As predicted by Salford Star exactly a year ago (see previous feature – click here), the Salford City Stadium is losing the word `Salford' from its title, and is now to be known as the AJ Bell Stadium, after Sale Sharks flogged off the naming rights to the `investment platforms and stockbroker services' company.
The Stadium has been fraught with controversy since its conception and was built as a `joint venture' company by Salford City Council and Peel Holdings with £26million of public money – a £22million loan from Salford Council and £4million grant from North West Development Agency, and Salford Council land worth £6.7million.
It was originally named the Salford Community Stadium and was announced by John Merry, former Leader of Salford City Council, as "another landmark development for Salford that will benefit the economy and the community who will have access to use its quality facilities".
However, when people from the community later asked whether the community would have free access to its facilities, they were told that this wouldn't be the case; it "had to wash its face financially".
The word `Community' was dropped from the stadium's title as it became Salford City Stadium, and rugby union club, Sale Sharks, bought the naming rights to the stadium a year ago.
Even so, the Stadium became a financial white elephant, and earlier this year, as Marwan Koukash completed his takeover of Salford City Reds, stadium accounts revealed a loss of £4.3million. Salford Council again stepped in to rescue the project with a five year £600,000 loan to its own joint venture company (Peel also provided a £600,000 loan).
Even though Salford council tax payers have been forking out all the way along to build the stadium and keep it going, it will now no longer even bear the name of the city.
AJ Bell's Marketing Director, Billy Mackay, said that he was delighted "to be associated with a club with the pedigree of Sale Sharks. We were impressed by the club's appetite for success, something that resonates well with all of the people within our business."
Andrew Lamb, Head of Commercial Sales for Sale Sharks, added: "AJ Bell is a thriving, successful company with national reach and strong roots in Manchester and their company philosophies match those of Sale Sharks. With the exciting developments planned for the area in and around the stadium site, the AJ Bell Stadium will continue to grow into a true all year-round sports and events venue."
Meanwhile, Salford people posting comments on the Salford City Stadium website (watch that change its title in the next few weeks!) have reacted with fury to the name change…
"We the Salford fans have been s*** on"…
"And what about the name of SALFORD ?????? As its the people of SALFORD who part own this so called community stadium, have they got no rites what so ever about the name of SALFORD BEING REMOVED FROM THERE STADIUM????"…
"Absolutely disgraceful, that The City of Salford, have allowed this situation to ensue!"
… "Just go the whole way and rip up the red seats and put all blue seats in and be done with it!!!! Take me home willows road..."
The Salford Star visited The Willows this week, which is now just a pile of bricks and mounds of earth, with the promised housing development nowhere in sight, even though the first payment from the first house was supposed to happen in 2012, to pay back part of Salford Council's original £1million loan to the former Salford City Reds.
The loan deal was part of the most bizarre piece of Salford Council skulduggery concerning the whole Salford Reds episode, as even the Council's own legal adviser noted in a confidential report from January 2011… "There appears to be some creative financial manoeuvres here".
Within the secret deal, leaked to the Salford Star, the Council bought back the lease on the Willows car park from Willows Variety Centre Ltd (which later went bust), for £250,000. But the Council already owned the freehold to the car park.
The Willows ground itself was already in hock to the Co-op Bank for £2.2million and the Wilkinson Pension Fund for £1.7million and had "clearly no value" left in it. So the Council entered into a strange deal with Godliman Watson Homes (GWH), of which Robert Iain Watson was a Salford Reds Director, to pay off the loan as houses were built on the site (see previous Salford Star article - click here)
The Salford Star now understands that Godliman Watson Homes is having serious financial problems. Work on its Albert Park development has stopped and the Star has been contacted by companies owed money by the firm saying they are not being paid.
The £1.5million loan to the original Salford Reds Rugby club was taken up by new owner Marwan Koukash, again on bizarre terms, which means the majority of the interest free loan won't be paid off until 2028 (see previous Salford Star article – click here). But the fall back position was that Salford Council also had security on its loan from the former Reds directors.
Now it seems that the Council is about to bail the directors out again, after the Salford Star discovered a note, buried deep within Salford Council's website, titled "Possible Acquisition of land at Willows Road/Kennedy Road"… "Willows Road leasehold acquisition and grant of development agreement."
It appears that the Council is about to buy the old Willows site, which would bail out the former Reds directors, again, and pay back its own loans?
The Salford Star asked Salford Council for an explanation but, as usual, no comment or explanation has been forthcoming.
Photos by Steven Speed
Main photo shows the car park at The Willows this week