The South Wales League was formed in 1891. From the start, it was a rather disorganised affair, with clubs dropping out at regular intervals during the season. In an attempt to make things fairer, a complex bonus system was used, whereby points were awarded for certain scratched fixtures. This was not implemented in any standard form, and the table at the seasons end was so unsatisfactory that the League asked the top three clubs, Aberdare, Treharris and Porth, to play-off for the championship. After these games were completed, Treharris were declared champions.
To facilitate the next season, the South Wales and Monmouthshire Football Association was formed, and within that organisation, a League Management Committee was formed.
The next two seasons were completed with reduced membership, and without a full programme being completed by the majority of clubs. From the outset, the League were extremely firm in their resolve that all fixtures were to be completed by the end of April. Any application for an extension to the season was steadfastly refused. This led to a number of incomplete tables, but the Leagues expressed opinion was, whichever club led the table at the end of April were champions, however many outstanding fixtures remained.
At the completion of the 1893-94 season, the Management Committee announced the winding-up of the League. The Championship Trophy, named as the Athlete Cup, was presented to the SWFA for a competition to be called the South Wales Junior Cup. It was explained that in the SWFA’s opinion, the League system worked against the emergence of new clubs, and that a knock-out competition was preferable for their encouragement. This astonishing decision was, in the main, acquiesced to by the clubs, and the only meaningful fixtures played during that season were cup games. This resulted in a reduction in the already meagre media coverage and a lowering of standards throughout the area.
During season 1895-96, the Cardiff club, frustrated by this state of affairs, became the first South Wales club to try and enrol in the English league system. They applied to join the Western League, and were accepted for that season. After a promising start, problems arose selecting a team to consistently travel the longer journeys demanded. A number of games were completed with only ten men, and fixtures were scratched on an increasingly regular occasion. After a warning went unheeded, they were expelled from the league in Jan 1896.
By the end of the season, pressure from the other leading South Wales clubs forced the SWFA to concede that the clubs were entitled to form a league, and that there was little they could do to stop it. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but a new league did start the 1896-97 season.
After a shaky first season, the league grew in strength, and usually numbered at least eight to ten clubs in membership. A Second Division was formed, but without automatic promotion or relegation.
In 1904, the April edition of the Merthyr Express reported the forming of a new league, the Rhymney Valley League. The only reason expressed for the formation of a new league was that the SWL was overly dominated by Cardiff clubs. Given that there were never more than two Cardiff clubs in membership at any given time, this seems rather a curious statement
Other than the traditional antipathy towards Cardiff from the Valleys, there does not appear to be any evidence of such bias towards the capital. The League announced its intention to hold its meetings in Hengoed rather than Cardiff, and to only admit local clubs. In the event, the same clubs joined the RVL as were in membership of the SWL, in fact the only club from Cardiff competing at that level, the Corinthians, actually joined the RVL. My own personal opinion is that the creeping onset of professionalism meant that the South Wales clubs wanted more meaningful fixtures, and a new competition provided this. It can be seen that in the inaugural season of the RVL, clubs completed 12 fixtures in the league and 12 fixtures in the SWL, giving an overall fixture list of 24 games during the season, a much improved programme than previously.
Initially, the RVL was very much the junior competition, being reduced to a membership of less than six clubs on a few occasions.
With the willingness of clubs to look across the Severn for competition, the need for the two leagues gradually lessened. It was surprising that it was the Glamorgan League, the successor to the RVL that attracted the stronger interest. Some major clubs left the older league during the 1909-10 season, and after a particularly disjointed 1911 season, the old SWL took stock. It announced in the press its intended membership, about a dozen clubs in all for the new season. Then suddenly, in Sep 1911, the league announced it would be closing for the season, due to its inability to attract strong enough teams. It intended to try again next season, and in the meantime run a Cup competition later in the year, but in fact neither of these intentions ever bore fruit, and the league passed into history.
The Glamorgan League was now able to claim its right as the premier soccer league in South Wales, and in 1913 adopted the present title of the Welsh League.
There was never any connection between the SWL and the RVL, it is wrong to believe that one evolved into the other, they were separate in every way, and the current Welsh League is the successor of the RVL and Glamorgan leagues only, having no connection with the original South Wales League.
It is my personal opinion however, that the SWL should be considered the forerunner of organised football in South Wales, and that its champion clubs should be accorded the right to be listed as such in any meaningful table, and that during the seasons it co-existed with the RVL it should be awarded the same status as that league’s champions.
Clive Wyatt July 2005