While his Darlington teammates are at Luton this afternoon, Franz Burgmeier will be facing Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Before the game, Craig Stoddart caught up with the Liechtenstein winger.

HOW the first Liechtenstein-born footballer to play in England ended up at Darlington will become the stuff of legend.

The strange but true tale starts with the football-daft 12- year-old grandson of Quakers’ chairman pointing Darlington in the unlikely direction of the fourth smallest country in Europe.

And it concludes at the end of a successful ten-day trial with impressed manager Dave Penney giving a nod of approval that sees a long-held dream turn into a reality for the man who was to quickly become a history-maker.

But that was just the beginning for Franz Burgmeier.

Soon after becoming his country’s first representative on these shores, the rightfooted left-winger scored an equaliser in only his fourth game and so became the first Liechtensteiner to score in England.

This afternoon, less than two months after leaving behind FC Basel in Switzerland, he again enters the record books by becoming the most capped player in Darlington’s 125-year history.

His 49th cap in a World Cup qualifier against Wales will be his fourth since signing for Quakers.

Their previous most capped players were Jason DeVos and Adrian Webster, who both played three times for their respective countries, Canada and New Zealand, with DeVos going on to play much of his career higher up the Football League with Wigan and Ipswich.

No doubt Burgmeier hopes to do something similar, especially after turning his back on Basel, with whom he won two domestic cups. A year ago he was playing in the Champions League.

But the 26-year-old has already played his way into the affections of Darlington supporters.

The novelty of having an international with so many caps was always going to create interest, but that early goal and regular assists has added genuine foundation to their fondness.

His assist in Tuesday’s win over Huddersfield means he has helped create seven goals in eight appearances, and scored once himself.

Darlington fans in Liechtenstein shirts have already been spotted while a mini-bus full of Quakers fans are travelling to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff today to cheer on their international hero.

The band of supporters could double the number of fans in the visitors’ enclosure as around only 20 are expected to make the journey from Liechtenstein to support a country ranked 135th in the world.

Their entire population of 35,000 – more than twice as many people live in Darlington – could fit inside the Millennium Stadium and have a spare seat each!

The German-speaking Alpine country, landlocked and bordered by Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east, may stage either the 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics.

But football is its number one sport, with teams playing in the Swiss league, and it is no surprise to hear Burgmeier’s progress is being closely monitored.

“We have only two newspapers and they made a big story about me when I signed for Darlington,” he said. “They both did one full page about me.

“Every week they call me to ask how it is going and ask how I played, they ask the result and they do reports on Darlington.”

But Burgmeier says the interest back home in his fortunes in England is outweighed by bemusement that he left behind the top level of European football.

His contract at Basel had been terminated by mutual consent, allowing him to chase his England dream, and he explained: “People are a little bit surprised.

“I played at Basel before in the Champions League, and now I play in England in League Two.

“But people are happy for me because the most important thing for me was to play in England and now I have an opportunity.

“I am the first from my country to play in England and it was difficult before I signed because I was without contract and wages, but now I am really happy.”

BORN in Triesen, a small town close to the Swiss border with a population of 4,500, Burgmeier skied until 16, when an accident caused a knee injury which threatened his burgeoning football career.

By that stage he had already represented his country at youth level and had generated a belief that making a career out of the game was a possibility.

“I always wanted to play football and I always felt I could do it,” he said.

“When I was 11 or 12 and playing for Liechtenstein youth team, we got a professional player from Germany as coach and we played all the way through: under-13s, 14, 15s, 16s.

“We played in Swiss competitions and, when I was 13, we beat everybody, teams like Basel, and we were champions – Liechtenstein! It was a great moment!

“After that it was clear I wanted to play professional football. The keeper from that team now plays in France, another one is in Portgual and two or three others were professional but are now back to amateur football.

“We used to see English football on television when I was younger, but German football is what we watched most.

“That is the most popular in Liechtenstein and my favourite team in the Bundesliga is Schalke. My friend Ivan Rakitic plays for them now, I played with him at Basel and we keep in touch.”

SCHALKE’S home stadium in Gelsenkirchen staged five World Cup finals games two years ago, including the quarter-final between England and Portugal – teams Bergmeier has played against during his international career.

He has the mementoes to prove it, as well as some fond memories.

During World Cup qualifiers in 2003 twice Liechtenstein faced Sven-Goran Erikson’s England, losing both fixtures 2-0, at home and at Old Trafford.

“I swapped shirts with Gary Neville and Nicky Butt when we played England,” recalled Burgmeier.

“From Portugal I have Paulo Ferreria’s shirt and I have Sergio Ramos’ shirt after we played Spain. Ramos was the best player I have ever played against.

“Their shirts are in a wardrobe for the moment but one day I want to put them on display, a hall of fame.”

As well as Beckham, Rooney and Gerrard, the Darlington winger can boast of having also shared the pitch with the likes of Russia’s Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, Carlos Puyol of Spain plus a certain Cristiano Ronaldo during an international career which started in 2001.

Perhaps boast is not quite an accurate description after facing the likes of Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who last month helped Germany spank Liechtenstein 6-0.

The result completed a remarkable week for the winger who, seven days earlier, had been part of the Darlington side which beat Macclesfield 6-0.

But a match at home to Portugal, featuring Ronaldo, Deco and Carvalho et al, offered the proudest moment of his career.

It was four years ago when two first-half goals gave Luis Felipe Scolari’s side a comfortable half-time lead during a World Cup qualifier that the Portuguese team probably expected to win comfortably.

Liechtenstein had not won any of their previous 20 World Cup qualifiers, while three months earlier Portugal had reached the final of the European Championships.

But in the second half Burgmeier scored past Ricardo, the man who denied England in a penalty shootout that summer, and late on Liechtenstein clinched an equaliser to secure the most eye-catching of results.

Burgmeier remembers the night fondly, saying: “I think Portugal wanted to play too much football in the second half, but we made it 2-1 and I scored the goal.

“A Portugal centre-back tried to pass to the right fullback, I got between them and got the ball and scored in the far corner.

“And at the end of the match we had a free-kick – the keeper didn’t even touch it, straight in. There was a big party afterwards.

“It was the biggest moment of my career, but also when we beat Luxembourg away 4-0, when I scored twice, was also a great moment.”

THAT draw with Portugal was played in the Liechtenstein capital, Vaduz, which was where Burgmeier also played his club football for five years before moving to Swiss Super League rivals Aarau.

But a year later, in 2006, came a move to Basel, one of Switzerland’s biggest clubs.

They have played in European competition every season since 1999 and attendances of around 23,000 are easily Switzerland’s highest – some contrast to Burgmeier’s next destination, Darlington, whose gate on Tuesday of just 1,791, albeit in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, was their smallest crowd for five years.

But such statistics do not concern Burgmeier, who for now is focused on settling into his new club and country.

“I keep in touch with my friends because I use the internet a lot,’’ he admitted.

“I’m also on the telephone and Skype – I use them every day and I use Facebook also.

“I miss my family and friends for sure and my girlfriend Monica.

“She works in an office and she goes to college twice a week but she also plays football as a hobby. She also plays on the left but at the moment she is playing right full-back.

“She was in the highest league in Switzerland but last year they got relegated, so now she is in National League B.

“My family came over for a week recently. They brought my car over and they watched the game against Accrington.

“I am really far away from home now. When I played in Basel I was two hours away so if I was feeling sad I could drive home, but now I am on my own. It is a new experience for me.

“In the afternoon I have been spending time buying things for my home, sometimes I go for a coffee.

“It is going fine now and I have moved into an apartment; I have some good friends like (Alan) Whitey, Billy (Clarke) and Liam (Hatch).

“We meet up sometimes and go for dinner. They are looking after me – they have to!”

As long as the Darlington affection continues, Burgmeier should continue to feel right at home.

But he could be joined by yet more Liechtensteiners at the Arena.

“I think they (international team-mates) also want to play in England,” he said. “Maybe I can help them to come to Darlington.

“But I have not told the manager yet!”

Perhaps a word in the ear of the chairman’s grandson is in order.