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With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.

Saturday 18th November 2006 ko 12.00

FA Vase 2nd Round 

SALFORD CITY 2 (Turner 2 Burrrows 90)

FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER 3 (Rudd 8 Carden 13 Chadwick 54)

Att 2,799 at The Willows, Salford

Entry £7

Programme £2

It must be said that 2006 and 2007 was a pretty good time to be a ground hopper, we’d had Llanelli playing a one-off game at Stradey Park and the birth of FC United of Manchester had given the clubs of the north-west something to think about.

The club were formed in 2005, in protest at the Glazer family’s takeover of Manchester United and at this point were playing home games at Gigg Lane, home to Bury FC. Now with my GroundhopUK hat on I’m well used to attacting crowds to North West Counties League grounds but the attendances FCUM were attracting at that time were far beyond what some of the clubs and their grounds could cope with.

The result was a slew of borrowed grounds, AFC Blackpool borrowed Bloomfield Road, Maine Road borrowed the Bower Fold, but Salford City’s NWCFL, and FA Vase games versus FCUM really attracted the hoppers as their borrowed ground didn’t normally host association rules games. Salford City borrowed The Willows, home to Salford Rugby League club, then known as Salford City Reds. And if like me, you’re on the Futbology App, contrary to some claims, only 2 football matches were ever played here. This one was the last, but what other sport was played at The Willows? Answer after the photos.

But take a step back for a minute. Given the complete rebuilding of Moor Lane over the last couple of years, if you went now, you’d hardly believe the ground was ever incapable of hosting nearly 3,000 people. It just shows how far Salford City has come since the “Class of 92” took over in 2014.

Salford Reds Rugby League Club, in football terms are possibly most famous for “loaning” their nickname “Red Devils” to Manchester United so there was no little irony in Salford City playing a side formed from Manchester United fans here of all places. There was even a Giggs playing for FCUM too, Rhodri Giggs, Ryan’s younger brother, and five years later he’d have a spell at Salford City!

But looking at it 13 years later the irony is huge. Put yourself in my position back then, and if someone had told you one of these clubs would owned by a group of former Manchester United players and be in the Football League would you have predicted it would be Salford? Even with FCUM’s fan owned model and principles I still not sure I’d have predicted it would be Salford.

FCUM progressed via the Northern Premier League to the National League, but fell back to the NPL in 2019. Unquestionably their greatest achievement has been becoming the first, and so far (until AFC Wimbledon’s new ground opens) the only fan-owned club to build their own ground, Broadhurst Park opening in May 2015.

But what of The Willows? The ground lasted until 2012 when the now Salford Red Devils moved out of the Salford, to Barton-upon-Irwell and the purpose-built Salford City Stadium. That gave the club a modern stadium, with far better access and facilities. If, like me Association Laws are more to your taste than rugby then there are no end of games played there, but such is life these days, compared to The Willows it is more than a little dull…

And while FC United now have a fine ground of their own, if they had known of the misfortunes that Bury FC have suffered, would they have stayed put at Gigg Lane? And as if to complete the circle of life, a phoenix Bury club have applied to the North West Counties League.

But as the title says, who would have thought it?

The answer is baseball! The Salford Reds baseball team were popular in the 1930’s/