Football: Wales fears for forgotten victims

The infamous grant was vital for the Giggses of the future.
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ENGLAND'S hopes of staging the 2006 World Cup may have been seriously undermined this week, but the real fears in Wales are that the main victims will be the next generation of Welsh footballers.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Football Association's decision to grant pounds 3.2m over eight years to their Welsh counterparts, allegedly in exchange for the Football Association of Wales's support of Keith Wiseman in Wiseman's unsuccessful attempt to win election to the Fifa executive, there is no doubt at all that the money was badly needed.

One of the problems is that the FAW has already spent some of it by making pounds 200,000 available to set up FAW Football in the Community Ltd, a registered charity known as the FAW Trust.

The trust was brought about to handle the distribution of money to football at grass-roots level throughout the Principality, and the appointment of salaried coaching directors who would be charged with the far from easy job of unearthing the next Ryan Giggs. That money was to come from the FA's grant. It immediately became an even more difficult job when the loan was reduced to pounds 900,000 over three years.

It is still not a sum to be sniffed at and the impoverished FAW did not sniff. After all they wanted their pounds 200,000 back under an agreement with the trust that it would be repaid when the FA came up with the first instalment of what was then believed to be the pounds 3.2m.

The sudden and unexpected loss of pounds 2.3m from their budget was a huge blow. But just how huge? "A devastating blow, simply devastating," the former Wales international Mark Aizlewood believes. "It is the biggest blow that could possibly have struck Welsh football."

Aizlewood, capped 39 times by Wales between 1986 and 1995, is one of only four coaches so far recruited on a part-time paid basis by the FAW Trust, although there are several others who are giving their time voluntarily, and he does not yet know if he still has a job.

For the moment, however, Aizlewood has more important things on his mind, such as the effect of the missing money on the FAW Trust. After all, what is the value of a body that has been set up specifically to distribute money where it is most needed if it has no money to distribute? "The trust is now in a very awkward position as it has had several coaches working on a voluntary basis with the implied understanding that part-time and full-time salaried posts would soon become available," Aizlewood added.

"I cannot see how they will be able to create those posts with just pounds 900,000 coming in over the next three years. It works out at less than pounds 6,000 a week and not many jobs can be funded for that, especially as the trust is also supposed to make money available to the youth game throughout Wales."

There is yet another downside. It is understood that the FAW at present allocates a figure believed to be in the region of pounds 100,000 a year to youth development and they could decide to withdraw that if and when the FA money appears on the scene, although the FAW secretary-general David Collins refused to confirm or deny the amount. That would lead to an income of just pounds 200,000 a year available to the Trust, less than pounds 4,000 a week.

"Of course it is better than nothing but I fear that sort of money would be eaten up by administration costs and there would be nothing left for investment in coaches," Aizlewood said. "I think the FAW and the FAW Trust administrators were, at best, naive in putting all these grand schemes in place before they had sufficient money to fund them."

Aizlewood is also concerned about the damage that may have been done to the game's image in Wales. "I believe completely that the members of the FAW council are essentially innocent of any wrongdoing but you would have to have your head in the sand not to see some implication somewhere," he said. "Again the word naive comes to mind and I also think it would be naive of us all not to feel that there is at least an element of truth in the cash-for-votes allegation, though it is something nobody will be able to prove.

"Above all, my chief concern is the future of Welsh football and at the moment it is looking very bleak." No more Ryan Giggses then.