Llansantffraid choose reality over romance

Uefa Cup: Welsh village club see game against Manchester City as 'pre-season friendly'
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The Independent Football

For reasons best known to themselves, television companies have chosen to ignore one of the biggest mis-matches and potential upsets this season is likely to provide.

Manchester City, playing in their new City of Manchester Stadium in a serious game for the first time, entertain TNS from the Welsh village of Llansantffraid in the Uefa Cup tomorrow, yet scheduling snobs have decided it is not worth showing live. For a football dreamer like the TNS manager, Ken McKenna, it is hard to understand and he has criticised the TV companies for turning their backs on the game.

McKenna, a former professional and a coach of some dedication, said: "I don't know why this game isn't on the box. It's a great story, a village team against some of the biggest names at Manchester City. If you made it up they would lock you up.

"But football seems to have lost sight of the romance of the game. You see games every day and then something like this comes along that never normally happens and nobody wants to know."

McKenna realises that the game could be X-rated entertainment because of the gulf in class between the teams. Indeed, the TNS squad went to watch Kevin Keegan's men against Barcelona last week and immediately changed their plans.

"We were going to prepare specially for the City game, but we have decided now that our priority is preparing the lads for the first League of Wales game against Cwmbran," McKenna said. "We'll use this as a pre-season friendly. I wanted the players to get the feel of the ground and the atmosphere but when you see the talent they have got, it is going to be difficult for us."

McKenna, something of a giant-killing specialist, was part of the Telford United side that beat three League teams and reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1985 before going out to his beloved Everton. But as a seasoned servant of the non-league scene, McKenna knows that beating City is too big a task for his side, particularly as miracles do not usually come in pairs.

"If it was a domestic Cup tie and a one-off, we might have a chance of an upset, but because it's over two legs it is almost impossible to pull off the result. So I want us to enjoy the game," he said.

"The players are getting a chance to appear at two of the finest stadiums around, and I would like to keep the tie alive for the second game."

TNS are "UniBond League" standard in McKenna's opinion, a well-run outfit sponsored by Total Network Solutions and with partner links to Chelsea. Their full-time players train at Runcorn, more than an hour from Llansantffraid but central for all of their former pros, who come from around the country. Handily, Runcorn is also on McKenna's doorstep.

In TNS's ranks are Simon Davies, who once scored for Manchester United in the Champions' League, and the big centre-half Jimmy Aggrey, who was released by Keegan as a hopeful at Fulham.

"I have no regrets and do not hold anything against Kevin," Aggrey said. "He was very good to me and it was the best thing for my career to move on and make my way in the game. I joined Torquay and was player of the year there, then I went to Yeovil. I like travelling and meeting people, so this is a new experience for me."

TNS will make around £80,000 from the two ties, even more if they can keep the score respectable tomorrow and make the return leg at the Millennium Stadium worth watching for more than novelty reasons. There will be 1,200 away fans at the City of Manchester Stadium, which is quite an achievement for a village with an official population of 1,100.

Maybe keeping it off the television was not such a bad idea after all.