Non-League Football: 'Gang of three' fight on: Welsh bitter

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THERE IS little sign of seasonal goodwill in the often bitter world of Welsh non-League football politics, with the three remaining 'exiles' still outcasts from their own land despite overtures from the Football Association of Wales to entice them back, writes Rupert Metcalf.

Newport AFC, of the Beazer Homes League, and two Northern Premier League clubs, Caernarfon Town and Colwyn Bay, are the three exiled teams, playing their home games at grounds in England. The FAW banned them from playing on their own grounds because of their refusal to join the League of Wales in 1992. While other rebel clubs later submitted to the will of the FAW, the 'gang of three' soldier on, determined to preserve their right to try to progress up the English non-League pyramid towards the Football League.

The FAW has given the exiles until a week today to apply to join the Welsh pyramid next season, but they are not tempted. 'There seems to be an implied threat that if we do not come back now, we will never be allowed back in except at the lowest level,' Dr Emrys Price-Jones, the chairman of Caernarfon, said.

The exiles have had indications this season that Uefa, Europe's governing body, holds no objections to their return to their home towns while remaining in English leagues. Fear of Uefa sanctions has always been used by the FAW as justification of its attitude towards the exiles - a hard-line stance it still refuses to relax.

'There is no logic in what the FAW are doing,' Price-Jones said. 'They are just punishing us out of vindictiveness. We are knocking our heads against a wall.' The three clubs have written to Uefa, urging it to express its views direct to the FAW, but have had no reply.

'We thought the situation had changed,' David Hando, the Newport chairman, said, 'and we shall keep trying to convince the FAW of our case. They claim that Uefa say one thing to us and another thing to them, but they are in fact referring to statements made many months apart.' Officials at the FAW were unavailable for comment yesterday.

This two-year-old saga is not over yet. For Newport (who have a smart new stadium they cannot use) and their fellow exiles this Christmas, home seems a long way away.