| The Blues are back in Europe but have drawn
a club just 80 miles away! DAVID CLAYTON takes at look at our first
“They’ll be dancing in the streets of TNS tonight,”
laughed Jeff Stelling presenter of Sky Sports Soccer Saturday after
TNS’ latest victory flashed on screen. The panellists joined
in with the laughter and the moment passed as news of other scores
and goals flooded in.
Regular watchers of the aforementioned programme will be familiar
with the name of TNS - Total Network Solutions if we are being
formal - and it’s a fair bet that when news of City’s
seeding in the UEFA Cup was announced and the four possible opponents
listed, most Blues’ fans just knew we’d draw TNS.
The club became the first ever to take the name of their sponsors,
Oswestry-based communications company Total Network Solutions Ltd,
who agreed to put £250,000 into the club over a five-year period,
though TNS managing director Mike Harris has recently bought the club
Without - as best we can -being biased, City’s pairing with
TNS is undoubtedly the game of the round and the romantic links between
this tie and an FA Cup 3rd round match between a Premiership side
and a non-league outfit are bound to be made - and rightly so. It
has already caused headlines in The Sun, The Mirror and the Manchester
Evening News with the nationals baying for a giant-killing feat by
the mid-Wales side also, thankfully, known as ‘The Saints’.
The fact they will also be City’s first competitive opponents
in the City of Manchester Stadium has added even more prestige to
the tie that will firmly put The Saints, who may soon merge with nearby
Oswestry Town, on the British football map. Possibly a full-house
will also ensure a bumper pay-day for the visitors on August 14 but
the small matter of the return leg has already caused much speculation
as to where exactly the venue will be.
TNS’ home at Treflan, The Recreation Ground, holds a capacity
of 2000 fans (the population of the village is just 1000!) and is
completely out of the question due to strict UEFA rules. The Welsh
club’s owner Mike Harris has, to his eternal credit, arranged
for the second leg to be played at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Wrexham's Racecourse Ground, which was the other option, has been
ruled out because the Welsh rugby team are due to play there against
Romania the previous evening. Under UEFA rules, the opposition team
must be able to train on the field of play the night before the match
is played. The Racecourse's capacity would have also had to be reduced
to 10,500 and so TNS are hoping to cash-in on City's huge travelling
Club managing director Mike Harris always favoured the Millennium
Stadium and it appears that the complications at Wrexham have forced
his hand. While the tie is unlikely to fill Cardiff's 72,500 capacity,
it is thought that City could quite easily take 10-20,000 supporters
- or even more - to the match, especially if Blues fans decide to
make it one of their legendary exoduses.
It will be a proud day for The Saints who were officially formed in
1959 after many years as no more than a village team,. They finally
won promotion to the League of Wales for the first time in 1993 and
won the Welsh Cup in 1996, becoming league champions in 2000, and
finishing runners-up for the last two seasons to South Wales outfit
Harris could not contain his delight after the draw had been made.
“I want to be in the pub - it's brilliant! I am absolutely made
up - this is fantastic, the best draw we could possibly have had,”
he said. “I feel sorry for City - they wait 24 years to get
back into Europe only for it to end in defeat at Wrexham! This is
our fifth season in Europe, so we're more experienced than City when
it comes to European football.
”In our dreams last night we thought, what if we get Manchester
City? Our league needs that little boost. Regardless of what the result
is it will be an amazing night. It's not about the money, it's about
raising the profile of Welsh football,” added Harris.
TNS player/boss Ken McKenna, once of Altrincham and also a record
signing for Tranmere Rovers, was equally excited about locking horns
with Kevin Keegan.
“To take on Manchester City is a massive, massive challenge
for a club like ours,” reckoned McKenna. “I didn't even
know they were in our part of the draw until I arrived in Switzerland
for the draw. I thought we would be going somewhere like Denmark or
Norway, so City were not even on our agenda. It's unbelievable.
"We've got less than a six weeks until we play a Premiership
club so there is not a minute to waste. With such a big game, we may
have to change our pre-season plans. We will be giving the tie a lot
of thought and it's vital we get ourselves as fit as possible. Hopefully
we shouldn't have any problems with the travelling arrangements this
time!” joked the Saints’ boss.
Typically, City fans were probably hoping for just the opposite following
last season’s exodus to Hamburg in Germany. More than 4,000
Blues supporters made the journey to the AOL Arena and would have
been hoping for more of the same. Hopefully, City should progress
comfortably and face further tests from farther a field.
Polish side KS Amica Wronki saw off the TNS challenge at a similar
stage last season, winning 5-0 in Poland and 7-2 in Wales. TNS had
taken a shock 2-1 lead in the second leg but crumbled towards the
end of the game. They also tried to bring in Paul Gascoigne earlier
this year to try and boost their championship hopes but the deal never
materialised. Ian Rush is also an adviser to the club so maybe a big
name short-term signing should not be ruled out.
Former Blue Ian Bishop played for Barry Town in their preliminary
Champions League match last season and then left for Rochdale following
Barry’s elimination. TNS, one of only two full-time sides in
the Welsh Premier and several other players such as Gary Brabin and
Steve Evans who have a wealth of experience in English football.
The Saints' latest signing is Bangor City midfielder Simon Davies.
The 29-year old, voted the Welsh Premier player of the season, has
joined on a two-year contract. Davies scored 15 goals as he led the
line for Bangor's third place in the league last season. He was a
member of Manchester United's famous FA Youth Cup winning side of
1992, that included the likes of Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt.
A final twist in the tale is that TNS goalkeeper Dean Williams is
a big City fan and one can only imagine his thoughts of what is surely
realising a boyhood dream. With both games being played in fantastic
stadia, what better way to step back into the European spotlight for
the Blues? This tie could easily amass more than 100,000 fans in total
and become an epic England v Wales encounter.
One thing is for sure, with an owner like Mike Harris, anything is
possible in the weeks leading up to the tie but as for a welcome in
the hillsides, don’t bet on this clash having a few hairy moments
[Reproduced courtesy Manchester City Magazine, July 2003]