So Foot Feature Saints

The New Saints of Oswestry Town were recently featured by French Football magazine So Foot.

The link to the page can be seen below.

http://www.sofoot.com/the-new-saints-allegorie-du-football-gallois-215446.html

So Foot is a French Football magazine which was launched in 2003 by Franck Annese.

The full feature has been translated into English and can be read below:

 

 

THE NEW SAINTS, ALLEGORY of WELSH FOOTBALL

While the two leading lights of Welsh football, Swansea and Cardiff, are evolving in the English leagues, we tend to forget that the homeland of Gareth Bale has its own championship. The New Saints, the defending champions of the Welsh Premier League but based in England, are the emblem of Welsh football, both mucky and dynamic, entrenched in rugby land. Llansantffraid. Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain to be exact, is where in 1959 the current champions of Wales were established.

However it was not in the twilight of the sixties that The New Saints found fame. I spoke to Ian Williams, the general manager of The New Saints (TNS) :”The owner of the club is Mike Harris. Mike began to sponsor the small village club in Mid Wales in the late 90s. At that time, he owned a telecommunications company, Total Network Solutions: when the executives of Llansantffraid FC asked him to renew his sponsorship, he offered them an investment which would professionalize and progress the existing structure.

From such a powerful position he renamed the team after his own company: Total Network Solutions, but as the players were training some distance from the village, it was decided to look for new stadium facilities. In 2003 the club merged with our English neighbours Oswestry Town, who were in financial difficulty at the time.”

In 2005, Mike Harris sold his company to British Telecommunications and found himself with a team with no name. Suggestions went as far as proposing a name auction on Ebay. Finally, they kept the logo on which is hung a piece of history: the original club, Llansantffraid FC, was nicknamed The Saints and the town of Oswestry, where the new stadium is located, has always been linked to Saint Oswald. Thus, The New Saints were born.

Today, TNS is a behemoth of Welsh football. “We won nine league titles over the past 16 years, including the last four, and today we are clear at the top by nine points,”says Ian.

In Europe, by contrast, hegemony becomes infamy. 17 fixtures in European Cups over the last 17 seasons, 20 games played and 94 goals against. Not enough to impress Ian. Although he is incredibly proud of regular participation in European Cups he laments the carnage: “In 2005, we played Liverpool in a Champions League qualifier. At the time, Liverpool were European champions but as they had not finished in the top four, they had to play in a preliminary round – against us!! Although Steven Gerrard put five of the six goals past us, it put TNS on the map of world football.

Already in 2003, we had played Manchester City in the UEFA Cup, their first European Cup participation since the sixties so we had the chance to play at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in front of 14,000 spectators.”

Nostalgia eh!

Relocation and Champions League If, across the channel, people drive on the left, decline the Euro and eat bacon for breakfast, ‘Wales is no exception to the rule of constant differentiation from its neighbour. Suddenly, the Welsh club moved to England.Thus, “after the merger with Oswestry, our headquarters was moved to Shropshire, England. We bought from the local authorities a site where we installed the club, adding a 3G synthetic pitch for 3 million for three million. This allowed us to grow economically.

Today we have 65 employees, including 24 professional players. It also has a scholarship program for U16-U19, which allows them to combine football education and an academic education in the College of Oswestry. Several players have already made the leap between the Academy and the first team. We also run ten teams from U7 to U16 in our Academy plus a Community Foundation that is responsible for generating social ties through extra-soccer activities. “

Currently, TNS combines football and business: the budget of a million and a half, along with the club’s facilities, helps ensure the economic survival of the only fully professional club in the Wales Premier League. “Our challenge is to continue to progress in Europe and get a share of the spoils. In this way, we could expand our infrastructure and create futsal pitches, another synthetic surface and a grass pitch,” says Ian.

And when asked if it would not be better to join the English leagues to attain more exposure, outcome the studs: “Not at all. We want to continue to play in Wales and reach the group stages of the Champions . If we wanted to go into England, we would have to start at the bottom, without European participation which is the basis for our business model.”

So, what is football in Wales?

Pêl-droed. That’s what they call it in the the land of the leek. ” Wales is unique in terms of football. Swansea City play in the English Premier League, Cardiff in the English Championship, Newport in the English Football League and Wrexham, Colwyn Bay and Merthyr also play in the English system,” says Ian explaining the cause of this phenomenon: “History and tradition. They have always played in the English system. The Welsh Premier League is still very young, it didn’t start until 1992.

Previously, football existed in Wales, but without a national league, so clubs played in the English leagues. Due to tradition and their business model, they decided to stay in England.”

Currently, Welsh football is built on four levels with the Welsh Premier League (WPL) at the top. To make the ‘feeder’ leagues , the country is divided geographically ; the north, the stronghold of football in Wales is the Cymru Alliance. In the South, the birthplace of rugby it is the Welsh League. “The champions of each of these divisions, or runners – up, are eligible if they meet the criteria of the Welsh Federation, a condition of the WPL.”

Below that the part-timers. Of villages and small towns battle it out on muddy fields.

The Welsh Prem ‘is organized into two phases. Initially, the 12 teams play each other twice. Then, after the Christmas break the12 teams are separated into two groups: the first six and the last six. Each team plays against 5 opponents, home and away.

Football in the Welsh set-up is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end TNS win.

The rise of TNS over the decades is a reflection of Welsh football, also in the ascendancy. Andrew Howard, head of the organization of the WPL, testifies comments in the Guardian on such progress: “There are players and coaches who left the WPL several years ago to go to the Conference (D5). When they returned, they were amazed at the improvement. They said that we were at least at Conference level. ”Yet Welsh football still faces two strong opponents; the English and rugby.

The formidable strength of the English Premier League seducing the football fans of Wales causes anguish to Howard: “There is a regular bus service along the north coast of Wales to take fans to Anfield, Goodison Park, Old Trafford, etc. and if this is the English threat, it is the national sport of rugby that could overshadow the Pel-droed”, continues

Howard, however rather reassured by the ‘Gareth Bale effect’: ” the fact that Cardiff and Swansea both play at a very high level has generated a lot of enthusiasm. Gareth Bale mania has driven a lot of children to want to be footballers, dreaming of becoming the new Gareth Bale rather than the new Sam Warburton.

And the land of the Dragon dreaming of a crazy epic journey in the summer of 2016.

 

This article was written in French by Josselin Juncker for the French sports paper So Sport.

It was published on 14th January 2016 and translated into English by Callie Ramsay.