For some time now we have been working with the Broadcasting, Journalism and Media Communications department at Wrexham’s Glyndŵr University. This has involved giving students practical hands-on experience at Park Hall, especially on match days.
One of the degree students, Sam Barton, interviewed Mike Harris recently as part of his course work. The finished article, as submitted by Sam, can be read below. For our part we don’t proofread, alter or amend in any way but publish exactly as received.
The lead photograph is Sam interviewing Mike at Park Hall.
TNS: Off the Pitch – Mike Harris
By Sam Barton
In today’s day and age, football appears not to be simply a sport, but also a lucrative business, with billions of pounds being invested globally year on year. In an interview with Mike Harris, I get up-close and personal to find out more about the charismatic chairman.
Mike Harris is a known successful businessman owning several successful companies. Besides his strong ability to run companies, he also has a passion for football, this being shown through his ownership of The New Saints FC. Asked how owning a football club compares to other businesses he’s invested in, Mike said “A football club is something special. Turning it from a village team into what you would call now, a multi-million-pound business has been interesting, challenging, exciting, and it doesn’t feel like work.” He made no error in highlighting that it was his love for the game that pushed him into owning the club. “I’ve been a fan of football, playing football, probably don’t play very much these days, but I’m a big fan of Welsh sport, and obviously very proud of this league. Football is always something I’ve wanted to do, it’s something that’s always been in my life since I can remember.”
With TNS originally standing for ‘Total Network Solutions’, Mike explained “I sold the company to BT in 2005, and at that point in time BT didn’t want any further involvement with Welsh football. “ He added, “I retained my distribution business, my office supplies business, which are still trading and doing very, very well.” With Mike recently returning from a trip to Los Angeles, USA, he spoke about the challenge of setting up business over the pond. “I’ve set up a business which, predominantly, is trading in the United States which is Fibre to the home and trying to break the monopoly of the big telecoms companies in the US. A big challenge in its own right”. Harris added, “It’s tough, but it’s starting to pick up.”
In the years before 2003, prior to The New Saints becomingthe Welsh Premier League powerhouse they so rightfully are now, the club ‘The New Saints’ was not in existence. With Mike Harris taking over Llansantffaid F.C. in 1997 he changed the name to match the clubs sponsor, ‘Total Network Solutions’. Six years down the line, Oswestry Town F.C. found themselves facing monetary issues leading to Harris’ purchase of the club and merging the two clubs together. “Sadly Oswestry got themselves into financial difficulties and were about to pack in, so we bought the club, paid off their debts, and built this place.” With the two clubs combining, Mike explained that “The fans came up with a name, which perhaps kept something of the past and something of the new because, St. Oswald of Oswestry Town, St. Ffraid of Llansantffraid, so, The New Saints.” Having explained how TNSFC was formed, it appeared to be quite the challenge. Harris continued saying, “Yes, it was very, very tough to start with to get people to believe we could actually win anything. After a couple of years when we started to win, the belief was there.” An almost cliché scenario where the potential underdogs proved their doubters wrong. The proud chairman added, “It’s always been rewarding, because each stage you get to, is another hurdle you pass. As you pass that hurdle, great! It’s success. Overall as a club, we’ve come on leaps and bounds since the first days we got involved in 1997.”
Trying to give his personal highlight since owning a football club, a jubilant Mike seemed to have a selection headache on his hands when trying to pin-point one event as his favourite. “Many highlights, many milestones of achievement, obviously winning the league in 2000 is a great highlight when we weren’t really supposed to win it as a semi-pro club. Playing the Liverpool’s and the Manchester City’s in 2003 and 2005.And taking the world record for the most number of [consecutive] wins.” A clear host of achievements anybody would be proud of.
With rumours rife, speculation that the seating capacity at Park Hall is increasing in the near future was a topic not to be missed. Mike was happy to touch upon the progress made so far. “We’ve got planning permission for three to four thousand seats around the ground, we’ve got some projects here around the ground to extend the facility and to build more pitches”. Asked how it’s being funded, the chairman added, “It’s a matter of if we can secure one of the grants from the FAW, and if we get one of those grants we’ll be looking to improve the facilities again.” Boasting an already impressive ground for the Welsh Premier League, it was no surprise to hear of the plans to improve even more, Harris said “decisions” are likely to be made in September this year.
Besides football, TNS is a very charitable side with their own Community Foundation helping and aiding the local community, working with people from all walks of life. Mike drew upon the importance of having the foundation byhighlighting how valuable the work really is. “It’s difficult to describe how important that is. They connect with many levels of the community whether it’s charity work, community coaching with young kids in schools. By the engagement with the community, it brings more people to see The New Saints in a positive light. The main aim is to try and encourage young kids to try and take up soccer, stay good individuals and ultimately, if they progress, to pull on the shirt.” With the known issue between TNS and Oswestry since the club’s move to the town, Mike Harris said “There’s always an element of people who will always be negative about everything. I’m not sure if they were even Oswestry Town fans to begin with. Quite a few Oswestry Town fans come through the gates week in week out, most of that stuff is stuck in the past.”
It’s clear to see that the future for TNS is a bright one. Having been declared champions with games remaining and having secured Champion’s League football next season, Harris has already set out aims for next season. “Group stages. I think this year there’s a very good chance that we can challenge to get into the Europa League group stages.” This comes after UEFA announced changes, which allow teams who fail to progress out of the Champions League qualifying stages, automatic qualification into the UEFA Europa League.
TNS play their final game of the season at Park Hall against Cardiff Metropolitan University on Friday at 19:45 pm.