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Does football threaten rugby in Wales?


Welsh rugby fans are celebrating their win over England yesterday which gave them the six nations title. But is the game being increasingly challenged by football in the allegiance of youngsters? The national team still attracts fanantical support, but attendance at long-established clubs such as Llanelli and Pontypridd has been falling.

One of the strengths of rugby in Wales has always been that it cuts across class divisions. In England rugby union (as distinct from rugby league) has always been seen as something of a game for toffs, although efforts are being made to change that image.

The success of Swansea City in the Premiership and their victory in the league cup has appealed to a lot of youngsters and there are concerns that it is undermining the draw of rugby in schools. Next year Swansea City are likely to be joined in the top flight by Cardiff City, renewing their intense rivalry.

It's possible that one Welsh side, and perhaps even two, could be promoted to the Football League this season. Wrexham are currently second in the Blue Square Bet Premier and Newport County are fourth. Wrexham attracted a crowd of just under 4,000 for their game with Luton yesterday.

The Welsh Premier League, however, attracts poor crowds. The two biggest non-league sides are not there, of course, and this also applied to Merthyr Tydfil before it folded. The biggest attendance yesterday was for the game between The New Saints (once Total Network Systems) and Bangor, currently first and third respectively. 356 turned up: as the joke used to go, there are not many people walking in the streets of Total Network Systems. Dividing the league at this stage into a championship conference and a play-off conference doesn't seem to have done much to boost attendances.

Gaelic football in Ireland has feared being undermined by the appeal of football and there it forms part of a traditional Irish identity. Similarly, rugby is an important part of the distinct Welsh identity. Football is something of a globalising force, but as with all globalising forces, there are checks on their spread.