tragedy, and old-fashioned bad luck. If you love football in Wales, you must have Stead’s newest work.

Stories about the good times (the Golden Age of the 1970s) and the bad (many periods of uncertainty) are told with precision and great knowledge.  We hear about greats like Billy Meredith, Ian Rush, John Charles, Leigh Richmond Roose, and Neville Southall.  We hear about great times like making the 1958 World Cup and any win against mother England, but we were also moved by the tragic deaths of John Hill and Gary Speed.

For every success, there seemed to be a multitude of challenges. From a lack of resources to infighting among supporters to a lack of cooperation from clubs, Wales has faced it all.

The most important aspect of the Welsh game is that it has surivived. Despite ideas to play as a unified GB/UK team, Wales remains steadfast in its national identity.  It means something to be Welsh and it means even more to be a Welsh footballer.

This truly is one of the greatest football titles that I have ever read and is certainly the best title of 2012.  It is a must read for any football fan; you will learn a great deal just as we did.

Welsh Football Preview with Mark Pitman

Pitman is the one of the world’s leading experts on Welsh football.

Welsh football columnist and blogger Mark Pitman takes a look at the new season in Wales in an exclusive interview with ISN.

Visit for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at and

Which Welsh Premier clubs are likely to finish top and bottom of the table?

The usual candidates are expected to finish at either end of the table, although there are usually one or two surprise packages for both the right and the wrong reasons during each campaign. For the title it is hard to look past the current champions The New Saints. They are now the only full-time side in the league and have again strengthened in the summer. Their artificial surface, currently the only one in the league offers a further advantage, and I expect a successful first full season in charge for manager Craig Harrison. Former champions Bangor City are likely to be in the chasing pack while Llanelli will still prove difficult opponents despite losing top goalscorer Rhys Griffiths. Bala Town are a club on the rise and their recent investment has been well-spent by manager Colin Caton. Other contenders for the coveted top-six place at the split include Airbus UK Broughton, Port Talbot Town, and Carmarthen Town. All three have made significant signings during the summer and will improve on last season when all three found themselves in the bottom six at the time of the mid-season split.

At the other end, newcomers GAP Connah’s Quay will prove a tough test with home advantage, but the league has improved since they were last in the top-flight but they should have enough strength to avoid a relegation battle and enough cash to buy their way out of trouble should they find themselves in any during the January transfer window. Prestatyn Town may find it difficult to once again push for a top six place, but this will be through the strengthening of their rivals more than through their own frailties, while Aberystwyth Town may suffer from the lack of an established quality goalscorer and from the loss of goalkeeper Stephen Cann to West Wales rivals Carmarthen. Newtown and Afan Lido are expected to find it difficult with limited budgets compared to their opponents, but both were expected to struggle last season and did impress against the odds, ironically meeting each other in the League Cup Final. Since the reduction to twelve clubs the league has been competitive each and every season with most clubs having plenty to play for right up until the last round of games before the mid-season split and the end of season rewards. A surprise is inevitable though, and with so many clubs investing for and expecting a top-six place by the split, don’t rule out a few managerial changes during the course of the season either.

What players are likely to have the biggest impact league wide?

For the first time in a number of years the Golden Boot is an open competition. Rhys Griffiths has held the title for the last seven seasons and his efforts have finally been rewarded with a move to the Football League with League Two club Plymouth Argyle. Llanelli will miss him after the striker brought an incredible return of 180 goals from 181 games for the club, but manager Andy Legg has replaced him intelligently with Martin Rose from Port Talbot Town and Luke Bowen from the now-defunct Neath. Griffiths was the headline signing for Port Talbot Town with Rose heading in the opposite direction but his Football League opportunity proved too big a temptation.

Greg Draper was another striker in fine form for The New Saints last season and even made his mark in ensuring Olympic qualification for New Zealand before being left out of the final squad. Draper established himself in the league last season with 22 goals from 27 league starts and could make an even bigger impact in an improved side this season. At the other end, defender Kai Edwards was named the Young Player of the Season last year during his time with Neath, and he has now returned to the full-time game with The New Saints and should impress in league’s safest backline. There are a number of talented players that have established themselves in the league over the last few years and a number of new arrivals this season that could make a significant impact. The above is only a small selection, although their influence over the season will depend on the success of their side, and it is no coincidence that two players from champions and title favourites The New Saints have been mentioned.

Are there any newcomers that should make a difference for their WPL side?

This will be a very interesting season in the fact that increased investment at certain clubs has attracted a number of outsiders to the league. Before the reduction to twelve clubs, the league stagnated with the same players moving between clubs, but the move to twelve teams has attracted talented players from the English pyramid into the Welsh system and there have already been some arrivals this summer of players with obvious quality. Airbus UK Broughton have headlined this change in culture with manager Andy Preece signing no less than eight players from his former club Northwich Victoria since his arrival at the Airfield, striker Wayne Riley the latest and highest-profile of these new additions, and the club have enjoyed some positive preseason results.

Port Talbot Town have also attracted some impressive names with former Southampton and Wales Under-21 midfielder Matthew Crowell returning to the club after a spell in Spain and defender Ryan Green becoming the latest former Welsh International to join the domestic top-flight. Ryan Fraughan made a big impact at The New Saints on-loan from Stockport County last season and he is again expected to impress having completed a permanent move to Park Hall. Other players from the English pyramid will also make their debuts in the Welsh Premier League, but how they will adapt to the league is difficult to determine.

Who is the next great Welsh footballer?

Wales have benefited greatly in recent years from the emergence of so many talented young players. The current golden generation includes established Premier League stars such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Neil Taylor amongst others and their introduction to international football at an early age has offered solid experience as Chris Coleman plans for the World Cup qualifiers. The work of former manager John Toshack and his Intermediate manager Brian Flynn cannot be underestimated in developing this generation of player but there are a few more progressing towards the senior game. One of the most talked about is midfielder Emyr Hughes of Manchester City. Hughes has been talked about for a number of seasons and has played preseason first team football for his club during the summer. His emergence for could come sooner rather than later for the talented teenage star and he already appears destined to join the ranks of the aforementioned Premier League stars very soon, although it may unfortunately take a move away from Manchester City before he can establish himself as a regular in the senior game.

How would you describe the current state of soccer in Wales in general?

There is a stigma attached to the Welsh game which the Football Association of Wales have actively tried to extinguish since Jonathan Ford was appointed Chief Executive. Significant investment and effort has been made to improve all aspects of the Association from the development of the women’s game to the introduction of futsal and many other positive initiatives. Our clubs in the English pyramid system are enjoying great success with Swansea City planning for a second season in the Premier League and rivals Cardiff City looking to join them in the top-flight. Newport County are once again establishing themselves as a professional club and planning to join them in a return to the Football League are Wrexham. Investment into the Welsh Premier League remains a topic of debate, but there are small steps forward being made against some long-standing resentment and the league has benefited greatly from the excellent support of broadcasters S4/C who now show one live match every Saturday afternoon during the season.

The national team took significant strides forward under the late Gary Speed and now Chris Coleman and his backroom staff must rebuild and restore the optimism that emerged under the guidance of Speed. The challenge for the national league is a difficult one in testing financial times as the lack of support makes it difficult for clubs to continue with sustained investment to challenge for the European prizes available for success. Neath are a prime example having been liquidated during the summer, but other clubs in the past have suffered a similar fate, and there will be others to follow unless clubs learn to spend within their means. The national team also have a difficult challenge ahead as World Cup qualification in 2014 will depend on having every player available for every game. There are positives and negatives to take from each Welsh football situation at present, for some the glass is half-full but for others it is half-empty. However, domestic and international success can be achieved with unity and the potential is very much there.

Swansea City 5, Port Talbot Town 0

Pitman is the one of the world's leading experts on Welsh football.

Mark Pitman is a prominent Welsh football journalist and blogger. Visit for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at and

Scottish striker Stephen Dobbie let his football do the talking in the sunshine on Saturday as he grabbed an opening half hat-trick to show new manager Michael Laudrup that he is determined to put the disappointment of last season behind him.

Dobbie opened the scoring from the penalty spot against the Welsh Premier League side within the opening few minutes and the lead was doubled by Leroy Lita. Laudrup took a backseat as Alan Curtis and Kristian O’Leary directed his side from the sidelines in a match when the experimental Swansea side were rarely troubled.

Dobbie added his second penalty of the game midway through the opening half after the home side had enjoyed a spell of possession, and then added a fourth just before the break with a performance that would have impressed his impressionable new boss. A number of changes at the break made for a more even second half, but young Henry Jones added a fifth for Swansea City as they outplayed their opponents in front of a large crowd.

How those involved in the match will feature in Laudrup’s squad this coming season is difficult to judge, but Dobbie has done his chances no harm, and both he and his side can be pleased with their afternoon’s work.