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SALFORD REDS WILLOWS FINALE
 

Star date: 12th September 2011 

SALFORD REDS END WILLOWS DAYS

Salford Reds 18 Catalan Dragons 44

Salford Reds waved goodbye to The Willows yesterday with their record Super League attendance, and a huge party for past players and fans on the pitch.

Now the Reds move on to be tenants in the new publicly funded, half privately owned stadium at Barton. But will this big crowd be there to watch them? A Salford Reds fan writes a review of the day…

Click here for full story and lots more photos…


Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day
Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day
Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day Salford Reds Final Willows Day
click image to enlarge

`The club's senior management should note that with this crowd of 10,000+ there is demand for the Reds in the city. They must also ask themselves why 6-7,000 people attended today, but do not attend regularly…'


As Thomas Bosc's conversion sailed between the sticks it was the signal that the life of The Willows was over. After 110 years as a focal point of the city and of the game in general, the ground will become like Swinton's famous old Station Road ground - a housing estate.

Hopefully the club will be able to persuade developers, Godliman Watson, to remember the ground and those who graced the surface in the name of the roads and with a memorial garden for those whose ashes have been spread on The Willows pitch.

Over 10,000, a record Super League crowd at The Willows, attended the game which Salford lost comfortably to their bigger, faster, stronger and better opponents. It was a day of mixed emotions - of celebration, frustration and reflection.

Before the game the parade of the clubs legends was enthusiastically received as they made their way around the ground. Fata Sini, the blockbusting winger of the 1990s got a rousing reception, as did the players from the 1970s, the Red last winning era; special mention must go to Paul Charlton, who flew in from Australia to be at this game.

Fans chanted and amused themselves by taking and posing for photographs, renewing old acquaintances and planning for life in the new ground. The players warmed up wearing `I Love Salford' t-shirts, a side of our city which is never seen in the press.

There was a minute's silence before the game to remember the victims of 9/11, fans and former players who have passed away during the life of The Willows – and, most tragically, to remember Dana Wilson the Swinton Lions player killed last week only a couple days after celebrating the Lions' Championship victory and promotion on The Willows pitch.

At kick off there was a strange atmosphere, at times almost flat, with the team suffering under the pressure to win and the crowd almost silent as if it was a funeral and not a celebration of The Willows life. In truth the game did not live up to the event with Les Catalans comfortably winning.

The club's senior management should note that with this crowd of 10,000+ there is demand for the Reds in the city. They must also ask themselves why 6-7,000 people attended today, but do not attend regularly. Is it the cost of a normal ticket or the quality of fayre in recent years?

Does the senior management have the stomach to back coach Matt Parish and ensure he has the tools he has asked for to attract the 8,000 crowd they have said they need at Barton in order to move the club forward? People won't come back to the club permanently because of a new stadium, it's what happens on the pitch that matters most.

Reds bosses should also take note of the number of children at the game. They should not waste any time in reinstating the Junior Devils to make the young fans feel part of the club and ensure the next generations of Reds faithful.

As Bosc's conversion sailed over that was it, the flatness and anxiety that had filled the ground during the game went away and the fans could celebrate once again. After the Catalans  `party poopers' had departed the scene, the Reds players took a final lap of honour posing for photographs with fans and signing autographs, with departing overseas players Ray Cashmere and Mark Henry getting rousing applause for the service they have given the club.

When the Reds players departed for the final time and Chairman John Wilkinson had emotionally addressed the crowd and thanked them for their support, the fans took to the field - some tackling each other recreating and creating their own Willows moments, others just using the opportunity to tread on the hallowed turf in the footsteps of the games' greatest players. They were all entertained by live music including the Salford Jets as the pitch became an auditorium and The Willows became the North's Glastonbury.

The hard work put in by the Reds backroom staff must not go without being thanked, as they organised and executed a day enjoyed by all, a day which was poignant and fitting. A day of pomp and ceremony, as an Army guard of honour marched onto the pitch, to be with greeted with claps and cheers and an emotional chant of "Green Army" from the massed ranks of supporters in The Shed. There were also brass bands, Junior Rugby, school dancers and cheerleaders, including a cameo by `the mothers of The Red Hot Flames'.

Perhaps the result was wrong and it would have been nice for the Reds to have won, but the send off of from The Willows was a truly memorable occasion.

Maybe the last word should go to the Rugby Gods who deemed the last ever try scorer at The Willows to be Steve Menzies, a legend of the game (the only one on the pitch) and one of the all time great players. And the final ever points from the ensuing conversion went to Thomas Bosc, the mercurial French half back, sealing one final link between Salford, The Willows and the country which created our club's identity - `Les Diables Rouges'.

Farewell to The Willows and thanks for the memories.

 

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