The New Saints vs Newtown AFC, Dafabet Welsh Premier League, 01/01/16, Park Hall, Match 24
According to the Timehop app on my phone, I had last watched TNS exactly a year ago. This time last year TNS had beaten Cefn Druids 4-0 at the Rock. Also playing in that game was a certain Gavin Cadwallader, as he had been playing for Cefn Druids at the time, before moving to Newtown. At the end of last week’s blog I had been unsure of who to go and watch, it was a choice between TNS vs Newtown and Bangor vs Llandudno, and it had been my Timehop that had decided for me, as I made my decision to go and watch TNS.
I’ve driven past Park Hall a number of times, on my way down the A483 to either Shrewsbury or London, and have always wondered where the football ground is, as the only thing visible from the road is the Park Hall Countryside Experience and the rugby ground. It turns out that the stadium is hidden behind some trees, and is set further back on the A495.
Following a quiet New Year’s Eve, (I’ve never been one to be too bothered about New Years) I woke up feeling fresh and looking forward to a game at a new ground. Park Hall is around a twenty minute drive away from my house, and I didn’t need the Sat-Nav as I had a rough idea where I was supposed to be heading, although I did end up missing the turn off for the ground, and I ended up having to turn the car around by Oswestry Boys and Girls football club.
Once I arrived at the ground I was a little worried to see that people were already parking on the surrounding roads, but luckily I found a car parking space on the actual car park. From there I headed down to the turnstiles, I joined the queue and five minutes later I had separated with £8 and I was in the ground. Unfortunately it appeared that they had run out of programmes, which was a shame. As soon as I entered the ground I bought a 50/50 draw ticket for a £1, and completed a lap of Park Hall.
Park Hall used to be the home of Oswestry Town and until a few years ago it was an athletics circuit with a small stand on the south side. This stand has since been replaced by the Venue, which consists of a bowling alley, a fitness centre, the football club offices and the dressing rooms, these were built at a cost of £3 million following the ground being purchased by TNS chairman Mike Harris. TNS moved to Park Hall in September 2007, as the ground sat disused for a number of years following the merger between TNS and Oswestry Town. The athletics circuit has now been removed and has been replaced by an artificial surface and modern floodlights. I entered the ground from the West End, and if I had wanted to I could have watched the game from the car park. The West End compromises a length of hard standing behind the goal. I began my lap of the ground by walking past the Venue Side, this side of the ground features the Venue and at the end stands a temporary stand, which has a canvas roof. Behind the other goal stands the East End, this stand covers half the width of the pitch, but the club hope to extend it to the width of the pitch, and by the looks of it they may be able to fit some corporate boxes at the back. The final side of the pitch is the North Side, where the dugouts and TV gantry is situated, the dugouts are impressive and stand below the TV gantry, which provides cover. The rest of the North Side is hard standing, but I believe that if the club wanted to they could fit two seated stands on to this side.
According to Wikipedia, Park Hall is used by three clubs in total, as along with TNS, St Martins, of the West Midlands Regional League Division One, and Oswestry Town Lions, of the Shropshire County League, also play at Park Hall, which shows how important 3G pitches are.
The New Saints, or to give them their full name The New Saints of Oswestry Town & Llansantffraid Football Club, were formed in 1959 as Llansantffraid FC. Their first taste of competitive football came in the Montgomeryshire Amateur Football League and they won the championship several times. At the end of the 1989 to 1990 season they were elected to the Central Wales League, but their stay was to be a brief one as they won promotion to the Cymru Alliance as runners up, at their first attempt. They then won promotion in the 1992 to 1993 season to the League of Wales, now the Welsh Premier League. A major turning point in their history came in 1996 when Llansantffraid won the Welsh Cup and qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, this piqued the interest of a local computer company, who arranged a £250,000 sponsorship deal which involved incorporating the company name into the club name, the club then became known as Total Network Solutions Llansantffraid FC. They met Polish cup winners Ruch Chorzow and earned a 1-1 draw at home before losing 5-0 in Poland. In 1997 the club’s name was changed to Total Network Solutions FC, being the first instance of a football club in the UK renaming itself after its sponsors name only. Following the financial meltdown of Barry Town in the summer of 2003, TNS became the only Welsh Premier League club to have a full time playing staff. In the summer of 2003, TNS merged with their financially weak neighbours Oswestry Town, who were formed in 1860. In early 2006 the club’s sponsor, Total Network Solutions, were bought by British Telecom, and as a result of this the sponsorship arrangement lapsed at the end of the 2005 to 2006 season. After trawling for naming ideas, the name “The New Saints” was agreed upon as appropriate to the clubs’ history, as Llansantffraid were always known as “the Saints” and Oswestry had strong connections to Saint Oswald, this new name also meant that the club kept the initials TNS. In recent history TNS have been one of the most successful sides in the Welsh Premier League, as they have won the league for the last four seasons, the club has also won the Welsh cup three years in a row. On the European front, the club have featured in either the UEFA Cup/Europa League or the Champion’s League for every season since the 2000 to 2001 season. This year the club made it to the Second Qualifying Round of the Champion’s League, in the First Qualifying Round the club beat B36 Torshavn, of the Faroe Islands, 6-2 on aggregate, before losing in the Second Qualifying Round to Hungarian side Videoton, 2-1 on aggregate.
This is the third time I have seen Newtown AFC play this season, in https://davidsadventuresingroundhopping.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/traffic/ and https://davidsadventuresingroundhopping.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/difficult-conditions/. Since I last saw Newtown AFC, at Flint Town United, they have played twice, as they beat Carmarthen Town 4-1, before holding their opponents in today’s match in a 2-2 draw, on Boxing Day.
There was still a large queue at the turnstiles when the match kicked off, and I was surprised to see only the one turnstile in action for today’s match. Luckily for the people outside the ground they had a good view of the pitch, and weren’t going to miss any of the action.
It took till the 29th minute for the opening goal of the game to come. TNS had been playing well down the left wing, with Chris Marriot working in the marauding left back role. The ball was worked onto the edge of the area, where Gavin Cadwallader lost possession, Adrian Cieslewicz reacted quickest and he curled the ball past Dave Jones, who got a hand to the ball, into the bottom right corner.
Both sides had a number of chances in the rest of the half, but neither side were able to capitalize on those chances, and following two minutes of added time TNS went into the break in the lead.
Half time: TNS 1-0 Newtown AFC (Cieslewicz 29)
At half time I went for a walk round the ground, and ended up at the refreshment hut in the corner. I was surprised that TNS didn’t have a bigger refreshment hut, but I’m guessing that there was one upstairs in the Venue for those who had paid for the privilege of being allowed to access the balcony. There were no cheeseburgers available, but the plain burger that I bought, for £2.50 was tasty, although I could have had a turkey and stuffing burger. At half time the winners of the 50/50 draw were announced, and I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t win the £53 prize.
The second goal of the game came three minutes after the restart, in the 48th minute. Chris Marriott stormed down the left wing, and delivered a low cross which Jamie Mullan finished neatly.
Ryan Edwards put TNS into a 3-0 lead in the 68th minute, as he beat the offside trap that Newtown had been using effectively throughout the game and slotted past Dave Jones.
Newtown made their first change of the game in the 73rd minute as Jamie Price came off to be replaced by Matthew Cook.
Newtown pulled a goal back in the 74th minute, as the ball was crossed into the box from the right wing, Neil Mitchell rose acrobatically to overhead kick the ball into the net. Now I know that 2016 has only just started, but it’ll take a special goal to beat Mitchell’s.
TNS restored their three goal advantage in the 76th minute, as Ryan Edwards held up the ball on the edge of the area, before playing a back-heeled pass into the path of Michael Wilde who finished coolly, to score his 150th goal in the Welsh Premier League. Following the goal TNS made a change with Jamie Mullan coming off to be replaced by Scott Quigley.
TNS made their second change as Ryan Edwards came off in the 79th minute to be replaced by New Zealand international Greg Draper.
The third and final TNS change came in the 84th minute as Danny Gossett came off to be replaced by Connell Rawlinson.
Newtown made their second change in the 86th minute with Craig Harris coming on to replace Luke Boundford.
By now it was all TNS, with the Saints spurring a couple of chances to increase their lead. Following three minutes of added time, the final whistle blew, and TNS emerged from the match with all three points, in a deserved victory and as Jeff Stelling said “They’ll be dancing in the streets of The New Saints.”
Final score: TNS 4-1 Newtown AFC (Cieslewicz 29, Mullan 48, R Edwards 68, Wilde 76 – Mitchell 74)
I have to admit that I was slightly relieved to hear the final whistle, as I was freezing cold. I quickly hurried back to my car, and turned the heating up to as hot as I could for the journey back to Wrexham.
Barring a catastrophic loss of form it is likely that TNS will win the league this year, as they continue to be the dominant force in Welsh football. TNS have a brilliant set-up at Park Hall, with the 3G pitch providing a good surface for a passing game. The rest of the ground shows potential for future expansion, if needed. The Venue continues to provide a good level of income for TNS, and it has to be said that TNS have spent their money wisely, as they now appear to be fully self-reliant, with the club continuing to qualify for European football they now need to aim to go even further and beat their best performance of reaching the Third Qualifying Round in the Champion’s League as they did in the 2010-2011 season where they were beaten by Anderlecht. If they could get past the Third Qualifying Round, they would then have to navigate the Play-off round, before reaching the Group stages, which for TNS must be their aim.
Newtown now find themselves in 6th place in the league, and with only two games left of the first phase, they need to make sure they win at least one of their final two games, to ensure that they finish in the top half of the table, as Aberystwyth Town are breathing down their necks, as well as Carmarthen Town. Newtown have Bangor City and Aberystwyth left to play, and both of their final games are away games.
Hopefully I’ll manage to get to any game that TNS play in the Champion’s League next season, as long as it is played at Park Hall. Next time I go I think I’ll separate with the extra £4 and pay the £12 to allow me access to the balcony, as I can imagine that the view is a good one, maybe I’ll try and make it my New Year’s day tradition to go and watch TNS. All in all Park Hall is a good ground, and I feel Mike Harris and TNS can be very proud of the set up that they have.
Hat-tricks seen so far: 3
Next game: Atherton Colleries vs Ashton Athletic, The North West Counties Football League, 2/1/16.
Money spent: £11.50
Thanks for reading!