Llansantffraid, population 900, can face the likes of Real Madrid
THEIR pitch is carved out of a hillside, the main stand has a capacity of 150 and the primary school next door is pressed into service as a place to get changed.
But the mid-Wales village of Llansantffraid will be competing in the European Champions' League next season.
With a team bearing the name of the company that sponsors them, Total Network Solutions, this village of 900 straggling alongside the A495 and the River Vyrnwy, just over the border from Oswestry is taking its astonishing achievement remarkably calmly.
"Oh, we've been in Europe before, you know," said the club president, Mike Hughes, a silver-haired little fellow who used to play right wing when Llansantffraid were a strictly amateur side playing in a field down by the river.
Indeed they have. In 1996 the Saints beat Barry Town on penalties to win the Welsh Cup and qualify for the European Cup Winners' Cup.
Using Wrexham's Racecourse Ground, they drew 1-1 with Polish club Ruch Chorzow in the home leg but were battered 5-0 away. "A pity," said Hughes. "Our next opponents would have been Real Madrid."
This time they are in the draw for the preliminary round of Europe's biggest competition, to be made in Geneva on 23 June, because the squad of part-timers again pipped the professionals of Barry Town, champions for the past four years, to win the League of Wales. Nowadays, thanks to TNS, they are far better organised, with a team assembled by Andy Cale, an England youth-team assistant coach, who joined as manager in February 1998.
He has the usual mix - builder, plumber, electrician, two students and a couple who are unemployed. Four of his squad of 20 are from Runcorn and five from the Wrexham area.
None are from the continent. "I did try to get two players from the Isle of Man, but where we are and with our money it just didn't work out," he said.
"But I am very chuffed with this. It leaves everybody connected with the club with a smile on their face."
Wrexham will again be used for the first home game, but the matches which got them this far were won on the village pitch, dominated by a massive oak tree which dwarfs the floodlight pylons.
The lights are a thing of pride for Mike Hughes, who runs a local steel-erecting business. "They cost £32,000 eight years ago and we paid for them ourselves because the FA of Wales said the club was too small, they didn't want us in the League.
They put all sorts of dead-lines and restrictions on us and they still knock us because we are a village. But they were dealing with the wrong man."
This club, who played in the Montgomeryshire Amateur League a decade ago, dealt with very much the right man when they approached Mike Harris, managing director of the Oswestry-based Total Network Solutions, for shirt sponsorship.
Harris, a 37-year-old from Welshpool and a rotund, bespectacled bundle of energy who has been affectionately described as Bart Simpson on speed, is a former BT engineer who has developed his brainchild into one of Britain's fastest-growing companies.
Harris had been watching Five Nations rugby on television when suddenly it switched to football and Llansantffraid winning the Welsh Cup. Harris is a football man ("I still turn out and play Sunday football, not very well I may add") and he was intrigued to learn BBC Wales were covering the match as part-sponsors.
"I agreed to do a shirt deal for 12 months, but at the back of my mind was what a good marketing idea it would be if they ever qualified for Europe again bearing our name."
And so, within three years, it has come to pass. The club agreed to adopt the company name in exchange for a £250,000, five-year deal. Changing Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain to Total Network Solutions may have only extended six syllables to seven, but it caused some heart-searching.
Edgar Jones, the club chairman, said: "We spent many hours debating the issue, but at the end of the day it was a unanimous decision. Nothing else has changed, we are still very much a village club. But the League is becoming more professional and competitive by the day, so it was essential for us to grow, too."
Harris concedes there was initially much scepticism about Total football among supporters.
"But that was quickly wiped away. We have not interfered and have improved the set-up without treading on too many toes.
"Any lingering resentment surely evaporated two weeks ago, when Harris and the team bore the League trophy into the social club alongside their pitch.
Harris could easily have put his company's name on the shirts of much bigger clubs for the same out-lay.
"Several Second and Third Division clubs approached us, but there is no chance of them ever playing in Europe.
The fact that this is a village team makes them news-worthy."
Harris agrees the 18-team Welsh League will never remotely be in Premiership class, but maintains that, properly marketed, it would give the Scottish League "a very good run". As he points out: "Liverpool and Leeds are battling for the final European qualifying spot this weekend, and how many millions has it cost them to achieve that?"
Attention has been growing as a team which came close to relegation in 1997 and finished eighth last year sprinted to the title in the season just ended, closing with a 14-match unbeaten run. So a ground with one of the most stunning views in the land is poised for some improvement. Construction work will begin this week on a new 400-seat stand at one end of the ground.
"We had a slight problem with the old one, now demolished," said TNS spokesman Del Thomas. "It was subsiding. It was a temporary arrangement and was sloping nastily"
In some ways it is a shame that the ground is not up to European competition requirements and that Wrexharn, 25 miles distant, has to become "home". There would be nothing more charming than to see a Ferguson or a Van Gaal take his place in the away-team dugout, a rickety affair of corrugated iron resembling an Anderson air-raid shelter chopped in half.