It was twenty years ago today… I don’t know about you but even though I’m a focused soul man, that immediately makes me start singing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my mind. However, I’m not referring to the Fab Four but rather the enterprising eleven. On Thursday just gone, twenty years to the day, the village team, Llansantffraid, beat the mighty Barry Town at the National Stadium in Cardiff to lift the Welsh Cup.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
This is one of the many things that I love about the game in Wales. It’s the magic of a village in Montgomeryshire that most people in the UK have never heard of – and certainly wouldn’t be able to pronounce – going all the way to lift the most prestigious knock-out competition trophy in the history of Welsh domestic football. And not only in a one-off cup did they excel, but Llansantffraid FC eventually evolved into TNS.
People get excited about what Leicester City have achieved this season – and rightly so. But the story of a little village tucked away in the back of beyond, going on to play in the Champions League, has fascinated me for many years now. I even preached a sermon on it at church a long time before I got involved with TNS. I didn’t even know anyone at the club at that time.
It was called ‘If Llansantffraid can do it, so can you’. It was about dreaming big and not only thinking outside the box but living there as well. We usually think of people when it comes to role models, but in this instance we can truly learn so much from the history of a football club and how it has developed.
Go back to 1959. Simon Cowell was born, postcodes were introduced for the first time and the M1 opened. The slogan ‘Life is better with the Conservatives’ worked as Harold Macmillan romped to an election victory with a 100 seat majority. And a certain Margaret Thatcher joined him in the House, as a newly-elected MP.
Taking its first steps that would one day lead to to full EU integration, the UK became a founder member of the European Free Trade Association and the international cricket umpire, Russell Tiffin, was born born in Southern Rhodesia as it was then known. No England footballer had yet won 100 caps – although Billy Wright was fast closing in, while the Molineux men themselves were managed by Stan Cullis.
And Llansantffraid played their very first game.
I doubt whether any of the players that took to the pitch that day were aware of just how far the journey would go. Sadly, with football being such a short career, the eleven that started weren’t going to be around forever. They were, however, beginning the race that would see them pass the baton to the next runners. It’s been handed on a few times down the years since then and many have pulled on the shirt.
It’s great looking back, and as someone who loves football history, I could probably write a book on Llansantffraid / The New Saints, never mind a column like this. But what about the present? And also, the future. Whatever our attachment to TNS, whether Chairman Mike Harris right through to the overseas fan who has never even been to Park Hall, I truly believe that the journey that began in such humble surroundings in 1959 is still very much ongoing.
In fact I would go as far as to say that although TNS has become the dominant team in Welsh football in recent years, that the very best is still to come. The Everest of challenges, the Holy Grail as far as all European clubs are concerned, is drawing closer. I do believe that one day TNS will be in the group stages of the Champions League. Am I getting carried away? Have I been on the communion goblet (as the aforementioned Mr. Harris is forever ribbing me about)?
No and definitely no. If you’d have told those village footballers back in 1959 that 37 years later they would be the proud holders of the Welsh Cup they wouldn’t have believed you. And if you’d have given the team of 1996 an insight into what the club is today they wouldn’t have either. When you look at the massive steps forward in 37 and then 20 years it really does bring things into perspective. It’s not such a mountain after all, maybe just a big hill.
Thanks for reading Rev’s Ramblings. You can contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org