“Go on Giggsy! Go on Giggsy! AHHH…unlucky Giggsy! Keep going!” These are just some of the things I hear in the stand as Giggsy’s team are chasing the game having gone 2-0 down. It’s the first time I have visited this ground and Giggsy has been a large presence in the press over the previous few months. Giggsy is as influential as ever and although the team lose game 2-0 the fans still applaud Giggsy off the pitch. His high profile has had a big impact on the club and the fans are right behind him despite the defeat. Eh? Manchester United? Ryan? No…this is Rhodri Giggs and my first experience of Salford City FC in April 2012.
After living in Manchester for the best part of a year, and having visited most of the main footballing arenas in the Manchester area, I began to wonder what my official local team was. After typing in ‘Etihad Stadium’ into Google Maps, I discovered that it resides just under 4 miles away from my Mancunian homebase; Old Trafford, I discovered is situated just over 3 miles away, making one of the biggest and most historical football clubs ever my local team of the 92 league clubs. I then began to wonder what my ‘true’ local team was, in case I ever needed a desperate fix of football one Saturday afternoon; after a bit of research I soon discovered Salford City FC – located about 1.5 miles away and easily in walking distance from my house. I soon had my heart set on going to watch the team play in the mighty Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North – the 8th tier on the English Football League pyramid.
To get a feel for the club, I highly recommend watching the video below: in the early stages of 2011, a short film was released for the Salford Film festival, which portrayed Salford City FC as a shining light in modern football. The film, a 3 minute silent movie titled ‘Miracle at Moor Lane’, displays non-league football as the temple of ‘real’ football away from the blinding lights of the Premier League. The film follows a woman, the ‘Soul of Football’ seeking sanctuary away from the evil beings that chase her. The monsters take on symbolic roles and names of many of the forces which are supposedly ruining the modern game such as ’High Ticket Prices’, ‘Diving Footballers’, ‘Expensive Football Shirts’ and ‘Masses of Foreign Debt’ – almost like football’s answer to the sins that appeared in the classic Everyman morality plays of the 15th century. She is eventually rescued by Sir Rhodri of Giggs and Sir Darren of Quick (the club chairman, Darren Quick) and the ‘Soul of Football’ is restored. Pure genius!
(Link to the ‘Miracle of Moor Lane’ film on BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_conf/9438498.stm)
After delaying my first visit several times, one Tuesday night in early April I finally began to make the walk up through Lower Broughton, passing Manchester United’s famous, old training facility, the Cliff, to find Salford City’s ground, Moor Lane, where I was planning to attend their league fixture against Lancaster City. As I ascended further up Bury New Road, through Salford suburbia, I made a left down the street where a small, dirty signpost stood with the words ‘Salford City FC’. The road looked empty apart from a couple of houses on the left and a lonely church situated on the windy moor on the right. I was sure there was not a living, breathing football club down there, but after deliberating in my head I decided to trust the signpost. After 5 minutes walking I appeared to be just walking down the side of a moor, before I spotted an orange sign in the distance overhanging a small, concrete shed-like building – “Salford City FC.” I went through the shed, paid my £7 and I was soon ready to indulge in my first ever Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North fixture. I would never have guessed that my first experience of 8th tier English football would end with two riot vans coming into the ground to quash potential trouble.
As United’s constantly evolving ‘Theatre of Dreams’ towers over much of the newly modernised Salford Quays, now home to the BBC, Salford City’s own ‘theatre’ is located in a far more modest environment. Salford’s Moor Lane is located near the Prestwich area of North Salford, just over 4 miles away from Old Trafford and the Quays. If you parachuted onto the road on one side of the ground you would be have no indication that you were in one of the biggest cities in the country, as the ground is surrounded on one side by the Kersal Moor and a typical suburban housing estate on the other side. The ground itself contains one small, run down stand, emblazoned with the name ‘SALFOR CITY FC’ (the ‘D’ lost to time) and a small shed like area located on the opposite side of the pitch. The ground can hold 1,400 fans if it was to be full to capacity. Currently, meeting this capacity is beyond Salford’s wildest dreams and even getting 10% of this figure into the ground would be considered an accomplishment. Amazingly, Salford is actually the largest city in the country without a professional football team and the lowly position of the city’s eponymous football club doesn’t look like changing this fact for a very, very long time.
On my first visit to the club, having been unsure of where the ground was, I had left my home early in preparation for the 19:45 kick off against Lancaster. However, my amazing sense of direction kicked in and in no time at all I was at Moor Lane with a lot of time to kill. There are no pubs in the immediate vicinity so I was hopeful that there would be somewhere to get a drink in the ground to pass away the time and fortunately I discovered a large portacabin, acting as the club’s makeshift clubhouse, after the original clubhouse burnt down. There was a small number of people in the clubhouse, with 1 or 2 wearing the orange (not quite the bright, colourful orange of Total Football connotations though) of Salford City. After getting my pint of Crystal lager (I’ve never heard of it either) I noticed I was getting some strange looks from the people in the clubhouse. The thought then dawned on me that these people could probably pick out someone that exists outside of the Salford City fanbase a mile off. Instead of remaining in my awkward stance as sole outsider I decided to approach them and ask them about the club. The fans were very friendly and welcoming, and even seemed grateful that I had added £7 to the Salford City kitty by paying my entrance fee. They also answered the one question that had been puzzling me since I first encountered the club: why were Salford City known as “the Ammies”? My new friends explained to me that the name came from the club’s former guise as ‘Salford Amateurs’; The original incarnation of the team was as Salford Central Mission (it is unclear when the club was formed but records show it would have been shortly after the Second World War) and the club stuck to this name during the first 20 years of its existence before entering the Manchester League in 1963 and becoming Salford Amateurs.
At the dawn of the 80s the club made a bid to jump up to the Cheshire County League. The club and its fans worked extremely hard in renovating the crumbling and derelict stand and improving the poor pitch at Moor Lane; this would prove a substantial bonus in 1982 as the club stepped up onto the non-league ladder by successfully being granted entry to the newly formed North West Counties (a coming together of the Cheshire League and the Lancashire Combination) in 1982- the same year the team dropped the ‘Amateurs’ from its moniker to become Salford FC. In the 1989/1990 season the club would see one of the most famous days in the history of the Salford club in 1989, as the club got the chance to grace the turf of their historic neighbours at Old Trafford in the Manchester County Premier Cup final against local rivals Curzon Ashton. Salford drew 1-1, but went on to lose the replay. In 1990, the club’s name would change once again, this time to the current name of Salford City FC.
Since the name change to Salford City FC over twenty years ago, the club has experienced a several ups and downs between numerous Northern-North West based leagues and has gone through an extensive cast list of managers. After several up and downs they finally found a new leash of life under manager Gary Fellows in 2005, with him focussing on developing young Salford lads to play for the club. On my visit to Moor Lane, I was informed that the club had gathered a reputation as being a team synonymous with playing good attacking football; this reputation that club had gathered for itself spawned from Fellows’ tenure at the club with him carefully selecting local players that he could mould to fit his exciting brand of football. Fellows led the team to top 4 finishes in the 05/06 and 06/07 season, narrowly missing out on promotion in both seasons; an incredible feat considering the team comprised of almost all local Salford lads. When a second promotion from the Vodkat League became available, the team finally succeeded in obtaining promotion to the Unibond League under Fellows’ tutelage.
Fellows was sacked in October 2008 after losing an FA Cup tie against Prescot Cables and a series of bad results in the league. Salford would enter a succession of relegation scraps over the next few seasons and would survive them all.
After my pints in the clubhouse and a history lesson on the club (they didn’t tell me everything I’ve just doucmented –some of that was good solid research), I headed for the stand where I must admit it was very cold. The stand scattered with ten or so fans from Salford with the more boisterous and hardcore fans standing at the back, so that they could thump the backboard to the rhythm of their chorus of their chants. There was also a strong 10-15 crowd of Lancaster City fans who had made the journey for the evening kick off. There was very little to get the pulse racing on the pitch and the game was 0-0 half time. I headed back to the clubhouse at half time to warm up and enjoy another pint of Crystal, and amazingly, one of the perks of non-league cropped up: I could sit by the window, next to the radiator, with a pint and still watch the game – not that that much was happening. The really drama started to unfold off the pitch. As the first half had been unfolding the Lancaster City fans, in the shed-like stand opposite Salford’s main stand, had become louder and more boisterous (and the ones with beer cans much drunker). Many of Salford fans commented that they felt a lot of them were not ‘real Lancaster and fans and that most were just students. For the second half the Lancaster faithful decided to move around to the main stand to seek shelter with the Salford City fans. A small handful of the Lancaster fans seemed intent on winding up the Salford fans and soon they took their chants way too far when a collect few started singing “You’re just a town full of Jews!” (there is a strong, thriving Jewish community in the area near the ground) which resulted in the police being called to the ground, just in time for the final whistle to keep the Lancaster fans back. Even as I made my way home, there were two riot vans coming down the street. And I thought non-league football was the much quieter counterpart to league football! The game ended 2-0 to Lancaster by the way.
My second visit to Moor Lane came the Saturday following as they took on Yorkshire team Harrogate Railway. This game made for much better viewing this and despite Salford taking an early lead, they sunk to a 4-1 defeat. This was also the day I was introduced to playing style of player/manager Rhodri Giggs; despite his short stature, I cannot recall seeing anyone be so good at heading a football and winning so many headers against much bigger and taller opposition defenders. Giggs was considered a surpise apoointment as player/manager at Moor Lane, having had no previous managerial experience. Unlike his much decorated brother, Rhodri’s career has mainly been spent in the non-league. Giggs approached me in the bar after that game recognising my Welsh accent and asking if I was the ‘mophead_88’ off twitter that had tweeted him earlier in the day; he even apologised to me for Salford’s performance and he then went and sat in the corner of the bar by himself with a bottle of Becks, cutting a forlorn figure. Giggs would quit his role as player/manager after the next home game, the final of the season, after Salford found themselves plummeting into mid table mediocrity.
I started writing this entry in April, and I write this now (in July) after my third visit to Moor Lane, a visit in which I witnessed my local team take on Irlam FC, the local team of the school I work at, in the Salford Advertiser’s Cup that is played out annually between the two sides; I even had a colleague lining up for Irlam. Salford have followed the ‘appoint someone with a famous brother as manager’ system again with their appointment of Darren Sheridan, brother of John. However, unlike the surprise appointment of Giggs, Sheridan has vast experience at non-league level, having spent 5 years joint-managing at Barrow with Dave Bayliss, where he even led them to a Wembley victory against Stevenage in the FA Trophy. I was informed, that I could expect Sheridan to play some part in the game as one fan told me “he can still play a bit you know!”
Salford had had a complete overhaul of the playing staff with very few faces remaining from the previous season for a number of reasons. My favourite story on this warm July evening was emerging in the form of Salford’s new goalkeeper, Jamie Waite. After chatting with some of the Salford faithful one uttered the line: “The new goalkeeper is a Thai international you know. He’s got a Wikipedia page.” To my amazement the claim appeared to be true, as the 26-year old Waite, who has a Thai mother, made one appearance for the national team against Singapore aged 15! Waite also has a number of league clubs on his CV including Doncaster, Rotherham, MK Dons and Bradford City. He would live up to his billing in the first half, after making a brilliant penalty save and producing another crucial save shortly after.
Soon after Waite’s heroics, Salford earned a penalty of their own, which was then converted by Jimmy Holden to make it 1-0. Until the penalty, I felt Irlam, who play two leagues below Salford, had been the better side, but the goal seemed to knock them out of their stride and from there on in, it was a more scrappy affair but with Salford dominant. The second half carried on in a similar fashion with both teams making a lot of changes as the game went on. Goalkeeper Waite left the pitch to loud applause and chants of “Salford’s number one!” from the very vocal support that usually resides at the back of Salford’s stand. Salford grabbed a second to kill the game off, before hitting the crossbar towards the end. Full time: Salford 2-0 Irlam and the Salford faithful burst into choruses of “Five times! We’ve won it five times!” in celebration of retaining the Salford Advertiser Cup against Irlam for the fifth time.
Following the game, I went to the clubhouse for one last pint before making the short walk home down through the Cliff and Higher Broughton. Gazing down at me from behind the bar, behind a couple of wine bottles, was the Salford Advertiser Trophy itself – so important it was confined to the back of the bar! Also, only in non-league do you find the chairman serving you drinks from behind the bar in the post-match aftermath.
I have grown quite fond of Salford City FC and its small community of loyal supporters and I wish Salford all the best in their upcoming league campaign – I’m sure I’ll pop in a few times along the way.
Up the Ammies!
Highlights: Cheap tickets of course, friendly fans, community feel to the club, clubhouse, the chairman serving you at the bar, my local team!
Low Points: The ground/the stand is on its last legs, not much around the ground e.g. pubs