THE SALFORD STAR MARY BURNS AWARDS
Category: The `Be Careful What You Wish For' Award
Winner: John Wilkinson
Yes, way, way back in 2004, when Salford City Reds rugby club was just a twinkle in Salford Council's bank balance, the idea was muted for a new stadium for the Red Devils.
First the public had to be `persuaded' to back the idea and the club's Red City Developments employed the aptly named Spin Media to do the persuading with its 'Ave It campaign. The PR campaign even `refuted anti-plan letters in local papers with replies communicating positive benefits', and Spin Media even won a Gold PR Award for its `persuasion' efforts (see Salford Star issue 8).
So now, with everyone supposedly backing the stadium idea, it was a question of how to finance it, and Salford Council, in 2006, came up with the great plan of sticking a large casino next to it – and to use Salford's community as guinea pigs to test the effect of gambling. Peter Collins, head of Salford University's gambling study centre, was to sort out the economic and social impact study which was to include `rates of crime, bankruptcy, family breakdown and problem gambling'. Nice. And all for the sake of Salford Reds' stadium…
Unfortunately, the Government blew out the idea of increased numbers of casinos and Wilkinson's dream collapsed, as did City Reds Developments – er, just a few days after Salford Reds had been granted a Super League Licence.
Meanwhile, just before the collapse, The Willows, owned by the Wilkinson Corporation, was sold to Reds director Iain Watson's Godliman Watson Homes for £2.35million – with a loan provided by the bank, the Lindley Trustees and, er, John and Elaine Wilkinson. But that's another story (see here).
Next up, the new stadium dream lived on with the plan to stick an outpost of Salford City College on the site – which would be "the main catalyst in pushing forward the new City of Salford Stadium" with bags of public money. That also fell through when the College expansion programme was cut (see here).
So along came Peel Holdings (which had bought the bust City Reds Developments for £3.5million) and Salford Council, and together in bed they formed the City of Salford Community Stadium Ltd, with £22million worth of loans from the Council, plus public land and grants worth another £10.7million, taking the total to £32.7million (see here).
As plans went public in 2010 John Wilkinson declared… "It is the beginning of the end of one of the toughest journeys the club has ever been on, and we are fortunate to have such fantastic partners as the city of Salford and Peel to provide a superb new stadium that will benefit all the people of the city, their Rugby Club and Super League…"
The stadium, which was due to open in 2008, finally opened last January, 2012, with John Wilkinson declaring that it was "a dream come true". The new ground – now named Salford City Stadium, with all mention of community dropped – was to solve all the club's financial woes. Er…
…We all know the rest, with the club's bank account currently frozen, a winding up petition finally due to be solved next month and Wilkinson having to face fans at a public meeting to explain what went wrong… It was the stadium he said…revenue streams available at The Willows disappeared - they lost the club shop, corporate prices had increased, the break even crowd figure was never reached, they had to agree the high rental or the stadium wouldn't have been built etc etc…
And now? Well, with the club bankrupt unless Peel Holdings and Marwan Koukash cough up, Wilko's dream has turned to a bit of a nightmare, with Wilko himself being seen, unfortunately, as the architect of the club's downfall. Either way, `Mr Salford' is seemingly getting kicked out on his arse, while many fans wish that The Willows had been re-developed, and that the atmosphere-free, Sale Sharks loving Stadium had never been built.
So, ladies and gentlemen, please stick your heads up and under, and 'ave it for the winner of the Salford Star Mary Burns `Be Careful What You Wish For' Award…
The self-styled Mr Salford himself… John Wilkins-o-o-o-n
If John Wilkinson would like to make a thank you speech please fill in the Comments box below...
See Other Salford Star Mary Burns Award Winners...
Unfortunate Website of the Year: Visit Salford – click here
Salford Folly of the Year: Greengate Square – click here
Fiddling While Rome Burns: Salford Council – click here
The George Bush `Read My Lips' Award – click here
Chicken of the Year Award: Ian Stewart – click here
Readers Award for Disdain for Salford Working People: Creative Tourist – click here