Football is often described as a national sport, but for one of the home nations, it’s a sport that’s exploded in popularity over the last few years. Thanks to high-profile success on the pitch, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in interest in the sport at grassroots level.
The current boom can trace its origins back to 2016, when the Welsh National Team enjoyed an enormously successful tournament at the European Championships. It reached the semi-finals, losing out 2-0 to Portugal. On the way, the team dispatched Belgium – which, given the strength of the Belgian national team, is no mean feat.
Wales is a nation of just over three million people, which is even less than that of Croatia. As such, we might consider this among the more impressive journeys in modern international football.
The impact on the game
More visible role models has meant that many small children have decided to take up football – which can only be good for the long-term prospects of the nation. The rise is especially pronounced for girls: the women’s game has grown by 50% since 2016.
Why do Welsh teams play in the English league?
Since Northern Ireland and Scotland get their own leagues, you might wonder why Welsh teams end up competing in the Premier League, Championship and League One. This is a historical quirk; since no Welsh league existed back when certain major teams were founded, they had to remain in the English football league.
The global reach of the Premier League, and the English game in general, is a good reason that these teams will probably never break away from the English national game. The history of the clubs in question is so intertwined with that of the English football league that few fans would countenance a breakaway. After all, Welsh fans dream of their team competing with the likes of Erling Haaland, Bukayo Saka and Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
What about Rugby?
Historically, the most popular sport in Wales has been rugby. But if recent polling data is to be believed, the picture has shifted. Football is now the country’s sport of choice, with 47% of Welsh people being interested in it. The image of the Welsh FA has also improved, with 53% holding a positive view of the organisation.
With all of this in mind, the success of the national teams will only continue to impact the overall participation of sport in Wales, with football continuing to become increasingly popular at grassroots level. Not only that, but with government funding in Wales into the improvement of facilities, it’s only going to continue to increase in popularity.