Salford Red Devils RLFC – AJ Bell Stadium

After visiting Salfords former home – The Willows – with Zack in June it was only fitting that we would visit their brand new stadium together. Salford had played at The Willows for 110 years and played their final game there in September 2011. We had chosen to ignore the romance of The FA Cup for this weekend, and instead celebrated the first match at this fantastic new stadium.

Salford had sent me an e-mail which made the event sound unmissable –

Tomorrow is a historic day for Greater Manchester as the stunning new £26m Salford City Stadium opens its doors to the region’s sports fans for the very first time. The Reds will be fielding a strong first team squad as they welcome near neighbours Leigh Centurions for the first 2012 Trial game.

This email contains everything you need to know to and how to get to and from the Salford City Stadium completely stress free – then all you need to do is sit back, relax and take in the grand occasion.

We look forward to welcoming you all to our new home. Bring your family, bring your friends and celebrate with us as we enjoy an unforgettable sporting occasion.

Now, the bit I found quite funny about this e-mail was the ‘stress free’ quote. The trip was far from stressful, and at one point I thought we’d miss the entire match. I would love to know who thought it would be a great idea to build a brand new stadium in the middle of nowhere. Maybe they wanted to join the growing list of conveniences next to Barton Bridge? The Trafford Centre! Chill Factor!… and not to be forgotten… The Sewage Works!

We had 3 options when it came to travelling to the match. We could have caught the Leigh travel coach for £8 from Leigh Sports Village. We could have got a lift… which would have been the easiest option. OR we could buy a ‘First Travel Day Saver’ and catch 3 different buses. We chose the latter.

In the end, 8 of us travelled to the match together. We all met at Leigh Bus Station at 11:50 and we caught the 26 bus to Manchester Shudehill. Now I usually moan about bus fares – and when I saw a big yellow sticker on the door saying ‘NEW FARES’ I could feel a rant coming on. However, I was pleasantly surprised. A Child Daysaver had infact been dropped down 10p… Fantastic!

After a long, painful and somewhat frustrating affair we arrived in Manchester with a few minutes to spare before we needed to catch the 67 to Cadishead. Unfortunately we lost the other 6, so Zack and I pressed on to Barton… not knowing what sites we’d see along the way, where to get off or how long it would take us to get there.

After every bugger in Salford had got on our bus at Salford Shopping City, we began to make good progress. Unfortunately time was pressing on, and we had 25 minutes to travel 2 miles in a traffic jam. Another 10 minutes passed, and we had gained another mile. Enough was enough. We decided to get off the bus and sprint the rest of the journey.

Now, for a lad who hasn’t run for at least 6 months it was hard going. After only 2 minutes I needed my inhaler, my hip was hurting, and my knee was throbbing. Zack on the other hand – his foot was hurting and his legs were cramping up. Surely 16 year olds should be fitter than that?

The good news? We beat the bus!

The bad news? It took over 2 hours to travel 11 miles from my house. In this time I could have got the train down to London.

14:02 – We arrived at the stadium. I had never before been late for a sporting fixture.

In the weeks leading up to the match there had been a ticket mix-up, and I had received 4 tickets. To cut a long story short, they had given us tickets for the wrong stand etc…

One question which I really want to ask Salford is “Why have you hired Ticketline to sort out your tickets? They are useless. Plus last time I visited your club the ticket system was hassle free!”

We eventually came to what we thought were our turnstiles. We were wrong, and we were sent running around to the other side of the stadium. Shin splints had now occurred, and we were both gasping for breath. I really needed my inhaler! Oops!

Entering into the stadium was fine, and the concourses were very modern, and looked quite nice. However, the concourses only have a roof. They don’t have walls on either side, meaning they act just like a huge wind tunnel.

It was then time to hunt for a matchday programme. I was expecting to be forking out around £10 for a special matchday programme to commemorate this momentous occasion. Well I was wrong. I purchased a 6-page flimsy leaflet for £1. Inside the ‘programme’ there was one small mention of the new stadium. How pathetic. Did Salford really care about this match?

After that let down we turned the corner to enter the ground itself… WOW! What a fantastic venue for a game of rugby. Terracing on two sides of the ground, a nice pitch and a cracking layout. There are no advertisng boards bordering the pitch which means we could – if we wanted to – have invaded the pitch with no problems. It also meant that whilst watching the match you felt as though you we actually on the pitch, and in the thick of the action.

The Leigh fans were congregated in the North Stand. This stand was identical to the South Stand which we were in. The only difference being that if the Leigh fans wanted to do a spot of sale shopping, or some skiing then they were able to get there quicker than us!

To my right was the East Stand. Running along the length of the pitch, this stand is completely seated. Unfortunately the stand was shut for this match due to restraints on capacity. Ironically, the East Stand at Salford resembles the East Stand at Leigh Sports Village.

The Main Stand stood to my left. Again, this stand is completely seated and will no doubt be a favourite amongst Salford supporters. Towering above the other stands it offers fantastic views of the scenic Barton Bridge and local ChillFactorE. The stand houses a Ticket Office, Club Shop (Yet to be opened), Media Facilities and Executive Boxes.

The seats at Salford seem a bit suspect. They don’t just have red seats, they also have blue seats. My suspicions are that Sale Sharks will one day move to Salford. I may be completely wrong, and be missing a key reason why they have blue seats, but personally I think it is a bit strange.

Hopefully when Sale move there their fans will be a bit more supportive than the Salford ‘faithful’ who decided to boo and heckle their players throughout the match!

The match was dominated by Leigh Centurions in long periods, with Salford having the occasional flare of brilliance, but nothing much to get carried away with.

The honour of scoring the first ever try at the Salford City Stadiums belongs to Leighs Dean McGilvray. He opened the scoring in the opening moments to cheer up the Leythers after what had been a difficult pre-season for the club after having financial problems.

Danny Williams then went over for the home team, and the following kick was converted to give Salford a lead which they deserved. Momentum was Salfords and they soon crossed the line again – Only this time it was penalised for a forward pass.

Moments later it was Leigh who had crossed the line again, only for the same outcome – NO TRY. However, Salford were punished just seconds later when Martin Ridyard fed Matt Gardiner down the wing before he then scored a try in the far corner.

From that point on Leigh had control of the match and they stretched their lead to 18-6 on the stroke of half time when Greg McNally fed Jonathan Pownall down the wing and into the corner. TRY TIME! Which also signalled PIE TIME!

Venturing down into the Main Stands wind tunnel I eventually bought two Meat and Potato pies, and two hot chocolates. The pies were Clayton Park Pies, and they were alright to be fair. I came to this conclusion after what I can only call a huge ‘piellaver’.

After purchasing the half time supplies, I returned to Zack in a victorious mood. I had avoided the half time queues and I had also bought him a hot drink – Bonus. However, my joy was shortlived when I inspected my pie. The man next to me described it as ‘cremated’ and he wasn’t wrong. I ate the innards of the pie, and suddenly the eating stopped. The pie had been burnt that much not even the metal bar on the terracing could break it!

I stomped back to the woman who had served me the pie – cutting the huge queue in the process. She looked at me in a questioning manner until I said “I want a new one please!” – I did this whilst banging the burnt crust on the counter. By this time the whole queue were laughing, and the woman reluctantly handed over a far nicer pie. Victory was mine.

I thoroughly enjoyed my nice pie, and Zack and I gave it a 7/10 rating… meaning we still haven’t found better than Galloways in Wigan.

The second half began, and Leigh continued as they had finished the first when they scored the try the of the match. Ryan Brierley and Martin Ridyard combined before setting up Greg McNally who scored another try right in front of the already frustrated Salford fans.

Then the moment of the match happened. The whole electrical system for the stadium failed, leaving the terracing, scoreboard and floodlights off. This was greeted by huge cheers from the visiting Leigh fans, and laughs of embarrassment from the Salford fans. Now, if this would have been a football match the teams would have been dragged in by the referee. Not in rugby! The teams played on, which wasn’t a hard decision as it was still relatively light.

After that amusing incident Danny Williams pulled some points back for the home side, but it didn’t matter at this late stage as Leigh continued to pile pressure on the poor Salford defence. Leigh scored two more tries near the end of the match, giving the visitors a 36-12 victory.

We left the stadium, and rather than messing about with buses in parts of Manchester we don’t know that well we called for Dads taxi. He only took 15 minutes to reach us from home, and in true VIP style he pulled up behind the Leigh Centurions players coach.

On the way home I was listening to my beloved Bolton Wanderers on BBC Manchester. They were away at Macclesfield in the FA Cup 3rd Round… and we were losing. We eventually scored an equaliser to put a smile upon my face!

Although the new stadium doesn’t have the heritage, romance or atmosphere of The Willows it was still a fairly enjoyable experience. Yes there were a few problems, but it’s what you tend to expect when a new stadium opens. I think the stadium will grow to be one of the best ones in the country, and it will be fantastic when World Cup rugby arrives in 2013. It’s just a shame its in a totally unreachable location for the majority of people!

  • ADMISSION: £4 as a junior


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