COME ON SALFORD!!!
There's never a dull moment with Salford City FC. Two seasons ago there was The Great Escape with the team coming from rock bottom 8 points nowhere to escape relegation on the last day of the season (click here). And last season there was a fabulous FA Cup run that almost saw the `Ammies' in the first round draw (click here), plus a ridiculously stunning series of games at the end of the season that saw nine out of ten victories on the trot (click here). Fantastic.
`If only', supporters were saying, `If only we could keep that team together who knows what will happen'… Well the top news is that the team has stuck together with only Lee Neville departing and ex Manchester City winger Jamie Tandy returning to replace him. But three players that the club wanted to sign to strengthen the squad went elsewhere as they got better financial offers.
"We'd shaken hands with three players but a week down the line they'd had improved offers from other clubs" says manager and chairman, Darren Quick.
"We can't compete with some of the other clubs" adds Honorary President, Dave Russell "We're overstretched now. But if we got another fifty fans coming in it would give us the financial clout to sort players out."
So is that the difference between a top ten finish and a play off or promotion place – fifty more fans?
"It would go a long way towards bringing in two or three more players to take us to that next level" Darren explains "I mean, Chester who have come into our league have probably sold 1,500 season tickets. I think we've sold two."
Even down in what's now called the Evo-stik League First Division North, money matters. Salford City's base at Moor Lane might be only up the hill from the new FA HQ and Manchester United's old training pitches but this is a different planet. One where an extra £500 a week catapults a team into the big time.
Yet despite Sir Alex Ferguson's blast at big spenders in the Premier League this week, Manchester United failed to show for a pre-season fundraising friendly fixture, despite a very public letter from Hazel Blears to Sir Alex after the fire that destroyed Salford City's club house (click here).
It's now twenty years since Manchester United played Salford City in a friendly, when a team featuring Danny Wallace was stuffed 4-1.
"Yes I played in that game" recalls Darren "This fixture should have been a fundraising game at the end of last season but I believe they were unable to accommodate us. So we then tried to make it a pre-season friendly which would have been a fundraiser and a competitive game but that again was just too tight for them. They had in principle agreed to send a team and I'm not really sure why they weren't able to get an eleven down here. But we're still hounding them and we're not going to go away."
The Manchester United game was going to raise money to help build the new club house, designed by students at the University of Salford following a major competition. The futuristic structure, including a club house, changing rooms and seating, would be sited opposite the old main stand and slope down from Moor Lane in almost three storeys. The idea was to get it finished by Christmas 2012 but a lot depends on funding.
The Football Foundation have offered £150,000 towards the estimated £500,000+ costs and Salford city are looking to raise the rest from grants towards community spaces which can be incorporated into the building such as a Kersal Moor Heritage Centre, a well men's clinic or a nursery.
"We've identified that there's going to have to be private investment tapped into and the name that gets mentioned all the time is Fred Done" says Darren "If someone like him can put his name to this facility it will make sure it gets built. He came to our fundraising dinner and was really keen to find out more about it – it could be called the Bet Fred Community Stadium or something."
Fed Done's first betting shop was up near the Pendleton roundabout. Manchester United's Littleton Road training pitch was down the hill from Moor Lane. And Salford is still the biggest city in the country without its own professional football team.
While Manchester United dither over sending a team down to play, while Fred Done decides whether to get involved, and while Salford Reds rugby team get a brand new purpose built £23million community stadium, Salford City Football Club are being overshadowed by clubs like Chorley, Lancaster, and Rhyl which nicked the two players Salford were about to sign…
"This year we need to have a top ten finish" says Darren "I'd like to say we could mastermind a play off place but we're going to come across sides this year that are spending serious amounts of money – Chester, Chorley, Lancaster… It's going to be difficult but you wouldn't have given us a chance in the cups against Hyde or King's Lynn or Blyth Spartans last season. We gave them all a game and beat Hyde."
In a few week's time Salford face Chorley in this year's FA Cup but before that there's the first home league game of the season against Trafford this Saturday, followed by Prescot Cables away on Tuesday night.
"We need the confidence of some results under our belt to take us into that game" says Darren "That winning mentality carries you a long way. But as you saw last year in the cup, the fire burns in these lads' bellies and it's still there."
The point is emphasised by centre half Billy McCartney: "I'd love to say we can get into the play offs this season" he explains "We had a great run last year but we rode our luck at times and didn't have any injuries to key players. If we get that luck again and if everyone plays well I would be looking to do better than last year which is top ten, and if we do better than that then great."
The Salford City squad is small and only a couple of young players have been added since last season.
"We're not just pulling players in willy nilly" says Dave Russell "I mean we had fifty here during last year. We've got lads here now who want to play for the club and they respect the managers Darren and Molly. There's a lot more spirit, they're not a mercenary travelling circus just hunting a few quid."
Both point to centre half, Billy McCartney and Rhodri Giggs as the perfect example of the "infectious appetite" that's now apparent at Moor Lane. These senior players have been taking training sessions and have direct input into the management and training, helping out Darren and Mark `Molly' Molyneaux who took over a team at the wrong end of the league last season and transformed it into a force to be reckoned with.
Now that Darren Quick is both chairman and the fans' choice as manager it's going to be hard for him to sack himself even if the going gets tough.
"I'm just overseeing things" he explains "Yes I do pick the team but there's help from the more senior players and Molly is a fantastic motivator. We've got a very good team of people here now and that's the difference from last winter. We have a different outlook and mindset.
"The remit at the end of the season was to keep these lads together" he adds "Fozzy (Steve Foster) was targeted by lots of other clubs but we've gone out of our way to keep him here. He loves this place and the support, and he's now fit and hungry and key to us. Giggsy's still here too and I'm extremely pleased and optimistic that the side that's fielded and on the bench on Saturday will play well.
"What we did at the end of last season has now gone" he concludes "We start on Saturday again and every game is going to be a battle…"
Salford City v Trafford
Saturday 21st August 2010
Moor Lane, Kersal
Kick off 3pm £7/£3
Further details at www.salfordcityfc.co.uk
Photo by Andrew Goodie