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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

The Mattlock Review
Total Network Solutions FC

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TNS vs Glentoran. Pre-season friendly.
2 July 2005

In 2005 TNS were crowned champions of the Welsh Premier League. As such they qualified to take part in the UEFA Champions League, where, in probably the most rigged ‘draw’ in sporting history, they drew European champions Liverpool. This remarkable achievement for a village of 1,000 souls led me to visit them for a preseason friendly against the 2005 champions of Northern Ireland, Glentoran (Glentoran in the same UEFA draw had been drawn against Republic of Ireland champions, Shelbourne).

I’d visited Treflan a couple of months earlier at the end of the 2004-05 season simply as a ground hop en route to support Wrexham for the day and voice my disapproval of the disgraceful actions of their reprehensible chairman. Back in April the Treflan pitch was threadbare, but by the first weekend in July the pitch was immaculate, a massive testament to the skill of their ground staff. Sadly, but for obvious commercial reasons, Treflan would not be hosting the Red Scouse, that honour falling to Wrexham, the second best ground in Wales but fit apparently only for housing ...

The Club
TNS was so named in 1997 when the Oswestry based computer company ‘took over’ the team that until then had been known as Llansantffraid FC. Oswestry has boasted its own club on and off for many years, and with no team currently in Oswestry (the last incarnation of Oswestry Town FC folded in 2001) there are plans to relocate TNS into Oswestry itself.

Llansantffraid FC formed after the Second World War and remained very much an amateur outfit until an ambitious and innovative committee engineered three promotions in four seasons to reach the League of Wales in 1993. Despite the club’s size they defied the odds and in 1995 won The League Cup. A year later Llansantffraid won the Welsh Cup, leading to their first taste of European football in Poland. With the absence of sponsorship, TV revenues or public assistance in Welsh Football the offer of support from Total Network Solutions was a deal that could not be resisted, and TNS have since gone onto greater domestic success.

The championship title was won for the first time in 2000, a new stand built, fully professional status, a youth structure and a twinning deal with Chelsea have followed and TNS are now regular title contenders and European qualifiers. Now, the merger with Oswestry Town has given the club further impetus with plans for a 3,000 seater modern stadium over the border in a far more populous area, with the opportunity to develop and increase the club's fan base.

The Ground
The ground itself is tidy enough, with covered stands behind on goal and along one touch line. There is nothing behind the far goal, and the touchline on the village side of the pitch houses one of the peculiar TV gantries found at Welsh grounds. Not as impressive as some, but still an impressive feature for us English ground hoppers to admire / ponder. In fact all Welsh Premier clubs must have a TV gantry as part of the league's ground criteria because BBC Wales covers games in the FAW Premier Cup and S4C (the Welsh language channel) broadcasts a half-hour highlights package every Saturday evening and several live games each season.

The main stand is all seating and set between one side of the goal and the corner. The rake is reasonable and with just one central supporting pillar a good view can be had of pretty much all the pitch. Beyond this is a brick TV studio, with shuttered windows. This doubles as a hospitality suite when not required. Beyond, in the corner of the ground is a very large water tank, fed from the club’s own bore hole.

The far touchline houses a small stand with a limited number of seats, this stand straddles the halfway line. It has one odd seat on the outside of the stand for no apparent reason. The dugouts flank this stand. This side of the ground backs onto a field and the ground perimeter is a wire fence and a hedge with one very impressive tree behind the away dug out.

The Clubhouse is small but well appointed, the staff are very friendly and welcoming the prices are reasonable. The bar stocked usual beers and lagers and also offered draught mild. Food is served from a Portakabin situated between the clubhouse and the car park. Burgers, pies and pasties were all available, as well as filled rolls. The hot food was pretty average but a good strong cup of tea was to be.

The Game
I went to see TNS vs Glentoran on 02/07/05, the first pre-season friendly of the 2005-06 season listed in the NLP. Consequently quite a few other ‘hoppers’ were present, but Glentoran had brought three coach loads of fans with them and they sang noisily for the entire match. As the game didn’t kick off till 6 pm and they, like myself had arrived expecting an afternoon kick off, they were mostly ‘well oiled’ to say the least. However 200 drunken Ulstermen behaved themselves with more decorum than you might have credited them with!

The match was no classic, although both teams, with important European fixtures in mind, played a highly competitive game. TNS showed some decent touches at times but lacked any penetration up front, Glentoran took a cheeky goal after dispossessing a Welsh defender and 1-0 to the Irish was a fair enough result on the balance of play. The attendance was approximately 350, though the majority were away fans!

The most impressive and memorable feature of the match was in fact the hair style of Chris Taylor, Glentoran’s tough tackling number 4. A long, blond bubble perm with mutton chops not seen on a man’s face since Mungo Jerry last troubled ‘Top of the Pops’. This man is the fans’ ultimate cult hero.

Out & About
The village of Llansantffraid is truly ugly. The whole town is covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, and despite being set in some attractive countryside and rolling hills there is no reason why you would possibly want to go there other than to visit TNS. The town of Welshpool about 7 miles south is an attractive place, and houses a canal museum, which, because this is Wales, shuts for lunch between 1-2!!

Between Welshpool and Llansantffraid is a remarkable volcanic feature, The Breidden which stands over 1200ft high. Although half the hill is sadly being devoured by a quarry, a series of tracks, trails and footpaths from a car park at the Forestry Commission site at Criggion lead up to the summit which affords some magnificent views of Shropshire & Wales. On top of the hill and visible for many miles is a huge monument known as ‘Rodney’s Pillar’ in tribute to Admiral Rodney, equally talented but less feted colleague of Horatio Nelson. Rodney's Pillar was built by the men of Montgomeryshire who supplied oak from the area & shipped it down the river Severn to Bristol where Admiral Rodney's fleet was built. Also there are remains of an old hill fort which may apparently have been the site of the last stand of Caractacus. The walking can be as tough or gentle as you want depending on which route of ascent you take, but the views really are worthwhile.

About 15 miles west of Llansantffraid is Lake Vyrnwy, a reservoir built to provide water for the city of Liverpool. It is in lovely wooded hilly countryside and the reservoir dam is an impressive piece of engineering. There is a lot of accommodation around there and a number of activity centres, cycle & boat hire, horse riding, fishing  and so forth. If staying over for the night or weekend I would recommend heading for here.

Since you ask …
Driving times in Wales are not as they are in other parts of the UK. Legislation by the new Welsh Assembly in Cardiff made it compulsory for every Welsh person over the age of 50 to drive a 1982 Austin Allegro at no more than 27 MPH along country lanes for at least 6 hours of every day. Although all Austin Allegros have been completely scrapped in the civilised world, they are still being driven around Wales, and they are being driven very, very slowly. Overtaking in Wales in virtually impossible too, and Welsh Plod has nothing to do all day except turn a blind eye to the occasional sheep rustling and concentrate on the persecution of car drivers. So do allow plenty of extra travelling time when heading into rural Wales.

NM

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