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VILLAGE SIDE'S PATH TO GLORY
A VILLAGE side that a decade ago was playing in the Montgomeryshire Amateur League has been beaten at the Millennium Stadium by one of the biggest names in English football.
Total Network Solutions (TNS) - as the former Llansantffraid are now known - lost 2-0 to Manchester City in the Uefa Cup's first qualifying round on Thursday night.
Goals from Christian Negouai and Darren Huckerby saw Kevin Keegan's side win the match.
TNS, aka The Saints, lost the first leg of the match 5-0 in Man City's new City of Manchester Stadium a fortnight ago, leaving them with little chance of springing a major upset.
Regardless of the result though, the appearance of TNS under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium completed an amazing story that has seen them rise from local league football to the European spotlight.
The mid Wales club, whose home village boasts a population of just 900, was on the brink of closure as recently as 1990.
They survived and even triumphed in the Welsh Cup in 1997.
But the real change in the club's fortunes took place in 1997 when Llansantffraid become the first club in British football ever to take the name of their shirt sponsor - local information services firm Total Network Solutions - and became TNS FC.
Club chairman and managing director Mike Harris said the idea to merge the identities of club and sponsor came to him by chance.
"We had been shirt sponsors for a year and the club approached me to see if we wanted to repeat the arrangement the following season," he said.
"I told them that if the club changes its name to that of the company then I'd be interested.
"Twenty-four hours later, they said yes.
"I never planned it - like most things in business, it came by chance.
"I knew that Llansantffraid had their results read out on TV so it would be good publicity for the firm, but we didn't know it would be this successful and they'd be playing teams like Man City in Europe."
Six years later, TNS the company has increased its turnover from 5m to more than 20m, while TNS the football club has gone full-time professional and has played in the Champions League.
"Europe is our holy grail and we want to be playing the like of Man City every year," Mr Harris added.
"We challenged conventions with our name and now we want to challenge conventions by becoming the first Welsh League team to play in the group stages of the Champions League.
"Our other goal is to get a TNS player in a full national side, whether it's Wales or England."
About 2,500 TNS fans travelled from mid Wales to see their heroes battle against the odds and City's multi-million pound stars.
In all, a crowd of around 10,000 was expected at the 72,500-seat Millennium Stadium, well short of capacity but considerably more than the 800 who usually watch the club at their Treflan stadium.
One fan who made the trip was Martin Hilditch, 38, from Welshpool, who for the last five years has combined following the Saints with being a Chelsea season-ticket holder.
He said: "When I started following TNS, it was like Sunday football and I never would have predicted they would play in matches like this.
"There used to be 80 people watching them, but now TNS are professional and I've followed them to places like Estonia and Poland.
"Unlike Chelsea, you can get to know the individual players and I was so proud of how they did against City in the first leg - even though we lost 5-0."
The one-time parks football team is now preparing to move into a new stadium in nearby Oswestry and has a thriving women's section and youth academy.
But even chairman Martin Harris knew that beating City would be near impossible, and said that his team might have a chance if they closed the roof and turned off all the lights.

[BBC Sport}

29 August 2021