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Saturday 16th November 2019 ko 15.00

League 2

SALFORD CITY 2 (Rooney 4p 90p)

swindon town 3 (Doyle 9 54p Yates 78)

Att 3,509 (1,340 away

Entry £10 (terrace)

Programme £3

Its been many years since I completed the 92, that is the grounds of the 92 clubs that make up the Premier League and EFL. For what little it’s worth I finished at Doncaster Rovers’ old home of Belle Vue, and each season I normally get a new ground to aim for. This season though, the 92 has been reduced to 90, with Coventry City sharing at Birmingham City and Bury FC having been ejected from the EFL. But with Tottenham at their new ground, and Salford City having been promoted into the EFL, I had two new grounds to visit, and you could easily argue Salford is the more interesting case!

I suspect only a hermit would be unaware that Salford are now owned by part of Manchester United’s “Class of 92” with former players Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham each owning 10% of the club’s shares with the other 40% being owned by Singaporean businessman and Valencia CF owner Peter Lim.

The takeover happened in 2014 with the club playing in the Step 4 Northern Premier League Division One North and their impact has been revolutionary to put it mildly even down to the club switching colours from tangerine and black to a more Manchester United-friendly red, white and black.

But that change seems positively cosmetic compared to everything else! The team has seen massive investment as they were promoted 4 times in 5 years with EFL status being secured in the National League Playoff Final where AFC Fylde were defeated 3-0. You can’t see this as a footballing fairytale, perhaps rags to riches is a better metaphor with striker Adam Rooney being convinced that the National League Premier with Salford was a better career move than the Scottish Premiership with Aberdeen!

Their ground Moor Lane has been completely rebuilt as part of the club’s meteoric rise, and this process arguably is an intriguing as the playing side. The construction started in January 2017 and was finished 10 months later. They’ve gone for modular “Stadium Solutions” stands, as seen at the likes of Barnet and CB Hounslow. The whole edifice has been extremely quick to build, has seen the capacity increase to 5,108, with the ability to demount elements and put in larger stands should the need arise.

It all made the the tradition of the team’s coming on to the pitch to “Dirty Old Town” by Ewan MacColl seem slightly incongruous. Yes I am aware MacColl was from Salford and wrote the song about here, but this brave new world of high finance does seem a world away from MacColl and everything he stood for.

It makes for a ground that is fit for League 2, and the array of craft beers and imaginative catering are a real bonus, although queuing for your beer in the rain might be rather unpleasant! A groundhopping top tip is to head to the club shop at the corner of the home terrace and main stand. If the sellers have run out of the excellent programmes any spares get delivered there for half time!

The issue with Salford’s rise through the divisions is obvious on a matchday. Even with the excellent park and ride scheme that we used, the area in and around Moor Lane is choked, and parking comes at a real premium. You can almost feel the discomfiture of the local residents at average attendances having risen from 300 to 3,000. It is worth making the comment that even if the ground does have a capacity of 5,108 it seemed more or less full with the 3,509 here and if the ground were to be expanded, how would the local roads cope? Perhaps the better move for those demountable stands would be to take them somewhere else and build a new ground.

Now this may surprise my regular reader but the opposition was part of the attraction for coming. I’m an Oxford United fan so watching our local rivals has always had a certain je ne sais quois about it, and yes I’m bound to point out my last visit to the County Ground did involve a rather notable away win!

That was in their relegation season, and it needs to be said that the side where goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux could almost be relied on to spontaneously combust has long gone. In its place is a team led by a highly competent young manager in Richie Wellens, with a forward line that scores goals for fun. As much as it pains an Oxford United to say this but on this evidence I cannot see a League 2 table at the end of the season without them in the top 3. Of course that means the local derbies can restart, I believe the tally is currently 7 Oxford wins in a row?

But enough of them, this was the chance to explore the EFL’s newest club and while they are certainly not the the typical club who’ve fought their way out of non league. As with all expensively bankrolled clubs you wonder where it will end up, and what will happen once the financial support finishes. Salford are definitely one to watch!