BY JAMIE WARD
“They'll be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions tonight.” - Jeff Stelling
Around the globe, football teams that have incorporated their sponsor's name are common place. Of course, Red Bull have taken on teams in New York, Leipzig and Salzburg, aptly named the New York Red Bulls, RB Leipzig and FC Red Bull Salzburg whilst Bayer Leverkusen in Germany have taken their founders’ name since their emergence in 1904, as did PSV Eindhoven in 1913. Hyundai have taken on two teams in South Korea, Jeonbuk and Ulsan whilst Toyota even got in on the act in Japan.
However, in the United Kingdom, it was an unknown entity until Shropshire based company Total Network Solutions pumped a large wad of cash into Welsh Premier League side Llansantffraid FC in 1996, re-branding the club Total Network Solutions Llansantffraid FC. A year later, the town's name was lost from the name altogether, the club becoming known as Total Network Solutions FC.
Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain is a small Welsh town situated on the border of Shropshire in England. Locally, the town was proud of its football team, its heritage and the fact that they had achieved astronomical success for a club its size during the nineties, winning promotion to the Welsh top tier in 1993. In 1996 they qualified for Europe for the first time - the European Cup Winners Cup - after their maiden Welsh Cup win; they were eliminated at the first qualifying stage by Polish side Ruch Chorzow 6-1 on aggregate, despite drawing the first leg 1-1 at home.
The club won its first league title in 2000 but it was the merging with Shropshire club Oswestry Town three years later which altered the club forever. Oswestry, despite being based in England, did ply their trade in the Welsh leagues. The announcement came in June of 2003 that the club would merge with Total Network Solutions with the move accepted by the Football Association of Wales. However, UEFA initially rejected the fusing of the two clubs due to the location of each being in separate countries. They reversed their original decision a couple of days later after a successful appeal.
The merging of the two clubs did, however, not come without its own controversies. Some of the shareholders from Oswestry Town claimed that they were not consulted in regards to the merger and were appalled that 143 years of history had been tarnished. Despite that, a new era of Total Network Solutions had begun.
Two seasons after the merger, TNS won a domestic double for the first time and were drawn against Liverpool, fresh off the back of their incredible comeback against AC Milan the previous season, in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. Liverpool, as holders, were granted special dispensation after finishing outside the top four in the Premier League. The tie was the biggest in the history of TNS and the club lost 6-0 on aggregate, 3-0 in each game, with Steven Gerrard scoring five of Liverpool's goals over the two games.
The double in 2005 sparked an era of dominance for the club, winning the league for the next two seasons. The club's name was subject to another change in 2006 following the acquisition of Total Network Solutions by British Telecom. After much deliberation, including an audacious attempt to sell the name of the club on eBay, The New Saints was chosen as the new name, which included references to the history of both Llansantffraid FC (previously nicknamed The Saints) and Oswestry Town (Saint Oswald). A new badge was designed which also featured a dragon and a lion, representing Llansantffraid and Oswestry respectively.
In 2007, The New Saints made the move across the border to their new home in Oswestry. Having spent £3million developing the old Park Hall Stadium previously occupied by Oswestry Town, the club decided to make the controversial move to England, abandoning their home at The Recreation Ground in Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain. The move was met with protests from the locals, similar to those seen from Wimbledon supporters after the move to Milton Keynes, with some fans even mockingly re-branding the club 'Franchise FC'. Again, similar to Wimbledon, a new club was formed, this time named Llansantffraid Village F.C. and are currently playing in the Mid Wales Football League, the fourth tier in Welsh football.
Since the move to England, TNS have won the league title six times, including the last four and have also completed the domestic double in each of the last two seasons. As things stand this season, the club currently sit 11 points clear at the top of the league and it is hard to see where their dominance will end in Welsh football.
Jeff Stelling brought the club to prominence when he uttered his now infamous quote but, if it was at all possible, there may well be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions/The New Saints should this dominance continue.