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Opinion

Out of touch and out of pocket – how the WRU has been surpassed by the FAW

28 Mar 2022 6 minute read
Photo by jeffdjevdet is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Dan Pearce

Now the intention of this piece is not to create or build on any supposed divide between football and rugby, and particularly between Welsh football and Welsh rugby, it’s actually intending to indulge in a past time that can bring Wales together as a united country; slagging off the Welsh Rugby Union.

I, like I believe the vast majority of sports fans in Wales do, enjoy both football and rugby. I started out playing football and heading down to Ninian Park on Saturday afternoons, before standing on the Arms Park terraces once I was in secondary school, eventually going home and away with Cardiff City, Cardiff Rugby and the Wales national team in both sports.

It seems to me that the idea of some great split or even rivalry between Welsh football and Welsh rugby is created by a vocal minority on both sides, when in truth most are able to just enjoy the sports in slightly different ways. The issue currently though is that it is much more enjoyable going to Wales football games than it is going to Wales rugby games.

Over the last 10 years or so the Football Association of Wales has been at the forefront of developing a fan culture around the Welsh national football team, innovatively building on the socio-political tendencies of supporters to create an experience that is engaging and fan-led.

Fashion and music

With the hotbed of Welsh nationalism in football-mad North Wales combined with the large supporter bases of particularly Cardiff and Swansea who proudly fly the Welsh flag around the Championship week-in, week-out, there are fashion and music elements of the culture that feed into widely held political views amongst the national football team’s support.

Wearing replica jerseys to be part of The Red Wall is encouraged, while deals done with the likes of the independent Spirit of ’58 have brought items such as bucket hats into that clothing culture around the supporter base.

On matchdays supporters are encouraged to get into the ground in good time, around 45 minutes ahead of kick-off, through specific travel pages on the Transport for Wales website, with entertainment put on in the concourse of each stand as music plays a key part in building that fan culture.

A pre-match playlist includes the songs that have become synonymous with being a Wales fan over the years, with the Manics, Phonics and Catatonia alongside Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Men of Harlech and Zombie Nation, while Dafydd Iwan and Super Furry Animals are among the acts who have performed live before kick-off.

Around that then the social media engagement from the FAW, largely through their Cymru channels dedicated to the men’s, womens and age group national teams, take supporters into camp with the squad, offering a level of insight that is close to unrivalled and cementing that relationship between players and fans, with particular focus on the use of the Welsh language.

And finally, a major factor is the FAW’s ticket pricing, generally between £25 and £35 per game which is more than competitive for modern day top level professional sport, aided by a circa £15 membership programme that offers access to qualifying campaign and individual match tickets.

Wales football supporters. Red Wall

Meanwhile the Welsh Rugby Union could not look more out of touch. If the FAW is your cool uncle at the bar buying a round of jäger bombs, the WRU is your grandad in the corner complaining that the music is too loud.

Everything is geared towards bleeding as much money out of supporters of the national rugby team as possible, whether it’s £100 tickets or packing fans into the concourse up to three hours before kick-off in order to increase bar takings, with pre-match entertainment that is tired and stale, with the greatest of respect to the choir and whichever DJ is currently employed at the Principality Stadium.

Around that the social media output from the WRU currently is appalling stuff. There were entire weeks during the Six Nations, undoubtedly the time of highest engagement in the northern hemisphere rugby calendar, where content from The Vale Resort was either minimal, in the form of a few pictures of training, or virtually non-existent.

Welsh language content is then either an afterthought or completely disregarded by an organisation whose emblem is that of the Prince of Wales, and who “boast” of having Prince William as their patron.

Disconnect

The disconnect between Welsh rugby supporters and the national team has never been greater, and all that translates to the flat atmospheres the stadium has seen the last few weeks, culminating in a feeling of indifference as Italy secured their first Six Nations in seven years at the expense of Wayne Pivac’s men.

As things stand even those who could previously afford the £100 tickets are starting to vote with their feet but the WRU, governed by elderly white men with a Head of Commercial who is a solicitor and has zero marketing experience, show no signs of beginning to buck the trend which has destroyed any semblance of positive fan culture at the Principality Stadium.

There is just no comparison when it comes to the build up to Wales international matches in the respective sports, the matchday experience, and above all just the level of respect and understanding that each governing body has for it’s core supporter base. The FAW is simply light years ahead.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and one that has been created solely by the WRU’s amateur governance placing short-term revenue hoarding at the forefront of its motivations above medium/long-term strategy, supporter experience and even the success of the national team itself. Meanwhile in the football, the FAW’s short-term revenues, medium/long-term future, supporter experience and on-field success go from strength-to-strength.

This article was first published on Cardiff Rugby Life.


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arthur owen
arthur owen
5 months ago

Soccer,are you Irish or American?

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
5 months ago
Reply to  arthur owen

Where does it say that?

Gareth
Gareth
5 months ago
Reply to  arthur owen

Soccer is actually a term invented and used in England, an abbreviation of association, to difirenttiate between associatiion football, rugby football and rugby league . The term soccer was used in England from the late 1800, while rugger was used for rugby football. Today we have TV shows on Sky tv such as Soccer AM, and Soccer Saturday, with Jeff Stelling.

Last edited 5 months ago by Gareth
David Harking
David Harking
5 months ago

This is a superb article, how can we take steps towards removing William as the so called patron of Welsh rugby ? Seems very bizarre that an Englishman would choose to support Wales.

Llinos
Llinos
5 months ago
Reply to  David Harking

I’m sure I read somewhere that he is not any more.

Dominic Griffiths
Dominic Griffiths
5 months ago
Reply to  Llinos

Good riddance

Glen
Glen
5 months ago
Reply to  David Harking

The current patron of the FAW is the Queen of England.
Be interesting to see if she gets replaced by another royal after she eventually snuffs it.

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
5 months ago

Very strange that the Welsh rugby union chose too display the English three fethers on the Welsh rugby shirts knowing what that nation done to Wales over hundreds of years.butchering Our people and killed All our royal family our old leaders must be turning in they’re graves

Marc
Marc
5 months ago

Couldn’t agree more, I attended both the Wales v Italy at the Millennium Stadium ( I do not use the word ‘Principality’ and suggest the building society think about a rebrand) and Wales v Austria at the City Stadium. This difference in atmosphere was that of chalk and cheese. I suspect the reasons are many, but I would include the following, International football fans are fans of football and follow their local teams on a weekly basis this cannot be said of rugby. International football has tapped into the independence zeitgeist again this cannot be said of rugby ( at… Read more »

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
5 months ago

I also suggest the FAW gets rids of the queen of england as their patron and swap her for Ian Rush.

David Jones
David Jones
5 months ago

If you look at the supporters in a Wales football game I would bet that over 70% can be seen at the league games, but in Wales rugby games 70% have never been to a non international game.

Kurt C
Kurt C
5 months ago
Reply to  David Jones

Club rugby for such a rugby nation is a disaster sadly. They need to find a connection

Paul Hoskins
Paul Hoskins
5 months ago

A very interesting article which accurately describes the WRU amateurish governance and attitude to fans.

Gareth
Gareth
5 months ago

At the Cardiff City Stadium everything about game day is about our country, its team and support, with not a mention of our neighhbours over the border, or invites to their royal family. It is all about Cymru, as it should be. The team is also always referred to as Cymru,rarely Wales.

Last edited 5 months ago by Gareth
Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
5 months ago

The two emblems say it all to me

Last edited 5 months ago by Stephen Owen
Ritchie Craven
Ritchie Craven
5 months ago

I was a die-hard rugby supporter until about 12 years ago. I went to a Wales football game and I haven’t been to an international rugby game since.
Wales v Austria was amazing and then got even better when the football started!

Andy Williams
5 months ago
Reply to  Ritchie Craven

Been a rugby fan all my life, will never attend an international again, the WRU, treat the Welsh rugby public as cash cows. FAW, show the way.

Glen
Glen
5 months ago

It’s noticeable how much younger generally the football crowd is compared to rugby.

Dewi Davies
Dewi Davies
5 months ago

Getting slightly off the point.Does anyone know why the British Military is always involved in proceedings.?What’s that about.?

Keith Evans
Keith Evans
5 months ago

I like rugby just not as much as football and the rugby culture just wasn’t my bag,the rather servile attitude of the WRU to all things British didn’t help me coming from a nationalist background.But probably the biggest negative for my generation( I’m 58) was Welsh PE teachers!

Glen
Glen
5 months ago
Reply to  Keith Evans

The grammar school my father attended in the 60’s wouldn’t even allow kickabouts with a ‘soccer ball’ during lunch breaks. It was touch rugby or nothing.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
5 months ago

Dan Pearce makes some very valid points in his criticisms of the WRU but the ‘WRU bad – FAW good’ narrative he puts forward here, a bandwagon others seem to be jumping on since last thursday, seems to be a recent construct. As someone who has followed the Wales football team for 50 years i can assure people that nobody was saying these things in the 4 decades between 1976 and 2016, a period when Wales sadly failed to get out of their qualifying groups. Which begs the question what happens to Dan’s narrative if Wales go thru another lengthy… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Leigh Richards
George
George
5 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

There have been a series of hot-takes since Thursday but I hope we remember that such a fantastic atmosphere was based on “Together Stronger” where sporting success (and wider positive implication) are seen as more important that tribal rivalry. There are people who sang Yma o Hyd apolitically (in same way crowds sing “we are toppa the league”), some who sang it thinking about football independence and some who who sang it with wider independence in mind. All need to be welcome at Welsh football to keep the good times going and the interest in Welsh culture to grow. WRU… Read more »

George
George
5 months ago

Any relationship will have highs and lows and will have moments where it needs work, any relationship will be easier in moments where there are good times. There’s been a lot of criticism of WRU recently but we should recognise that WRU and FAW have recently given the team every chance of success with fantastic trips to Japan and France respectively – both enhanced sports chance of succeeding in that moment and of Wales creating a lasting legacy/creating lasting connections. £100 is a lot for tickets but WRU didn’t create the drinking culture which lead to Millennium being named biggest… Read more »

Phil Jones
Phil Jones
5 months ago

Ospreys ST holder here. I cannot imagine that I will ever attend a rugby international again. Too many stag/hen parties, mad drunkenness and stupidly expensive. Whats more how is it that at the end of this year’s Six Nations none of the Ospreys players who wore the Welsh jersey were available to play for the Os a week later? Too tired were they? Bless.
Disillusioned ? Oh Yes.
I bet that I wasn’t the only one cheering for Italy at the end of that debacle.
And the atmosphere at CCS (on my TV sadly) was amazing.

Colin Williams
Colin Williams
5 months ago
Reply to  Phil Jones

Scarlets season ticket holder here and, surprisingly, I agree completely with Phil.

Andy Williams
5 months ago
Reply to  Phil Jones

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Totally agree

Llyn
Llyn
5 months ago

An issue for rugby is that the Principality stadium is way too big and allows 30-40 k of fans to attend the match who are just there for the social and don’t watch any rugby besides internationals. As for the rugby matches having the same culture/build up as the football I’m not sure that many Welsh Rugby fans would know what’s going on and would find it all to risqué. That’s fine it’s a different sport.

Glen
Glen
5 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

Absolutely, rugby fans are mostly from a totally different demographic.

Erisian
Erisian
5 months ago

It’s the fans also. Rugby fans don’t watch the game, they just get drunk and spill the beer over kids.

stuart stanton
stuart stanton
5 months ago

Stick to Rugby League, myself. Nothing to lose and all to gain, team will give 100% in World Cup later this year, need to as an almighty Tonga are in the group…….all games shown on BBC, including Women and Wheelchair tournaments…

Argol Fawr!
Argol Fawr!
5 months ago

A spot on article. Then there’s the appalling WRU amateur league governance across North Wales. Where game officials still have a 1960’s attitude to on pitch violence. Who the heck would allow skilled youths with real potential to play in in a game culture where beating up the better opponents goes unpunished by most referees.

Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis
5 months ago

Isn’t a certain Mrs Windsor a patron of FAW ?

David Smith
David Smith
5 months ago

The WRU are cap-doffing quislings.

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