Result: Salford City 2-2 FC United of Manchester (National League North)
Venue: Moor Lane (Monday 1st January 2018, 3pm)
Another new year began as the traditional New Year’s Day fixtures rolled around once again. Having not attended a fixture last year – largely down to how the dates worked out – this year saw me heading the short distance and a return to what is something of a familiar venue: Moor Lane, the home of Salford City. But whilst it is familiar in many ways, the old ground has changed beyond recognition. Of course, the “Class of 92” and the income sourced from their (and associates) take over has led to a major revamp and overhaul of both ground and club since my last visit to Salford’s home.
Now, I have to admit that I have seen Salford a couple of times on their travels since their takeover (the last being the small matter of their play-off semi at Halifax), and also visited Moor Lane a few years ago, shortly after the change-up had begun so it wasn’t a completely new sheet of paper. But I considered this to be the first real experience of the fully fledged, no-frills, new breed Ammies. So, having been given a lift down to the Trafford Centre for a lesser spotted NYD bus, blog regular Dan was picked up en route and we were soon heading into Manchester, where we would go on to catch the tram to Heaton Park.
The weird and wonderful abounded on the Mancunian public transport system as we headed up on the Bury line and towards Prestwich. Arriving in glorious sunshine at a little after midday, I mentioned to Dan that I fancied a walk around Heaton Park. I reckon he thought I was joking, but he was soon to realise I was deadly serious about this…! I’ve noticed that, in recent weeks, I’ve been starting to walk through parks or gardens if there is one on the way to a game. I don’t think it’s a conscious decision as far as I can work out, so I’m just hoping I’m not reaching that age where this sort of thing becomes more attractive. I’m not ready for it just yet! Anyway, I’m rambling…
Having entered into the park, which was a little more serene than when ‘Parklife’ rolls around, we headed down the path and past the first of numerous dogs with all the dog owners of the area seemingly populating the park during the early afternoon; maybe still working off the excess over Christmas? Continuing on, our visit encompassed a brief stop within view of Heaton Hall, dodging a road train and a boating lake (minus boats, but plentiful in ducks and swans). With the sun still shining on, all looked set for the first day of 2018 to be a fine one with the forecast looking to be incorrect. But then again, if you live in either of the two adjoining cities, you know better than to discount the rain!
With the weather still on the bright side, we left the park and its numerous visiting canines behind and popped into our first pre-match stop of the day, the Royal Oak. In here, we were informed by the barman that there was 50p off every draught lager, which was somewhat well received!! A pint of Amstel for me was had (£2.70) as we watched the final few minutes of the Brighton-Bournemouth game on the TV. Little did we know that, outside, the weather had taken a turn and the clouds had rolled in. They would hardly relent for the rest of the day.
After finishing up in here, we headed out and around the corner but not before Dan and I had spotted the looming threat from above. “I reckon we’ll beat that” I said. We didn’t. Soon caught in something just short of a deluge, it was lucky we were within a minute or so of our second and final pub, the Ostrich, which neighbours Ostrich Road. I reckon the pub came first, but I don’t know and, I guess, you don’t care! Anyway, in we headed, thankful for the cover from the ever worsening shower outside. The Holt’s establishment was a real old-school place (similar in some ways to the Royal Oak) and was split into a few smaller rooms including hosting a snooker room and dart board. Someone who had played on the board last was, according to the chalk writing left on the blackboard, apparently a tw*t.
Pints (and bottles in Dan’s case) polished off and it was time to brave the weather and head the 25 minutes or so down to Moor Lane. Heading through the house-lined streets, we eventually found our way to Bury New Road and from there it was five minutes or so up to the road whose name the ground carries. The ground sits slightly towards the opposite end of the road from this side and is surprisingly not much more visible than it was in its former guise. Upon arrival at the ground, it quickly became apparent the club’s turnstiles were struggling with the numbers arriving, and there was still a good 25 minutes to kick-off. With large queues at both home and away ends, it took a good five minutes in the home queue to finally get in, whereupon I learnt that the programmes had all gone. *Sigh*. Not a good start, Salford.
I was going to grab a teamsheet instead, but then decided I didn’t really care enough for one and instead returned to join Dan pitch-side. Here, we started off in the seating stand located on the site of the former small covered area that stood alongside the old grassy mound. This appears to be the Main Stand as it also hosts the hospitality areas. Opposite this and on the site of the old, classic (and isn’t it a shame it couldn’t be incorporated into the new design, cricket pavilion-style) Main Stand is a carbon copy of the stand we were sat in, minus the boxes at the rear, though it does play host to a TV gantry on its roof. Both ends play host to similar, if not identical, covered terraces, with both being well populated today, especially the away end which was crammed full with the travelling, vocal FC United support. As usual with FC games, the chant of “Bring on United” accompanied the final five or so minutes to kick-off and, before long, the two sides entered the field and we were ready to go in this derby clash. But first, here’s the story of the Ammies….
Salford City Football Club was founded in 1940 as Salford Central F.C. and played in the local leagues around the area through to 1963 when the club made the step up to the Manchester League and changed its name to Salford Amateurs, taking on the nickname of the “Ammies”. The club came into its own in the 1970’s, winning three Lancashire FA Cups (1973, ’75 & ’77), two Manchester Premier Cups (1978 & ’79) and the Champion of Champions trophy also arrived in 1977. To close off such a successful decade, the club took more of a step towards securing its future, with the players and committee taking on the task of restoring the Moor Lane pitch and ground as a whole, with it being overgrown and derelict. This was all sorted in good time and the club was accepted for the Cheshire League in 1980, whereupon Salford Amateurs merged with Anson Villa to become Salford.
1982 saw the Cheshire League merge with the Lancashire Combination to create the North West Counties League and Salford took the chance to join the pyramid, taking a spot in Division One. Their stay in the top-flight encompassed their name change to Salford City (in 1989) and celebrating its 50th anniversary by entering the 1990 FA Cup, their first entry to the competition. The club ended up being featured on Grandstand, as part of the Road to Wembley feature. That season ended in disappointment, though, as City went down to Division 2, though league restructuring led to their return to Division One a year later. However, the club had to wait until 2006 for their next silverware when they lifted the NWCFL League Challenge Cup, though this led to the start of a strong few years, the following season seeing the club finish runners-up.
Salford were promoted in 2008 when they finished as runners-up to Trafford (which was the start of my 6-and-a-half season spell watching Trafford home and away) and took a spot alongside the latter in the Northern Premier League’s Division One North. Here, the club struggled year on year, with regular managerial changes taking place whilst one constant always remained. That constant was Steve Foster’s late season arrival before he’d fire ~25 goals to keep the Ammies up. This was a reoccurrence for a good three years! It proved a shrewd signing though, as this inadvertently kept Salford up in these tough, less spectacular times.
2014 saw the “Class of 92” take-over take place and this led to the club winning the NPL Division One North title at the close of the 2014-’15 season. The following season saw the club in the NPL Premier Division and they finished third and took a spot in the play-offs. There, Salford defeated both Ashton United (semi-final) and Workington (final) to achieve a second straight promotion and take a spot in the National League North for last season. They also reached the First Round of the FA Cup for the first time, where they defeated Notts County at home before bowing out to Hartlepool United in Round 2. They’d go on to have another successful season in their first attempt at the National League North, reaching the play-offs where they lost out in the semi-final to FC Halifax Town.
The game got underway with Salford looking to gain a measure of revenge over their visitors, as the Red Rebels had defeated the Ammies in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. Both sides traded wayward chances early on, before the table-topping hosts stormed ahead in the 16th minute. After some fine play down the right by the diminutive Jack Redshaw, the forward played in a ball to strike partner Anthony Dudley who finished with a rising, close range effort before wheeling away in front of the FC fans, drawing the ire of the visiting ranks whom a few of decided the best course of action was to lob their beers at him. Dudley didn’t seem to bothered and neither did the ref, more surprisingly. On with the show!
Redshaw himself almost doubled Salford’s lead minutes later but was unfortunate to see his shot beat FC ‘keeper Lloyd Allinson, but crash back off the inside of the post, spinning back across the goalmouth and narrowly avoid crossing the line in doing so. This seemed to spark FC into waking from their post-festive slumber, but it was Redshaw who carried the most threat of anyone on the field, forcing Allinson into another pair of stops, while Ritchie Allen saw his cross-cum-shot drift narrowly wide.
By that point, Dan and I had relocated to the terrace behind the goal to shield from the now heavy rain that had surrounded Moor Lane. It was from here that we witnessed FC draw level after a half spent trying, for the most part, to remain in the game. With around ten minutes or so to half-time, Craig Lindfield picked up the loose ball within the area and drifted a shot across goal and into the far, top corner to spark jubilant scenes in the far terrace, while a guy behind me also let out a loud “YESSSSS!!!” as the ball nestled in the onion bag. I’m not sure if he was an FC fan, a Lindfield fan or just happy to have seen a goal close-up. Either way it was one-a-piece and I headed off on my first attempt to get some food as Lindfield did his best Dudley impression in front of us.
This was quickly found to be near impossible in the short-term, as a fairly large queue had already formed at the one open portakabin food stall behind the stand. There was another for drinks only (it seemed), but this set-up was to later begin to fail under demand and the weight of numbers. For now though, it was back up into the stand to watch the final few minutes of the half which passed without much action, though had seen FC grab the initiative with a shot that looked goal-bound being blocked before it could truly trouble. The action was called to a halt with the score reading 1-1.
Back to the rear of the stand and to the ever-growing queue. Now, I arrived with what looked to be around twenty to twenty-five people ahead of me. Not all alone either, meaning it was around fifteen sales I had to wait for. But the queue didn’t seem to move and we continued to wait patiently in the deluge. Then the hot water ran out which added to the delay and by the time the second half was getting back underway (Dan had shrewdly returned to the stand), I still had a good seven or eight ahead. I reckoned I might have around five minutes or so to wait then and was happy enough to do so. But, five minutes passed, and I’d moved a foot. Then, to add to my misery and rising frustration, a roar emanated from within the ground. Salford had netted. In a huff, I gave up in my never-ending quest for food and returned to get a goal report from Dan. “A close range goal” was the gist of it. Indeed it was and it was Redshaw who’d deservedly grabbed it, poking home from a free-kick.
I was hoping beyond hope that that wasn’t to be the end of the scoring, as I’d have hated to have missed the winner. Dudley went close to ensuring it wasn’t, but saw the impressive Allinson equal to his drive. Midway through the half, Allinson’s opposite number, Salford stopper Max Crocombe, showed he was just as good on this day as he pulled off a fine low save to deny Lindfield a second getting down sharply to deny the FC man’s free-kick low at his left-hand post. The United fans had already started the cheers.
The rain continued to teem down as both sides battled on. The pitch stayed decent, though, and allowed the game to continue to flow fairly well, bar that problem area in the middle of one half that I seem to remember from the club’s time in the North West Counties! This enabled both sides to again go close as the game approached its final ten minutes, with United’s soon to be Salford-bound Tom Walker and Redshaw going close, the former seeing a shot whistle narrowly wide, whilst the latter was denied by a fine stop by the in-form ‘keeper, who palmed away the Salford top-scorer’s drive aimed at the top-corner.
Then with only a few minutes of normal time remaining, FC got their equaliser in fairly fortuitous circumstances, not that they cared! The fans had been growing in belief and getting right behind their side, even more so than normal (as opposed to the surprisingly quiet home support) and thus their side seemed to respond. A low drive from Steve Irwin (no crocodile jokes here, RIP) struck team-mate Zac Corbett and looped up and drifted agonisingly over the outstretched arm of Crocombe and into the net, sparking wild scenes in the away end and frustration in the home ranks. It almost got worse for the league leaders too as Crocombe dropped the ball under pressure late on but, thankfully for him, he grabbed it at the second attempt before a white shirt could take advantage. Full-Time, 2-2 and a bit of handbags for good measure!
As for Dan and myself, it was a case of back from whence we came as we made a beeline for Heaton Park. Thankfully dodging any more rain from then on in, we arrived back at the tram stop but headed on straight past it. Where were we headed? Come on, you must have a decent idea by now. PUB! Yes, pub; namely the Commercial on the opposite side of the tracks to the other two. The neighbouring Parkside looked shut up today, so it was a sole Strongbow (£3.20) in here for me as we wasted away 25 minutes for the tram back into Manchester. This was all completed with little issue as I arrived for my connection onwards home with time to spare. What I didn’t look forward to was the forthcoming walk afterwards. Buses, eh?.
So that ends a slightly disappointing day. The game was fine and entertaining, so no issues at all with that, nor the ground itself really, which is smart, if unspectacular. The lights are a great touch though! The major thing for me was the apparent lack of readiness for this type of attendance(?) facilities wise (could have been taken by surprise by the record crowd I guess) that created a sense of let down at the overall experience (what with a lack of a programme and food which, of course, make up two of my grading criteria; boo, boo!) and what I’d imagine was a fair amount of lost revenue, with at least five or six people in front of me leaving the food queue, never mind how many behind plus those few more “bible” sales. Ah well, a second visit at a slightly less busy time shall be arranged. Onwards to Saturday and the FA Cup with a trip down to the “Big Smoke” arranged. Hope no-one follows my damn train, though….
Food: N/A (Not for the want of trying!)
Value For Money: 5