As Chairman of The New Saints of Oswestry Town FC, I would like to respond to some of the issues recently raised by some of your readers as the end of what has been a very successful season approaches.
It has been a long journey since 1997 when I first became actively involved with Llansantffraid FC, a local Mid-Wales club that had played in the Montgomeryshire League winning the championship several times before taking their place in the League of Wales for the 1992/93 season. After narrowly avoiding relegation in the first season, the club pushed on from there and won the League Cup the following year. The club was renamed Total Network Solutions in 1997 following a lucrative sponsorship with the Oswestry-based computer networking specialists. Two years later, as amateurs, we beat the then full time Barry Town to secure the League title and qualified for the European Cup – but it was another five years before we repeated this achievement.
In 2003, Llansantffraid merged with Oswestry Town FC, a club that could trace its roots back to 1860 and was one of the founder members of the Football Association of Wales in 1876. Over the years, Oswestry Town FC had played in both Wales and England, including winning the Cheshire League, 1972, and the Northern Premier League where the club reached the first round of the FA Cup on several occasions. This merger saved the name of Oswestry Town, which was in danger of disappearing after experiencing serious financial difficulties, and enabled the combined side to have the best of both worlds. The 2006/7 season saw another name change to The New Saints, honouring the name of ‘the Saints’ of Llansantffraid and Saint Oswald of Oswestry Town,after Total Network Solutions was acquired by BT and the club became only the second Welsh Premier side to lift the FAW Premier Cup.
In 2007, we played our first game at Park Hall Stadium, totally unrecognisable from the ground which Oswestry had used in their later years. Redeveloped at a cost of more than £3 million, the ground has a state of the art 3G pitch and planning permission for 3,000 seats. It also features a major leisure development known as The Venue with function rooms, 10 pin bowling alley, bar and catering facilities, an indoor children’s soft play area and a gym.
Since then the club has achieved unprecedented levels of success and has represented Wales in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.
I mention this history to remind everyone that we are a club on the borders and committed to achieving ongoing success within the Welsh Domestic game. This success has not just happened by throwing money at the club and has required a long-term vision and strategy as well the ambition to deliver the results. We won the League before turning professional and have subsequently been pipped to the post by semi-professional teams such as Llanelli and Rhyl.
Surely other clubs should focus on raising their standards and perhaps, if they had built on their success and showed the vision and ambition to bring in younger players instead of paying through the nose for football journeymen to play part-time and instigated more intensive training regimes, then they too would be achieving greater success.
Regarding the suggestion that we should move into the English Leagues, we are still the club that has made its history in Wales so why would we want to desert it now when we are having this success? You would not have expected clubs such as Manchester United or Liverpool to seek more competitive pastures such as the Spanish or German Leagues when they enjoyed such dominance in the past and likewise it makes no sense for The New Saints of Oswestry Town to consider this now. Also, what sense would there be in starting at the very bottom of the English pyramid system, a journey that could easily take up to ten years to reach the lower levels like The Conference. Our players would not want to play at such a low standard as their careers are short.
But it is not just about the football. As a business we achieved a turnover of just £100,000 in 2000. Today, the combined turnover of our stadia and club business has risen to more than £1.5 million and we employ up to 75 people, most of whom live in the local Oswestry area. This allows us to invest in our academy which quite rightly has gained an excellent reputation for nurturing young talent. Our academy players are becoming winners at every age group including national call ups. In fact, many of our youth team players are either breaking into the first team or are out on loan to other Welsh Premier sides to gain valuable experience. In addition, The New Saints FC Foundation is a charitable organisation that aims to engage with the local community to provide positive, sustainable football, sports and educational activities for people of every age. The Foundation’s involvement extends across many areas including education, health, social inclusion and equality, underlining our commitment to make a positive difference in Oswestry and the local area. As a club, we proactively support local projects and encourage greater support from all stakeholders across the local community.
The world has moved on and a new generation of local people is enjoying the benefits of the success that has been achieved by The New Saints of Oswestry Town FC. Surely it is now time to get behind the club and give them the support they need to help establish Oswestry as a powerhouse in British football as well as raising the profile of the borderlands of mid Wales and Shropshire in Europe as we drive forward to try and progress to the group stages of these international competitions.
In the meantime, if you would like to play a part in helping to shape the future of The New Saints of Oswestry Town FC why not get involved? We have many enthusiastic volunteers and are always looking to expand the team. Whilst we always appreciate constructive criticism, by joining us you can make a real difference – the club is there for everyone to enjoy and appreciate and I look forward to welcoming you all.
The New Saints of Oswestry Town FC