Anderlecht's players admit they know nothing about their opponents, but the Belgian champions would be well advised not to underestimate The New Saints when the two teams meet tonight at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham for the first leg of their Champions' League third qualifying round tie.
TNS are through to the penultimate stage of qualifying for club football's premier competition after winning a European tie for the first time in their history last week. The Welsh champions, who have gone under the names of Llansantffraid and Total Network Solutions in previous incarnations, are no strangers to European football – this is their 12th season competing against continental opposition – but had never tasted victory until their 4-1 aggregate win over the Irish club, Bohemians.
That success has already guaranteed TNS nearly £500,000 in income from Uefa, European football's governing body, and more will follow. Anderlecht, who won the Belgian championship last season for the 30th time in the last 64 years, are strong favourites, but even if TNS lose they will go on to play in the qualifying competition for the Europa League. The winners of the current tie – the second leg will be played in Brussels next week – will be just one win away from the highly lucrative group phase of the Champions' League.
Llansantffraid FC had achieved little in the first 30 years of their existence until three promotions in four seasons took the club into the League of Wales in 1993. A first European venture followed three years later, after which the club adopted the name of its sponsors, Total Network Solutions, an Oswestry-based computer company. Following the latter's withdrawal five years ago and a merger with Oswestry Town, the club was rebranded The New Saints.
Helped by revenue from a multi-sports leisure development at Oswestry's former Park Hall Stadium, TNS were able to maintain full-time players and have been rewarded with European ties against the likes of Manchester City (7-0 aggregate winners in the Uefa Cup qualifiers seven years ago) and Liverpool (6-0 winners in the Champions League qualifiers two years later). Nevertheless, the Welsh Premier title that TNS won last season was their first for three years.
More than £3m has been spent on redeveloping Park Hall, but after Uefa restricted the capacity for the Bohemians match to just 1,000 TNS decided to switch tonight's first leg to nearby Wrexham. Three goals in the first 20 minutes put TNS on the way to victory over Bohemians, which was the first win by a Welsh club in the Champions League since Barry Town knocked out Azerbaijan's FK Shamkir nine years ago.
TNS are managed by 31-year-old Mike Davies, who used to play for Shrewsbury, and have a squad with plenty of experience at the higher reaches of the non-League game, as well as several players who have appeared in the Football League. Last season's leading goalscorer was Chris Sharp, the son of the former Everton forward Graeme Sharp, while Matty Williams, a former Wales under-21 international, was on Manchester United's books for five years.