“We want to be the first Welsh club to get to the group stage of a European competition, and if we do not achieve that in the next four to five years we will be disappointed,” the New Saints manager, Craig Harrison, says. The Welsh champions have won the league 14 times in the past 19 years and want to take this success into continental football.

TNS face a tough start with a Champions League qualifier against the Swedish side Häcken, with the first leg in Gothenburg on Wednesday. TNS are realistic about their chances of making it through but know they get a second chance in the Europa Conference League if the worst happens.

It is a month since Manchester City defeated Internazionale to win the Champions League. TNS’s Park Hall Stadium, which will have one stand open for the second leg while a new main stand is constructed, is a world away from Istanbul. A tree-lined pitch and a disused bowling alley inside the main building are among its features.

“It is a real challenge and one that is right up there with what you can expect in the early stages of elite football,” Harrison says. “I am close to 30 matches as manager or assistant in European football and it is still brilliant, exciting and turns you on. If you don’t do your job properly, you have the opportunity of getting hammered.

“We are playing against the best in Europe; even if it is the early stages, it is the elite. Häcken’s manager [Per-Mathias Høgmo] was an international manager with Norway. You are pitting your wits against some top-level people.”

Craig Harrison watches his players prepare for the Champions League qualifier against Häcken.

Craig Harrison watches his players prepare for the Champions League qualifier against Häcken. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

At international level Wales are flying, having qualified for two European Championships and a World Cup in the past decade but the domestic game has plenty of room for improvement. TNS are the only full-time club in the Welsh Premier League, which has helped them dominate a competition that struggles to attract crowds.

This success has resulted in short summers because of European football in July but has led to only four wins in Champions League qualifying ties. They have seen off teams from the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, San Marino and Kosovo, some of the continent’s minnows, a bracket TNS would like to move out of.

European football is important to the owner, Mike Harris. Last season’s qualifying-round failures resulted in the sacking of Anthony Limbrick and Harrison’s return for a second spell. Harrison will take charge of his 15th Champions League match against Häcken.

“I am very proud of this,” he says. “There are better managers than me in the Premier League, who have greater domestic success, but can’t say they have managed in the Champions League. The icing on the cake would be that holy grail of being the first Welsh club to get into the group stage of a European competition.”

Adrian Cieslewicz was an academy player at City with Ben Mee and Daniel Sturridge. He has been at TNS for nine years, so knows his way around the European qualifiers, once facing his brother, Lukasz , when B36 Torshavn were brushed aside in 2015. “I could say playing Flint away is not very appealing but when you get Champions League football at the end of the season, it was definitely a big factor in me joining,” Cieslewicz says. “European competitions are the main aim.”

The owner’s passion is reaching Europe and he is proud the club have played in a continental competition every year since the turn of the millennium, albeit without taking the next step. Ties against Manchester City, in 2003, and Liverpool in 2005 live long in his memory. The walls at Park Hall are adorned with photos and pennants from their European nights, some played under their previous name of Total Network Solutions.

Pennants on the wall above the bar at TNS’s stadium.

Pennants on the wall above the bar at TNS’s stadium. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

TNS are not particularly popular within the Welsh league because of their dominance. Last season, they scored 112 goals in 32 matches and ended 22 points clear of second-placed Connah’s Quay. Despite their success, no one from the club secured a manager or player-of-the-month award. Their ground is situated over the border in Oswestry, England, where attendances average fewer than 300.

“It’s about achieving success, it’s not about the money,” Harris says. “I really enjoy football and pushing the club forward. As much as it is a real privilege to represent Wales each year, I am hoping the standard across the whole of the league comes up.”

If TNS reach the group stage, it would be good news for the league because it brings a windfall from Uefa. Greater investment of finance and expertise is needed to boost the game in Wales. Latvia, Liechtenstein, Kosovo and Lithuania had a team in last season’s Europa Conference League group stage and these are the countries Harris believes Wales can emulate.

The New Saints chairman, Mike Harris.

The New Saints chairman, Mike Harris. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

“This isn’t a five-year journey; it could be a multi-generational one to enthuse the Welsh public that they have a product they can believe in,” Harris says. “Currently they do not believe in their domestic product – there is a big job to be done. Whether they support a team in England is by-the-by. We would like to hope over a period of time they could lock into their own domestic clubs to give them reward for supporting the sport and believe the product is good enough at a national level.”

It may be a long-term project but the next steps start in Gothenburg – perhaps it will end with dancing in the streets of The New Saints.