It's Tuesday night at St Boniface's Social Club in Broughton and the main room is packed with dancing, tambourine banging girls and their parents. At the far end of the room the shelves are stacked with more trophies than in Alex Ferguson's former dreams.
There's a real buzz about the place because, not only have a load of new trophies arrived but it's also the thirtieth anniversary of the Salford Stars Morris Troupe and Gill Rowlands' participation. Gill has been morris dancing since she was three and has been involved with the Stars since the troupe began at Charlestown Primary School in 1983…
"It was me, my mum and my sister and it just grew from there" she recalls "We've done really well over the years and won loads of trophies at the championships.
I've worked with a few thousand children and that's the highlight…the children. More than anything it's seeing their faces when they dance. Their faces light up and you can see they're enjoying it."
Morris dancing, Gill explains, is more akin to Irish dancing than cheerleading or anything like that, as the moves are all in the footwork. The dance stems from male morris dancing and the girls have bells on their pumps. Competitions are held all over the north, and the Salford Stars have performed in places like Preston, Prestatyn and Morecambe usually bringing home the cups in all sorts of categories and age ranges.
The troupe has girls in five age groups - three to six year olds; seven to nine year olds; nine to eleven year olds; eleven to 16 year olds, and 16 year olds and above.
"It's keeping the children off the streets where they're safe, and the parents stay with their kids and like to know how they're doing" says Gill "We all look after each other and that's what I like.
The troupe has also helped Gill get over her personal losses… "It's keeping me going since my parents died; if I didn't have this I'd curl up in a ball and do nothing. The children are a god-send, they keep me going."
The feeling of the children is mutual. At the recent Morris dancing Championships they had `30 Years' posters up, complete with `Gill's Army' tagline…
"I was so shocked" says Gill "Then on the Sunday when we were finding out how we'd done they all came on with masks of my face – I was shocked again! They're a lovely bunch of girls…"
The tributes to Gill are led by fellow trainer Vicki Bond who told us "Without her we wouldn't have this troupe…Gill has done everything in her power to keep Salford Stars going for her mum and dad, bless their souls.
"Last year we bought some dresses which we wore for the championships and this year she spruced them up for the tinies and seniors, and made brand new ones for the babies and dinkies, so that we all looked the same for our thirty year birthday" she explained "We went to the championships as `Gill's Army' because we all wanted to say a big thank you… `We love you Gill'…"
For Gill ands the girls it's on to preparations for the next competition now, with new routines, new music and new costumes coming into play after Christmas.
"I'll carry on as long as I can" Gill says "I hope to get to fifty years, I really do…"
And the Salford Star will, hopefully be there reporting on a very extraordinary woman – and a very extraordinary morris dancing troupe. Proper Salford Stars…
For further details see Salford Stars Morris Troupe facebook group
See also previous Salford Star article on Salford Stars - click here
Photos by Andrew Goudie