When Gareth Bale’s free-kick hit the back of the net to set up Wales’ World Cup play off win against Ukraine, it did much more than end our 64-year wait to reach the finals.

It also netted a potential economic uplift which will earn the country many millions of pounds in football-related commercial activity and by increasing awareness of Wales globally.

That’s because as well as giving many Welsh people a spring in their step and a smile on their faces, taking part in the planet’s richest sporting event is also great for business.

The Centre for Retail Research estimated that England’s qualification for Russia in 2018 was worth £1bn in extra spending even before a ball was kicked, thanks to fans flooding supermarkets for extra food and drink, and thronging pubs. There’s also the feel-good factor of cheerful people feeling readier to spend their cash if their team is doing well.

It seems certain that Wales can also reap big dividends from December’s football jamboree – especially if they can make progress to the later stages. Awareness of Wales will be increased by our appearance at the World Cup, and this may provide opportunities for export, inward investment and tourism, as more people learn about Wales and what we can offer.

And that brings me to my theme today, which is that we really need that kind of economic boost right now.

The Economic Intelligence Wales quarterly report for June 2022 paints an unhappy picture of businesses in trouble and consumer confidence on the skids. And this report was published before last week’s Bank of England base rate rise and its announcement that it expects a fall in the economy in this quarter, and for inflation to be even higher, going above 11% in the autumn when the energy cap resets. The sunnier outlook glimpsed towards the end of 2021 has faded as the darkening mood across the world economy in the early months of 2022 was deepened by the effects of war in Ukraine.

Forecasts for the UK – and Welsh – economies for 2022 and 2023 have been tempered, and volatility remains high.

The bad news for us in Wales is that the global freeze has seen the number of small and medium businesses in Wales fall, and the figures are especially stark for tiny businesses – sole traders, single-premises retailers, freelancers and the like. Confidence among Welsh SMEs was lower than in any other region of the UK in the final quarter of 2021.

There is no single reason for the malaise, but high on the list – unsurprisingly – is increasing cost pressures.

Those findings chime with the experience of ACCA accountants and their clients.

Our monthly SME Recovery Tracker, compiled with The Corporate Finance Network (CFN), found that one in five UK SMEs are being hampered in their growth ambitions by financial pressures.

The survey, which polls accountants on the financial outlook of their SME clients, reveals that mounting pressures such as surging inflation, heightened supply chain issues, the energy crisis and complications gaining access to finance are piling up, causing severe interruptions to growth.

SMEs are fighting for survival as they seek financial resilience in the face of supply chain disruptions and the challenges of late payments. In fact, in the next year almost half of SMEs have already, or plan to, increase checks on the credit status of their customers and around a third on their suppliers. Alongside this, 40% of UK businesses are looking to secure more finance in the short term from mortgages and 23% from overdrafts and unsecured loans. In Wales this rises to 59% and 39% respectively.

And yet there’s still some sunshine.

Despite the pressures, UK SMEs are still optimistic about opportunities for growth in the next year. Over two thirds of SMEs anticipate they will have more employees in the next 12 months while accountants note they expect only 5% of businesses will not survive  over the next year.

However, these aspirations are not matching up to SMEs’ financial and resource realities. Worryingly, only 22% of UK SMEs are utilising and updating a cashflow forecast routinely. Without keeping a close eye on money flow, SMEs risk not meeting their existing financial obligations, which will hinder any growth plans.

This growth is also at risk due to a shortage of skills. Although over two thirds of UK SMEs have adopted a hybrid or remote working model since the pandemic, over half are struggling to recruit staff with the required skills. Worryingly, this number jumps to 69% in Wales.

SMEs have already had a strained start to the year and urgently require certainty and further support to navigate the next few months.

Earlier findings in January noted over a third of SMEs were feeling more anxious and stressed due to financial pressures and it is crucial there are measures in place to support business leaders to stop another increase.

In order to protect businesses, the UK and Welsh governments need to consider the ongoing pressures and offer the right support to bolster the Welsh economy at a time of great uncertainty.

While there is news of a successor programme to the recovery loan scheme once it closes, it’s clear that this will not be available immediately. It’s therefore extremely important that SMEs are aware of the existing finance options available to them in the interim. You can get that kind of help from your professional accountant.

In the meantime we hope that Wales’ footballers can do the business for us out in Qatar, but there’s a limit to what sportspeople can do.

We really can’t just rely on Gareth and the boys to bale us out.