"This is the sort of fixture I got back involved in football for," The New Saints FC's director of football Craig Harrison told UEFA.com as the Welsh champions look forward to playing host to Polish double winners Legia Warszawa in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.
A defender for Middlesbrough FC and Crystal Palace FC, the 35-year-old Harrison's career was ended by a broken leg in 2003, but he has returned to football with pitch-side roles at AUK Broughton FC and, since 2011, The New Saints. The club won a second successive title – and their seventh in total – to qualify for this season's UEFA Champions League, with Legia – semi-finalists in 1969/70 and quarter-finalists in 1995/96 – representing massive opponents.
The demand for tickets has been such that TNS have already switched the tie from their Park Hall home in Oswestry to Wrexham AFC's more substantial Racecourse Ground. "The club has been inundated with ticket requests from UK-based Polish supporters since the draw was made," said Ian Williams, the club's chief operating officer. "We are expecting an attendance of maybe 5,000 – possibly even more – which would obviously be fantastic."
That would be a huge crowd by Welsh league standards, but the important thing for TNS is that they do not wilt under pressure. The only full-time, professional club in their league, they finished 22 points clear at the top of their table in 2012/13, with a +64 goal difference. However, while they are accustomed to winning games in Wales, Harrison has been eager to keep his players on their toes for fixtures like this one.
"We have unique challenges in our domestic season from being the only full-time, professional club," he explained. "We are expected to win every game, so to combat any complacency we have created competition in every position within the squad, which, as it has to be, is very strong.
"I am pleased with our preparations for the tie," Harrison explained. "[Head coach] Carl Darlington and I have obtained a lot of information on our opponents and done our homework. It has been difficult to arrange friendlies of the quality required to prepare for a tie like this, but our squad has lots of European experience and it's crucial we use it to our advantage. Personally, I learnt a lot from last season's Champions League campaign. I'm sure both myself and the players will learn a lot from this one, too."
TNS are bracing themselves for a day in the limelight, then – club media officer Gilbert Woolley noted: "The press attention has been really intense; certainly not what we are used to during the domestic Welsh Premier League season."
However, it that attention and pressure are more than welcome for Harrison. "Having the opportunity to coach in the UEFA Champions League is something very few managers will ever experience," he said. "It is a fantastic draw for the profile of the club, and I am excited to be involved."
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