Salford City v Hampton & Richmond
Moor Lane / Preseason Friendly / 23rd July 2016
I write this from my family home back in the South Wales valleys, which means that my time being an adopted northerner has come to an end and new adventures are soon afoot. With 48 hours left until I departed Manchester early Monday afternoon, I had to make sure my last Saturday in my adopted home went off with a bang; that also meant finding a suitable, sentimental farewell destination for my football travels. There was only ever going to be one answer here. My football groundhopping bow in the north would be made at my local ground: the home of Salford City FC, Moor Lane.
Non-league football has become a central pillar to my Lost Boyos adventures since I began traipsing around the backwater towns of the UK and its football grounds. Some of the most fun times and some of the best friends I’ve made have definitely come from non-league football. Yet, I’d be the first to admit that I arrived in the north-west with little understanding or knowledge of the lower echelons of the vast football pyramid in this country. The catalyst for this change would be largely thanks to Salford City.
On learning that there was a traditional, old, ramshackle ground situated next to Kersal Moor within walking distance of my house, I was intrigued. The quickest spot of research led to me learning that Salford City played in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North; despite the elaborate league name, this meant very little to me. I was probably more fascinated by the fact that Rhodri Giggs, brother to Ryan, was the manager of such a club. I had to go find out what was going up there though.
I still remember the overwhelming initial feeling of being a bit of an outsider on arriving at Moor Lane for the first time. The portacabin-cum-bar (the clubhouse had burned down) had a small collection of regulars and I immediately felt invasive in their realm – but not for long. On spying one fan wearing a Salford shirt (I couldn’t believe you could actually get shirts for clubs at this level) I figured he was my man to go to for information. Ammies die-hard Richard took me under his wing for the rest of the evening and as the wind and rain from the moor hammered the ground nds abject football was played in front of me, I realised that I absolutely loved all this. Even though the night ended ugly when the police were called following a small band of away fans chanting anti-semitic chants (the ground is located in a stronghold of the local Jewish community), but the sirens of the two police vans heading towards the ground would not squash my enthusiasm for what I had seen of non-league football.
I was back at Moor Lane 4 days later and would return fairly consistently over the forthcoming years. On that second visit I was truly welcomed by everyone and on learning I was an English teacher, I was even offered a gig helping to write and produce the programme (remember, this was only my second visit!) I only turned down the opportunity as I felt that I now wanted to wander to other non-league grounds and see what else this quirky world of non-league football had to offer. It all felt a bit like finding Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe and so began the now prevalent non-league side of Lost Boyos. I still do like to think though that there is some sort of footballing parallel universe where I’m an ardent Salford City fan producing their programme having accepted their offer.
Back to today and by golly has Salford City changed from those first visits. Firstly, Rhodri Giggs is long gone and was followed by several managers after. You may have heard or even seen a two part BBC documentary explaining that it is now Rhodri’s brother, Ryan, who now owns the club along with his fellow alumni of the famous Class of 92. I actually happened to be at Moor Lane the day Messrs Giggs, Scholes, Neville (Phil and Gary) and Butt rocked up to scout to their future investment, much to the surprise of everyone there that day as Salford took on Curzon Ashton. Invest they did though and the club soon transformed into a whole new club at a phenomenal speed. Orange shirts became red shirts, the badge became remarkably crisper, attendances went soaring and midtable obscurity became two promotions and a place in the Conference North this season. Even FA Cup giant killings became the norm as the Conference’s Southport were defeated before a spectacular slaying of League Two Notts County (in front of the BBC cameras) saw Salford then take another League Two club, Hartlepool, to a replay, only to lose up at Victoria Park. Plus, the owners have renovated the ground extensively and it is now in far more pristine condition after the Class of 92 and billionaire owner Peter Lim’s money sorted the place out (without taking away too much of Moor Lane’s character I feel). I know many are not too fond of the recent Salford success and money, but as someone who’s seen both sides of the club, I can only commend the efforts of all parties at the club now. It’s been an incredible transformation.
Back to my final northern Saturday, and we were departing 1 Oak Road (Lost Boyos’ Northern HQ) with 4 Lost Boyos debutants in tow: my housemates Lisa and Scott and my two pals from my teacher training days, Jamie and Ged (they both earned bonus points for wearing flat caps). Our first port of call was to be the legendary ‘secret pub’.
The Star Inn sits about 5-10 minutes from my (old) doorstep, but it would take me a good 2 years or so of living down the road to realise it even existed. The ‘secret pub’ moniker we gave it comes from the fact it is hidden away down an alley. It’s a gem though once you know where it is. It may be small but it is one of the finest you’ll find. The Star Inn is a bit like the FC United of pubs with it being completely owned by customers who’ve bought shares in it and help run it – definitely a place for lefties out there. More importantly, on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, there were fine ales on tap and the beer garden was there to be enjoyed (especially if you like Pokemon Go apparently as Pokemon were abundant out there).
After two pints, it was to the Lane we headed, whilst we tried to find out if Rachel, Jamie’s girlfriend, would make it to the game (apparently a hangover had led her to leaving later and attempting a solo mission from central Manchester to Moor Lane). £5 entry was paid for today’s friendly against West London-based Hampton & Richmond; although our entry was slightly delayed by Jamie and Ged participating in their first ever Lost Boyos double thumbs up outside the ‘SCFC’ gates first.
On entering and taking their first looks at the wonderful Moor Lane, Jamie queried what it had looked like before if this was what I considered ‘glossier’; I reiterated that this was a far cry from how it had looked 2 years previous. Moor Lane’s renovation continues in fact as they work on a new stand to put them up to Conference ground grading standards – hence the scaffolding on one side of the ground. The ground’s pièce de résistance remains though and that’s the most important thing: I’m not sure there’s a stand I love more than the old beauty at Moor Lane.
One of the biggest transformations in the ground has been the club bar, which has undergone a makeover that Nick Knowles and the rest of the DIY SOS gang would be proud of. As always, Foster’s was bought in here as me and Gibbo seemed to convince ourselves one night here that it actually tastes nicer and more creamy than Foster’s anywhere else; I still maintain that it does, although this may now be a psychological issue. With it being a glorious sunny Saturday in Salford, we took our beer pitchside, just as the teams were strolling out onto the pitch and Rachel was finally finding her way into the ground via the other entrance (which caused some confusion at first).
I’m a big fan of Salford’s new kits, especially their new white one which they were adorned in today. The away team were cheered on by a small, but hearty, band of away fans who had travelled up from the capital. The same fixture was played at Hampton & Richmond’s ground last season and I wondered how such a friendship had formed between the two clubs; I’d later learn that the fixtures have come about thanks to everyone’s favourite former commentating double act of Gary Neville and Martin Tyler, as it seems that Tyler has involvement in the London club just as G-Nev does at Salford.
The game itself was a bit of a non-event to be honest and after having Football League opposition in Fleetwood Town visiting recently and with Hartlepool and a Manchester United XI coming up at Moor Lane, the crowd number was slightly down on those fixtures. Maybe the weather had inspired folk to go venturing to more exotic climes than Kersal Moor too. However, for me, the weather was perfect for some relaxing preseason football and beer, so I was content.
On the pitch, Salford were struggling to get going and the away team were getting on top. Just like Salford, last season saw Hampton & Richmond, brilliantly nicknamed the Beavers, win promotion to the second tier of non-league football and they now have a place in the Conference South. It would be the Beavers who would take the lead too. In the 21st minute, a freekick whipped into the box landed on the head of defender Jay Glasson, who placed his header into the far corner giving keeper Jay Lynch no chance.
By now, I found myself back in my old favourite spot on the back row of the main stand with the ‘Salford Ultras’ – well, the plural is inaccurate here as only Richard was present today with the others of their small number away elsewhere. More upsetting to learn was that Richard’s incredible consecutive game record had fallen by the wayside last season thanks to certain travel issues. In the end Richard only managed the meagre total of 372 consecutive Salford games home and away, before having to start building up his total again. What a part-timer…
Having chatted to Richard for a bit, I continued my final lap of Moor Lane to say goodbye properly, making sure to get some more photos of that beautiful stand. Obviously I wanted my usual double thumbs up photos too and having left the rest of my gang behind I found myself asking a stranger to take my photo. What I failed to notice was that he was wearing a Northern Ireland shirt and so I apologised for my inspired home nation knocking his out of the Euros a month earlier. My new Irish friend would have the last laugh though as he began to regale me of his stories of me being out in France to generate the usual jealousy that erupts within me when I hear people talk of their Euro 2016 adventures. Our conversation was suddenly even joined by a random German fella wearing a FC Köln shirt. You get all sorts at non-league.
Half-time: Salford City 0 – 1 Hampton & Richmond.
With me now reunited with my collection of Lost Boyos debutants, more beer was purchased to keep us refreshed and we were even joined by Richard, who my pals wanted to meet after I had explained his Salford fandom. The half-time turnover proved quick and we were soon kicking off again.
The first half had been alright, but the second half was your stereotypical second half of a preseason friendly – it was very dull. There were a handful of half chances for Salford, but nothing to get the heart racing. Instead talk began to turn towards the evening’s plans and my planned farewell night out. As well as that, my focus was drifting away to think of my last Spices of Kashmir kebab for a long time. In a blur of nothingness, the final whistle blew and it was out of Moor Lane for the last time for the foreseeable future.
Full-time: Salford City 0 – 1 Hampton & Richmond.
It’s not particularly cool to like Salford City these days it seems (although attendance figures perhaps contradict that notion), but I will always have a lot of affection for the club that has done nothing but good things for me. I look forward to keeping an eye on them in their ventures in the Conference North next season – a league that will be particularly good fun with the vast array of Greater Manchester clubs participating in it (Stalybridge Celtic, Curzon Ashton, Stockport County, FC United and Altrincham will all be clashing against each other alongside Salford). I’ll miss you Moor Lane and your beautiful concrete stand.
It seemed my pals had enjoyed the ‘secret pub’ so much that they wanted to go back, as they felt Rachel had missed out on such a treat. I had no contentions with such a suggestion and so back down the alley we headed to the Star Inn. The weather was still glorious and we enjoyed our ales out in the beer garden once again. Well, most of us did. Although I’ve known her for the best part of 6 years, I had no idea Rachel was so terrified of dogs and so the 3 big, lovable, wolf-like dogs hounding us, whilst we drank away, were making her rather unnerved. After those ales though, it was time for the big emotional part of the day…
Saying goodbye to the Spices of Kashmir was tough. I do not exaggerate when I say it makes the finest kebab in the land; you know you are getting a quality chicken tikka kebab when it takes 20-25 minutes to make. I began talking to the ‘kebab man’ about how this was my last Kashmir for a long while and he even granted me the honour of a double thumbs up behind the counter. If ever you go watch Salford City or are just in the area, please go visit Spices of Kashmir – you will not regret it.
And in a flash the final stage of my last Saturday was upon me with a night out in Manchester, starting in the Courtyard. I was remarkably humbled by the turn out and it was great to see so many people from all walks of my life – personal, professional and, of course, footballing – make an appearance. There was too many to thank and to name everyone, but a particular big shout out to everyone’s favourite groundhopping double act, Tony One-Leg and Johnny the Rhino, for making a surprise appearance and seeming to entertain everyone there. As I said repeatedly on the night, those two need to bring back their superbly funny One Leg on the Cup blog – undoubtedly an influence on my Lost Boyos musings.
As someone declared on the night, “This is a bit like This Is Your Life!” It did feel a bit like that at times. My final salute to the north came in teh form of my now traditional rendition of James – Sit Down in the Orchard Garden karaoke bar (strangely located above a Chinese restaurant).
There were no tears the next morning, but I was definitely a tad emotional when I realised that that was that and the end was now nigh for my time in the north. The Saturday had been the perfect goodbye to the north. I’m very excited about the next stage in my life and the big Slovakian adventure ahead, but seeing everyone on Saturday made me realise that the last 6 years have been probably the best of my life and so I owe Salford/Manchester (and Liverpool) a lot. It’s goodbye for now – although there’s a little voice in my head at the moment though telling me that me and the north will rekindle our relationship at some point down the line. Much love to the north.
Highlights: the ‘secret pub’, still love Moor Lane – that stand especially, good club bar, nice weather, Spices of Kashmir, great night out in Manchester.
Low Points: poor game, saying goodbyes.
See all my photos from my final trip to Moor Lane and some of my night out here.