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TNS IN MILLENNIUM 'DREAMLAND'
by Paul Abbandonato, The Western Mail
IT has to rank as one of the most surreal stories in the 127-year history of Welsh football.
The little mid-Wales village club with no name, other than that of their sponsor, playing in Europe against a star-studded Premiership team managed by former England manager Kevin Keegan.
Oh, at the Millennium Stadium too!
Oh, I almost forgot, this is after the team with no name have followed in the footsteps of Barcelona by becoming one of the first sides to play at the plush City of Manchester Stadium, the brand new home of Keegan's Premiership stars.
Roy of the Rovers comic strip apart, the only thing missing to complete the football fairytale to beat the lot of them is a TNS win over Manchester City when they meet in their two-legged UEFA Cup clash on August 28.
But, hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, little TNS aren't totally ruling that one out, either!
Asked if his players would be practising how to lob 40-year-old David Seaman, Man City's new 'keeper, TNS manager Ken McKenna quipped, "We're already doing a lot of work on that in training!"
As for how his defenders will cope with the goal threat of Robbie Fowler and Nicholas Anelka, McKenna said, "Look, Man City aren't just in a different league to us, they're in a different universe!
"We must have the toughest first-round qualifying draw in the history of the UEFA Cup, because the big clubs don't normally come in at this stage.
"But what an opportunity for this little club of ours to really put Welsh football on the map."
In journalistic terms, they call this the silly season - the time for stories about rumours of who's joining who, speculation and innuendoes.
So when TNS' go-ahead chairman Mike Harris declared last Saturday that he wanted to go to the Millennium Stadium for the 'home' leg against Man City, the story was reported... but few of us believed it would really happen.
At exactly one minute past nine on Monday morning, however, Harris and Millennium Stadium manager Paul Sergeant, their appetite whetted by the publicity the idea had already generated, spoke on the telephone.
Within two days, they had thrashed out terms to bring the game to Cardiff in arguably the most audacious move in Welsh football history.
And so, after Wales internationals, the FA Cup Final, Worthington Cup Final and Play-Off finals, we have the first European club game to be staged at the ground.
When newspapers on the continent start to learn of the TNS fairytale, rest assured the name of the Welsh club will be put on the football map throughout Europe.
This is the team from the village of Llansantffraid, population barely above 900, couple of pubs, the odd takeaway and little else - except, of course, one of the most visionary chairmen in Welsh football in Harris.
He is the man who changed the name from Llansantffraid to that of Total Network Solutions, the club sponsors.
That was a football first. So is staging a European tie so far from your home town - or village, as is the case with TNS.

Harris eschews easy option
The easy option for Harris was to take the home leg of TNS' tie to Wrexham's Racecourse Ground. Just down the road from Manchester, he could have guaranteed a six-figure windfall from a 10,500 gate.
Just what size crowd TNS v Man City will draw three and a half hours away in Cardiff is anyone's guess.
Man City, unlike their more famous neighbours at Old Trafford, actually draw the majority of their fan base from the city of Manchester itself.
Will those fans travel down in their droves to watch the second leg of a tie which may already be over, if Man City's class tells in the first leg two weeks earlier?Will fans from South Wales come to watch the likes of Seaman, Fowler and co?
Will those superstars even be picked by Keegan, what with the TNS return game being played right in the middle of crunch Premiership clashes with Blackburn and Arsenal
Will the cost of hiring the Millennium Stadium prove a financial gamble which fails?
These are the great imponderables. But TNS decided these were risks well worth taking.
Harris' right-hand man Richard Hann, a TNS director, could scarcely keep the smile off his face as the Millennium deal was officially announced yesterday.
"People say it's a bold move, which it is. 'Wow, you're moving your game to the Millennium Stadium,' they will say.
"But Mike's a great believer in making pipe dreams come true. He feels that from time to time you have to do things out of the ordinary to capture the imagination.
"We've certainly done that. Whatever the result on August 28, people will always remember TNS playing Man City at the Millennium Stadium.
"That can only be good for us, for the Welsh Premier and for Welsh football in general."
He went on, "Working with Mike means you spend half your time smiling and thinking 'This is great' and half your time pulling your hair out.
"But his philosophy is that if no-one is being stirred up, nothing moves. I've never known a man with such dynamism and he will be a very proud man when his team run out at the Millennium Stadium on August 28."
As he will be on August 14, when TNS play the first leg at the City of Manchester Stadium.
The cock-a-hoop Welsh minnows couldn't resist one last tongue-in-cheek comment.
"We're the first team to play a competitive match there. Man City play Barcelona in a friendly on the Sunday, and then it's us four days on. I hope they are properly prepared for the big one... on the Thursday!"

27 June 2021
 
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