Football | The New Saints versus Europa FC

The New Saints vs Europa
Champions League Qualifying First Round - First Leg

Over the years, my dad and I have made it a tradition to try to get to the home legs of Welsh premier league side TNS adventures in the preliminary qualification rounds of the Champions League. We have done this on and off for the past 15 years and we've seen a good number of games against:

  • Östers IF (Sweden)
  • MYPA (Finland)
  • FK Ventspils (Latvia)
  • Bohemians (Ireland)
  • Anderlecht (Belgium)
  • CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria)

However, in recent years the first round has tended to clash with our holidays and we've not been able to get to the home match. But this year we were able to get ourselves to The Venue in Oswestry to see TNS play Europa FC from Gibraltar. We paid for 'Silver' tickets which gave us access to a cold buffet pre-match and unreserved seating. Due to my travel issues leaving work, and my Dad not realising it was a 19:00 kick-off meant that we didn't get to the stadium until 15 minutes to kick-off. After collecting our tickets, we headed in to a large function room and at the far end was the buffet. Two large tables, with plenty of trays that I'm assuming had sandwiches on them, a large bowl of cocktail sausages, mini quiches and the evidence of the source of some sausage rolls. We grab a plateful each before heading out to watch the game.

As we walked on to the veranda from the function room, we caught the kick-off and we headed along the edge of the pitch in the hope of finding some seats. Although there were a handful of seats they were all in the middle of the blocks and we didn't want to inconvenience other supporters by asking them to stand up. We continued to walk around the pitch, but we decided we would go beyond the end of the stand and stand against the fencing. Apparently this wasn't allowed and a steward asked us to move... we went back to the stands and found a pair of seats, unfortunately they were right in the middle of what I can only assume was the TNS youth team and their families. I won't lie, I found this really distracting as they weren't as focussed on the match as I was and I couldn't chat with my dad about the game.

Watching the game, it was a relatively close game, with Europa taking the lead after a loose pass by TNS on the halfway line, Europa broke away down their left wing before centring a low cross and a striker was unmarked to tap the ball in to the net. Just before half time, TNS pulled back level with a great flick, Scott Quigley turned the ball over a defender and then half-volleying a shot past the goalkeeper to make it 1-1. In the second half Europa got a second goal, again TNS gave away the ball on the half way line, broke away and a nice finish meant the Gibraltan side victory in the first leg. There really wasn't much between the two sides, and I could easily see TNS winning the return leg if things go their way.

I think this was only the second time that we've been to The Venue, and I've got to say my experiences haven't left me feeling like I've been to a football match. It's strange, there is obviously some really good work going on by the team in the local community allowing them to use the facilities at the ground and encourage them to attend matches. However, and perhaps it's down to the lack of away fans (it's not your average trip to a game), but there was something strange about going to this match - it felt very friendly, if you know one person you'll know everyone - but I felt really detached from the game. As I say it was strange. Hopefully TNS can get a result in Portugal - Europa are playing the return leg there - and we can go to another game to get a different (more positive) experience.

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