One of the constant thought-threads regarding my involvement with TNS is ‘If you’d have told me this one year ago, or whatever, I wouldn’t have believed you’. This was the case last Sunday when I made my way to Park Hall to board the team coach, with the ultimate destination being St Andrews in Scotland.
If it had been put to me two years back that I would be part of a professional football club’s pre-Champions League training camp, I probably would have laughed and shook my head in disbelief. Yet that was the very reason I left home near Wolverhampton, hitting the familiar A41, M54 and A5, en route to the home of the Welsh champions.
The long and winding road to the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool took us via Wrexham and Chester, as we gathered players and staff on the way. With allocated seats on the plane I found myself sitting next to Robby Parry. Our chat included Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Great Orme, gulls, eating meat and rabbits. That’s a balanced conversational diet for sure.
We stayed in the town of St Andrews, based at the university. Now I’m far from being a member of the grammar police, but writing the name of the town I instinctively felt that there should be at least a full stop and certainly an apostrophe involved. St. Andrew’s. Especially so when you consider that the university is in the UK’s top three, behind Oxbridge.
Anyway there isn’t, and more to the point, we were there for football reasons not academic ones. The only crosses were the ones going into the box, not those that cross the t’s. The opening game, against a very strong and well-organised Aberdeen team, saw TNS cope well with persistent pressure.
Going into the break 0-0 it looked good for The New Saints. However, the Dons’ continued domination paid off in the end as the final whistle saw them finish 3-0 winners. Interviewing TNS manager, Craig Harrison, for the club podcast after the game, the emphasis wasn’t on the result but that there had been a good competitive run-out for the players involved.
An hour or so before kick-off, I had another one of those ‘I wouldn’t have believed you’ experiences when, prior to pre-match training proper, I had a kick around with some of the squad. I don’t think I impressed the TNS management team though, so with no contract negotiations on the horizon I think I’ll stick to my iPad, microphone and notebook in the future.
The second, and final, game of the camp saw the Welsh champions go head-to-head with Heart of Midlothian aka The Jam Tarts. Hearts stormed into a 2-0 lead but full credit to our lads, they didn’t let their heads drop and pulled it back to 2-2. However, with football being the cruel game it is sometimes, the Edinburgh-based Scots hit a very late winner.
Football aside, the time away showed the great team spirit that exists within the Park Hall camp. Whether watching Paul Harrison and Greg Draper playing golf in the corridor of our accommodation or walking round the supermarket with Connell Rawlinson while he did his ‘shopping’, good-natured banter was the order of the day.
I enjoy being around the players and feel very happy that I’ve been accepted within the group. As someone who used to visit TNS as a supporter, not known to anyone, pay my money and sit behind the goal to becoming part of the set-up is incredibly humbling. In fact you could say it’s another one of those ‘If you’d have told me…’ experiences.