“Dreamed a dream by the old canal. Kissed a girl by the factory wall. Dirty old town. Dirty old town.”
The famous lyrics written by Ewan MacColl who grew up in Broughton, streets away from Moor Lane. Many are unaware that it is written about Salford, but the football club ensures visitors know of it’s local links by playing it as the teams walk out prior to kick off.
As Manchester city centre expands and urban sprawl continues to shape the local area, Salford is at the centre of one of the most exciting metropolis in Europe, if not the world. The two cities are joined at the hip and as time progresses they are becoming more and more alike.
The BBC and ITV have recently moved most of their studios and offices to Salford Quays while local rugby league side Salford Red Devils have moved into a state of the art stadium. With gentrification rife and the rugby team being seized upon due to it’s close proximity and links to Manchester it wasn’t going to be long before the local non-league side became a lucrative and sought after establishment.
John Peel once said he “Just wanted to hear things he hadn’t heard before” and it is this attitude which resonates with us groundhoppers up and down the country. Why watch, visit and listen to the same things constantly when there is far more to life than what is put in front of you?
This attitude took me to some parts of Greater Manchester I had never seen or heard of before I started watching non-league football. Just three years on from embarking on my adventures around the bustling and close-knit community of semi-professional football in Manchester I was left with just three teams left to visit.
When I say three teams I mean teams from the Premier League down to the NWCFL First Division… you have to draw a line somewhere! A whole ten levels of football consisting of 32 teams and I had just three teams to go. These three teams were Altrincham, Stalybridge Celtic and Salford City. We had sadly lost Flixton, Wigan Robin Park, Stockport Sports and Oldham Boro along the way but I was nearly there.
Whenever I said to people that I hadn’t been to Salford City they seemed surprised, and rightly so. Geographically it is only down the road, I get on with people at the club well and the vast majority of Atherton Collieries players have played for the Ammies at some stage. Other than the two Atherton teams, Daisy Hill and Bolton Wanderers, Salford are the nearest football club to my house. It was about time I visited Moor Lane.
I was pondering why I hadn’t yet visited Salford and I came up with two main reasons. It’s a right old pain to get to as Salford doesn’t really have a centre to it, and the club always play at home on the same days as Atherton Collieries. I would come home from University for the weekend, tempted by Moor Lane but ultimately conclude there was no point travelling home and not watching Colls.
I was finally persuaded when Salford City fan Laura Flint came to watch us against Bolton Wanderers a couple of weeks ago. I always have a good laugh with Laura and her brother used to play for us, so we keep close tabs on the progress of our respective clubs. She told me that the Ammies were hosting Manchester United on a Monday night and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to tick if off.
Of course, there are now a lot of links between Salford City and Manchester United which made the fixture extremely intriguing. Added to this, my mate Joe had been appointed the linesman which just added to lure of the night. One slight problem to overcome was the fact Colls were due to host Tempest United in the Bolton Hospital Cup, but this was postponed a couple of hours before kick off due to a real life tempest hitting Greater Manchester.
I knew one person would definitely be up for a trip to Salford City. Born and bred in the area, but now living in Daisy Hill, Lee would definitely want to come along. He went to Padiham v Salford with me a couple of years ago and had talked about watching Salford again. He was in, and he picked me up from home at 18:00.
The traffic was dreadful as we made the short journey to Moor Lane. A number of shortcuts and wrong turnings took us past The Cliff, which is Manchester United’s old training ground. It did seem odd rolling down a quiet unassuming road knowing that the likes of David Beckham and Alex Ferguson used to drive along this route every single day.
Unfortunately the stereo system in Lee’s car had all but died having been intermittent for the best part of a year. It was a shame really, as I always imagined I would travel to Salford City in amongst a huge local playlist wearing a shirt relating to one of those bands. The Smiths album The Queen Is Dead has strong links to Salford, with the band standing outside the Salford Lads Club on the inside cover. The videos to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before are also filmed outside the club.
Tony Wilson, the dislikable figure who spearheaded Factory Records rise to success comes from Salford as do Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook of Joy Division. Bez and Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays. Mark E Smith of The Fall. Tim Burgess, the lead singer of The Charlatans. John Cooper-Clarke – who may only be a poet – is still from Salford. My point is, this area of the world holds such a rich musical heritage, and the Volkswagen couldn’t be arsed playing any of it.
Blink when driving down the main road next to the ground and you will miss it. The large amount of cars that had parked up on both sides of the road were a big giveaway, but you have to concentrate to spot a modern looking Salford City sign hanging above the two turnstiles in operation on that side of the ground.
The signage is brand new, as is the branding on the main stand and small shed which straddles the halfway line on the opposite side. Even the clubhouse is brand new, with a new bit seemingly being added every time Matt goes to watch his local club. Rebranding a club takes a lot of work, and part of this has seen all tangerine eradicated from the venue and changed to a modern looking red and black colour scheme. This is all accompanied with the tagline of “Integrity and Industry” which can be seen plastered on walls and metal cladding.
Having seen photographs of the ground before the work, it looked tired and dated with the new colour scheme making Moor Lane more aesthetically pleasing. More controversial was the change of kit colour and badge. The tangerine which had become synonymous with Salford City was ditched in favour of a red kit which resembles that worn by Manchester United. The old badge was also binned. The lion remains and it is surrounded by an irregular pentagon which through its shape pays homage to the ships which used to once dock at Salford Quays.
Entering through the turnstile at Moor Lane I was astonished at how big the place is. Some clubs struggle to expand or improve their ground as they are surrounded by terraced housing and other obstacles, while some grounds have too much land and no use for it. Admittedly, Atherton Collieries is one of these clubs where we have more land than we can manage at times.
For Salford, this amount of land has to be a positive. Expansion – if ever needed – can happen at their current home. No need to move ground, or even worse, move to the rugby league ground which sits in between the local sewage works and the motorway.
As I made my way from the turnstile, down the grass banking and around to the shed the ground grew on me. It had character and was different. The main stand shouldn’t look nice, but it does. It comprises of six blocks of concrete which ultimately restrict spectators views of the match, but the world would be boring if every stand was made of metal wouldn’t it? Recently the white paint has been stripped back to leave the stand with a rugged and urban appearance which wouldn’t be out of place in a pretentious fashion shop in the Trafford Centre.
Sheltering from the rain, Laura was in a portacabin in the far corner of the ground which houses club offices and a hospitality area. Nicky Butt had walked in just before we walked over, and was sat comfortably with Paul Scholes eating sausage rolls. I asked Laura if the club sold waterproof ponchos or umbrellas as the pathways turned into tributaries to the River Irwell, but the club don’t stock such things so we wandered off and prepared to get very, very wet.
Our plan all along was to surprise linesman Joe on his big evening, but Laura had tipped him off that I was coming along to wind him up so that ended my excitement momentarily. That was until I saw Matt outside the clubhouse supping on a pint with his flatcap making him stand out from everybody else in the crowd. I crept behind him and stole it, which went down surprisingly well as he was happy to see us.
The two sides were already warming up, with Salford being put through their paces by current first team managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley. The two joined the Ammies halfway through last season from Ramsbottom United. It caused quite a stir as a number of players followed suit and soon the Salford team became the envy of many at that level of football. Ultimately the goal of promotion was met when they beat Ossett Town 5-0 at home, clinching the league title in the process.
Being owned by ‘The Class of 92’ in Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt, playing in red and having a nicely furnished clubhouse is all a far cry away from when the club was founded in 1940 as Salford Central. This name remained until the club stepped up into the Manchester League in 1963, renaming themselves Salford Amateurs in the process; this is where the club’s nicknames derives from.
Ambitions are high, and rightly so. The financial backing which the club has means they can attract some of the best players in the local area. Currently the squad boasts former Bury, Fleetwood and Chester striker Gareth Seddon who can play alongside former Manchester United and Sheffield United striker Danny Webber. Complemented by the likes of Sam Madeley and Shelton Payne and Salford have a front line to cope well for the upcoming campaign.
The visitors for this match were Manchester United U21’s, and they brought a sizeable following with them as expected. Lining up for Manchester United was Sadiq El-Fitouri who made national headlines last season when having played just one match for Salford was handed a trial at United with the help of Scholes and Phil Neville who had been impressed.
We had seen the likes of Paul Pogba, James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj play in matches like this in recent years, so it was exciting seeing what players Manchester United are currently bringing through.
The wet pitch made for ideal conditions to play football in with both teams able to pass the ball around at speed, while defenders could time their challenges
Warren Joyce’s side adapted quickly to the drenched pitch and heavy rain, knocking the ball around comfortably and refusing to allow their opponents time to settle in possession. There were few early chances on goal but in the eighth minute the visitors took the lead courtesy of a penalty, awarded when Salford skipper Chris Lynch was adjudged to have fouled United striker Ashley Fletcher inside the box. The striker picked himself and gave former Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper Jay Lynch no chance from the spot with a low, powerful finish.
Salford should have equalised midway through the first half. A clearance from the home defence fell for Jordan Hulme on the half-way line and his through ball sent Sam Livesey bursting though the inside left channel. United keeper Joel Pereira dashed out to cut off the ex-Preston youngster’s route to goal. The ball spilled free and Livesey was unlucky to see his lofted effort sail narrowly wide of the far post.
The Ammies went even closer soon afterwards when Shelton Payne – a signing from FC United of Manchester – hit a free-kick from nearly twenty five yards out only for the ball to thud off the outside of Pereira’s left-hand upright and away to safety.
United had put together a few inventive attacks of their own since scoring and they pierced the home rearguard again eight minutes before the break. The Ammies failed to clear their lines after a ball into the box and after old boy Sadiq El-Fitouri had an effort blocked possession spun to James Weir. From the edge of the area the striker slammed home a low shot and Salford were two goals behind at the interval.
United further extended their lead five minutes into the second half when Kyle Harrop dispossessed Chris Lynch on the edge of the area. Harrop moved forward and curled the ball into the top right hand corner past the Salford goalkeeper who came on during the interval.
It was now looking like the visitors would go on to post an impressive score, but Salford fought back and pulled a goal back four minutes later. Cavell Coo took the ball down the right hand side before dropping in a cross that fell perfectly for Danny Webber at the far side of the six-yard box. The ex-Manchester United striker coolly side-footed past Joel Pereira and the score was now 1-3.
Matt Chadwick pulled another goal back for the home side. The ex-Ashton United man had looked lively on the right flank since his half-time introduction and he cut past a couple of defenders on his way inside. He then hit a low shot that took a slight deflection off a defender before nestling into Pereira’s bottom right-hand corner.
There was more pressure from Salford after that but United’s youngsters stuck to their game-plan and it looked as if they had done enough to hold out for the win. With a little less than two minutes remaining, Webber played a ball through to Sam Madeley who played a neat one-two before he hit a precise low shot to beat Pereira at his right-hand post.
The match ended and we walked against the crowd to reach the clubhouse where we attempted to warm up after a damp and cold night on the moor. I wasn’t going to have a pint because I was on a diet, but Matt was convinced that there was something special about the Fosters that was on offer. “It tastes smooth and creamy. It’s like Fosters but it’s a lot nicer!”, and with that I walked over to the bar and succumbed to his peer pressure once again. In truth, it was the nicest pint of Fosters I had ever had.
Looking like a drowned rat, linesman Joe eventually joined us before stuffing his face with the free food that was on offer, and rightly so. We hadn’t even noticed him during the match which goes to show how well the officials did. I would love to be critical of him, but I’m saving that for when he referees Atherton Collieries v Stockport County this week.
It was getting late and all of the players had gone home. The floodlights had been turned off and the fans and volunteers were locking up for the night. It was time to say farewell to Moor Lane… which would have been easy if the exits were actually open. An old bloke sent Lee, Matt and I over to the other side of the ground where the car was parked informing us that one of the gates would be slightly open. He lied, and half an hour after leaving the clubhouse we were reunited with the car having walked a mile around the block.
By this stage Matt had had enough and decided it would be quicker for him to walk back by himself. This worked out well for us as Lee and I had a spontaneous drink in Wetherspoons in Walkden on the way home, where a couple of Salford fans were already in attendance. A fantastic Wetherspoons and they even had a special Ashes beer on to celebrate the cricket that was starting imminently.
The more I think about Salford, the more I realise the influence it has on the arts and the proud culture that surrounds it. The matchstick men made famous by LS Lowry, the music which is played throughout the world and the sport which is up and coming all help make this area of Greater Manchester well worth a visit.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 12 miles
- ADMISSION: £5
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1.50