That’s one of Jeff Stelling’s favourite quips on
Sky TV’s Soccer Saturday – referring to ongoing
successful match results for the Welsh Premier
Joking aside, The New Saints of Oswestry Town &
Llansantffraid Football Club, has a very fruitful business
model which incorporates both
football and off-the-field income streams.
We spoke to Ian Williams, who has been involved with
TNS for 10 years as Chief Operating Officer and General
Manager. He began by tracing the recent history of a club
that has shot to prominence in Welsh football.
“In 2003, a merger took place between Llansantffraid
FC and Oswestry Town FC,” said Williams. “At that time,
Oswestry had been in financial difficulties and were playing
at Park Hall, which was under town council ownership on
the English side of the border. So the Oswestry directors
approached Llansantffraid – a village club eight miles away
in Mid Wales – and an amalgamation took place with the new
team continuing to compete in the Welsh Premier League.
“We originally played under the name of Total Network
Solutions, which reflected main sponsor Mike Harris’s
company. Then when Mike sold his business in 2005, our
club title changed to The New Saints.
“The initial plan was to work with Oswestry Council in
providing a combined new leisure centre and stadium at
Park Hall. But we had to move quickly due to UEFA club
licensing criteria, so the council gave us the opportunity
to purchase the facilities and we spent two years totally
redeveloping the site.”
The Park Hall Stadium has been transformed extensively.
As a consequence, it now provides TNS with a magnificent
base to operate from.
Williams said: “The project cost £3.5 million. It was mainly
financed by Mike Harris, who owns the football club as sole
shareholder. In addition, we received a grant of £445,038
from the Football Foundation. Our main building contractor
was local company JR Pickstock Ltd.
“In the stadium itself, we have a state of the art 3G ‘FIFA 2
Star’ LigaTurf artificial pitch.
“There are 1,000 spectator seats – which enable us to host
UEFA matches in the early rounds – and we are currently
installing a new TV gantry. We have planning permission for
a total of 3,000 seats, which will form part of our medium
term plan to continue upgrading the facilities.
“The 3G surface allows us to run a thriving football
academy catering for more than 200 players from the age
of six upwards. There is also a scholarship programme
in conjunction with the local college where 55 players
aged from 16 to19 are on a combined education/football
programme. They use the pitch considerably throughout
the week for coaching sessions and matches.
“Further activity sees 24 small-sided amateur teams play
evening games here in a local league. We also host a number
of national and regional events and festivals on the 3G.
“Pitch usage alone produces in excess of £100,000 per
annum for TNS. In fact, we have plans to further expand the
playing surface provision to meet demand.
“Away from the football, our on-site amenities include
a 10 pin bowling alley, children’s soft play area, a bar and
eatery, a gym, plus an events room which caters for a whole
host of activity from Zumba classes to wedding parties and
business conferences. We set up a leisure management
company to oversee the running of these facilities which we have
marketed as ‘The Venue’. That is itself creates a significant turnover
with more than 1,000 visitors per week.”
The New Saints are the only full-time team in the Welsh Premier
League. They have clinched the title five times during the past
decade, leading to some memorable European adventures which
Williams believes are the icing on the cake.
“When we qualify for Europe as winners of the WPL, we go into
the second qualifying round of the Champions League. If you lose at
that stage, you are guaranteed solidarity money of 330,000 Euros
from just taking part in the competition.
“In European qualifiers over recent years, we have defeated Irish
clubs Cliftonville and Bohemians. Our most famous ties have been
against Liverpool, Manchester City and Anderlecht,
which brought huge commercial and sponsorship revenue due to
the incredible exposure we received.
“The ultimate target for TNS is to reach in the group stages of
a top UEFA club competition. Shamrock Rovers from Dublin did
it and came away with more than a million Euros plus
additional commercial/sponsorship monies despite not winning a
game in their group.
“I would like to think we can realise this objective within the
next five years. I don’t feel TNS are too far away from
accomplishing it, as Shamrock Rovers are of a similar playing
standard to ourselves.”
The New Saints has certainly enjoyed Jeff Stelling’s whimsical
mentions. But they continue to prove that they are a serious football
club with achievable ambitions according to Williams.
“It has been nice to get the extra publicity from Jeff. He has
definitely helped to put us on the football map in an amusing way.
“However, we are deadly serious in running a business at Park
Hall which generates £1.3 million a year. We are working towards a
sustainable strategy based on what we have already created with
the success of our football team, the Academy and the community
aspect as a whole.
“Our aim is to continually engender a variety of revenue streams
to ensure that the football club can survive without financial
backing from a major benefactor. We are proud of the uniqueness
of playing in the WPL from the English side of the border. Being part
of that Welsh system gives us a direct route through to the best
club competition in the world – the Champions League.
“We are on a journey and we are getting closer to reaching those
UEFA group stages, having had success in the qualifying rounds in
recent years. Indeed, the whole infrastructure of The New Saints is
continuing to improve because of our European involvement.”