The New Saints of Oswestry Town & Llansantffraid Football Club or The New Saints to you and I, won their ninth Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League title following a 3-0 win over Bala Town on Saturday.
The club, based in the picturesque Welsh Marches that stretch the border of England and Wales went into the game only needing a point to secure their fourth consecutive title. After an early goal from former Manchester City trainee Adrian Cieslewicz to settle the nerves, Craig Harrison’s side managed to secure all three to claim the Championship with five games to spare.
The manner in which the team won has been the most impressive – they have yet to taste defeat in this season’s League campaign going 27 games unbeaten, with 21 wins along the way. In those games they have scored 79 goals averaging just under three goals per game, conceding just 16 to date.
TNS players celebrate winning a record ninth WPL title! pic.twitter.com/6IVD7kW81J
— The New Saints FC (@tnsfc) March 14, 2015
This season has seen the Oswestry based team already win the League Cup after a dominant 3-0 score line against Saturday’s opponents Bala Town. The treble is also still in sight, with the side travelling to the Paveaways Latham Park to face Airbus UK Broughton in the Welsh Cup Semi-Final on 5th April. The winners of that tie will play either Newtown or Rhyl in the final in May.
In winning the Welsh Premier League, The New Saints can once again look forward to playing in next season’s UEFA Champions League, albeit in the qualifying stages. The club has competed in Europe every year since the turn of the millennium, but has never gone further than the third qualifying round which they reached after defeating Ireland’s Bohemians 4-1 on aggregate in the 2010-11 season.
Unfortunately for The Saints, in the next round they came up against the formidable Belgian Champions Anderlecht which included Romelu Lukaku and were beaten 6-1 on aggregate with the striker picking up a brace in the home leg.
Next season the club will once again be the overwhelming favourites to lift the League championship – the question is can anyone actually compete and challenge them for top-spot? Or is it time to apply to the English system alongside the likes of Wrexham, Newport County, Cardiff City and, of course, Swansea City of the Premier League for a new challenge?
If the answer is the latter, there is one more question to answer – Can they actually afford to switch to the English league system, even if it was plausible to do so? Maybe not.
While the team is playing in the Welsh system, it is – barring a disaster – guaranteed at least a Europa League spot and, in winning the league, the Champions League qualifying rounds. Even in going out in the Champions League Second qualifying round, which they almost always do, it would mean a windfall of close to £280,000 in prize money for their participation.
That huge amount of income, along with another potential figure of around £65,000 for winning all domestic competitions, means it would be very hard to turn their back on the Welsh system and take such a huge loss of earnings year on year.
Only a successful F.A. Cup run along the lines of Cambridge United or Bradford City this season or a huge sponsorship deal could compensate the loss, although the Cup run would be unlikely given the higher quality of opposition that they would face in England.
The only realistic thing to do is to continually improve the squad and the facilities at Park Hall in the hope of promoting Welsh football and someday having the strength (and a lot of luck) to make the Champions League group stage.
Whatever about where The New Saints will play their football in years to come, one thing for certain is that the future is an intriguing proposition for the Welsh League champions.