Harrison a believer in the New Saints’ football pilgrimage

Craig Harrison is set to embark on another Champions League journey with Welsh club New Saints, a competition
he once dreamed of playing in until a devastating injury at the age of 25 cut his career short. Harrison, then playing
for Crystal Palace, suffered a double compound fracture of the leg during a reserve game, ending his professional playing
career and plunging him into deep despair.

The depression that followed was intense, with Harrison spending two Christmases alone, subsisting on baked beans on
toast. However, with the support of his family, he turned his life around and found a new path in coaching.

Now 46, Harrison has become the most decorated manager in the history of the Welsh league champions, having secured
17 trophies over two spells, including an unbeaten league title last season. Reflecting on his journey, Harrison told AFP,
“What does not kill you makes you stronger.”

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On Tuesday, instead of watching the Euro 2024 semi-final between France and Spain, Harrison will be at the New Saints’
home ground in Oswestry, Shropshire, overseeing their Champions League qualifying round first leg against Montenegrin
side Decic. This match will mark his 20th Champions League game, bringing him closer to breaking the record for the most
matches managed by an Englishman in the competition, a record currently held by the late Bobby Robson with 26.

Harrison is no stranger to breaking records. In 2017, his New Saints team won 27 consecutive matches, surpassing the record
held by the legendary Ajax side of the 1970s. “Yeah it is fun, bit tongue in cheek,” Harrison chuckled, recalling the achievement.
“Myself and the football club are not in the same league as that fantastic Ajax team or Cruyff and it is nice for me and the club to
be spoken about in the same sentence.”

The club’s owner, Mike Harris, harbors even greater ambitions. “To win it,” Harris told AFP. “Getting to the group stage, I never dared say that a few decades ago. That is a natural ambition.” Harrison, while more grounded, shares a deep affection for the club and its owner. “There is nothing more I would like to achieve for a club I love and an owner I love working for,” he said.

Despite Harris’s lofty goals, Harrison remains realistic about the club’s prospects. “Obviously Mike is really passionate about the New Saints being the first Welsh club to get into the group stage of the Champions League,” said Harrison. “But that is never going to happen. The Europa League is a huge ask, though the Europa Conference League is not unrealistic.”

Harrison’s journey has been shaped by adversity, including a challenging stint managing Hartlepool. “Make no bones about it, I learned how to be a better manager and a better, more rounded person with a bit more empathy,” he said. “I became a better partner to my wife Danielle and a better dad to my daughter Ruby.”

The hardship of moving his family during his time at Hartlepool was particularly tough on his young daughter Ruby, but Harrison believes these experiences have ultimately made them stronger. “If you get to adulthood without adversity, what is going to happen when you first meet it?” he said. “Adversity makes you a more whole and rounded person.”

As he prepares for yet another Champions League adventure, Harrison’s resilience and dedication continue to inspire those around him, proving that the strength gained from overcoming life’s challenges can lead to remarkable achievements.

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