The Lion Rampant: How Salford City’s on-field rise has reinvigorated the local area

It’s often claimed that Salford is the largest city in England without a Football League football club. In truth, it’s only the second largest – Wakefield has a higher population – but the point is still clear.

Salford City have spent their entire history in the shadow of Manchester’s two largest professional clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City. Now one step away from League Two, the side based on Moor Lane in Kersal are beginning to break through into the everyday lives of Salfordians, forcing this hard-working city’s population of over 230,000 people to finally pay attention.

Since their formation in 1940, Salford City were barely noticed by the local community. By 2014 they had spent the last six seasons in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North – English football’s eighth tier, non-league’s fourth – brightening up a diet of mid-table mediocrity with the odd cup run and surviving on attendances which mostly hovered around 100. The height of glamour it was not.

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Since being bought out in June 2014 by Peter Lim and the Class of 92 – Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes – Salford have become the city’s cultural beacon, attracting national media coverage, hosting televised matches and posting average attendances of around 2,600. Salford are now in non-league football’s top tier, the National League, and are currently one of the favourites for promotion alongside ex-Football League clubs Wrexham and Leyton Orient.

When the Class of 92 arrived, Giggs claimed that the group’s ambitions were to “engage the football community [and] use our football experience and knowledge to aspire and nurture young talent”. As well as helping Salford win  three promotions in four years, they have clearly fulfilled their objective.  Young striker Kamar Moncrieffe is already on the fringes of Salford’s first team, having scored a hat-trick against Curzon Ashton in a Manchester Premier Cup match earlier this season.

Of course, the world of football is a microcosm of everything else, and Salford’s rapid rise from non-league no-hopers to a full-time side who could soon rival Bury, Oldham and Rochdale has coincided with the club having a bigger impact on the people of the city.

Seven Bro7hers are a craft brewery based in Salford, run by long-time residents, the McAvoy family. Operating out of their brewery in Salford Quays, Seven Bro7hers also operate a beerhouse in Manchester city centre and take their commitment to the local community seriously, regularly opening up their spaces for open mic nights, live comedy and other social events.

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Seven Bro7hers became involved with the Class of 92 when they were asked to produce beer for Café Football, the restaurant chain owned by Giggs and Neville. When Salford went on an FA Cup run in 2015/16, reaching the second round with a home victory over Notts County in a game which was screened live on the BBC, the brewery was invited to cater for the sudden influx of visitors to Moor Lane.

“In 2015 [Salford] obviously had this FA Cup run and we received a call asking us if we’d like to pitch up a load of beer for the away fans,” says Keith McAvoy, who oversees the business’ commercial aspects. “It was quite interesting because we parked the van up on a hill and it was on live TV. We got so much coverage from it. It was amazing, it really was!”

In the summer of 2017, when Salford’s 1,400-capacity ground began to be redeveloped into what is now the 5,100-capacity Peninsula Stadium, the club began making plans to have new food and drink concessions in the fanzone. Seven Bro7hers were offered the chance to have a stall alongside two other independent local businesses: Amans Express – a fellow Salford business – and Grandad’s Sausages, which hails from neighbouring Bury.

“They invited us and asked us if we’d be interested and we of course said ‘Yeah, that would work well for us’,” McAvoy says. “It was a no-brainer, you know? We’re a Salford brewery, Salford boys. It meant a lot to us to be involved.”

The relationship has proven fruitful for Seven Bro7hers. Their marketing manager Alison Watson says the brewery’s involvement with Salford has helped them gain many new customers and raise awareness of their brand, as well as spread pride in the city.

“You can hear people when they come for a drink on matchdays, maybe telling somebody else who’s in the queue with them, ‘Oh yeah, they’re from Salford. They brew it in Salford!’” Watson says. “It’s great that people are telling the story and are proud to say they’re drinking a product that’s been made in Salford by a Salford family.”

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For Seven Bro7hers, accompanying Salford City on their journey up the leagues has definitely helped their business grow. They believe the club’s rise is part of a continuing regeneration of the city which began with the arrival of MediaCity, bringing with it new businesses and jobs.

“We’ve definitely benefited from the exposure, because I think it just subliminally gives people that trust in you – that [we’re] trusted by Salford City and therefore they’ll have that same trust in us as well,” McAvoy says. “The whole thing helps.”

Salford City’s expansion has helped individual Salfordians get their foot on the career ladder too. Soon after the Class of 92’s takeover, the club’s media operation was overseen by students as part of a partnership with the University of Salford. Since graduation, a few of those students have become employed by Salford permanently and are now leading the club’s media team.

Charlotte Tattersall is the club’s official photographer and lives in Lower Kersal, a 10-minute walk from the Peninsula Stadium. She began heading to games in 2013 due to a family connection with the club’s former manager Phil Power, and started taking photographs at games as a hobby while at college.

Tattersall now works for the club part-time and is in her final year of studying photography at the University of Salford. Tattersall’s photos of the Ammies in action are now used by the club in its matchday programme and online, and they have given the 21-year-old the opportunity to start a career in sports photography, even helping her land a work experience placement with Manchester United.

“The growth of the club has affected us massively,” Tattersall says. “It’s definitely affected me as it’s meant that I’m able to do a job that I love and have more of an important role at the club, which wouldn’t have happened without the takeover.”

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Tattersall seconds Seven Bro7hers’ belief that Salford City’s growth has brought the community of Salford together. The majority of the crowd walking to Moor Lane on matchdays are local residents who have been priced out of the Premier League. Salford now has its own supporters’ club in the IFA League and a fanzine, Dirty Old Town.

“More people have become aware of the area through all the media and TV exposure that Salford now get,” says Tattersall. “We’re probably the most well-known non-league club, whether people like it or not. It’s also helped to bring the community together massively – more people in the area have become aware of the club. It’s nice to see other locals at the ground that you wouldn’t normally see outside of football.”

While those directly involved with Salford City have praised its impact on the community, for others the club’s expansion has caused problems. As interest in the Ammies exploded, the club’s old Moor Lane ground – their home since 1978, located next to a school in a quiet residential area – was no longer fit for purpose. The club successfully gained permission to build the new Peninsula Stadium, whose enormous red floodlights – shaped like the lion of Salford’s new crest – now beam over the surrounding streets.

Moor Lane’s redevelopment was the subject of a bitter dispute, with Salford City Council granting the club planning permission in December 2016. At the packed planning meeting, several Kersal residents spoke fervently against the plans, raising concerns about car parking and traffic, the risk of anti-social behaviour, additional light, excess noise and a lack of consultation. Some also questioned its impact on the neighbouring Kersal Moor, a site of biological importance and a local nature reserve.

At the planning meeting, David Mintz from the Kersal Moor Residents Association called the Class of 92 a ‘commercial monster’, arguing that both Salford City FC and Salford City Council’s planning department had ignored residents’ issues with the redevelopment. “It’s an act of injustice that the people of Salford will never forget,” he said, according to the Salford Star.

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While planning permission was granted subject to conditions, notably on fan parking, the huge growth in attendance at Salford games has led to some unwelcome scenes. Away from the friendly atmosphere at the old Moor Lane, recent matches at the Peninsula Stadium have been tarred by a small minority of Salford fans throwing flares and smoke bombs, while there have also been clashes between rival sets of supporters in the streets. Some Salford fans have embraced singing ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’, the chant made notorious by Millwall, a club dogged by associations with hooliganism. It’s probably not an association Salford’s owners would want.

When Salford’s plans for the Peninsula Stadium were authorised, Gary Neville insisted that any anti-social behaviour will be ‘absolutely stamped upon’.

“From our point of view the idea that [the club’s growth] doesn’t connect with the community would be an absolute disaster,” Neville said, per the Salford Star. “Success for us in this is not about making money; it’s about giving an opportunity to local people to play football, enjoy the facilities and delivering something in the city that everyone can be proud of.”

On this front, at least, it’s hard to dispute the Class of 92’s good intentions. In April Salford announced its partnership with the Class of 92’s charitable foundation Foundation 92, an independent charity focused on improving the lives of local residents, including the homeless and young offenders.

As part of its work with the foundation, Salford recently unveiled a Christmas appeal named ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’, which aims to collect warm clothing in a city where people are four times more likely to be homeless than the national average. The club has previously expressed interest in running a homeless football league, a rehabilitation programme at the nearby prison HMP Forest Bank and PAN Disability Football Sessions. Salford’s then-managers Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson even delivered crates of unused pies and soup to a local homeless charity after a game was postponed last winter.

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Moves like this have allayed supporters’ fears that Salford would become a commercial plaything under the Class of 92. Yet if the Ammies are promoted again this season, success will have a price. Seven Bro7hers have already been hit by the decision that fans can no longer drink on the terraces – a stipulation of the National League – while promotion to the Football League will lead to even more people flocking to the Peninsula Stadium.

Upon their takeover in 2014, the Class of 92 ditched the club’s old lion rampant badge and replace it with a bolder, more forward-facing design. Now Salford City’s lion stares outward, and the football club’s influence on the city it calls home will only become greater as time goes on.

The Lion Rampant: How Salford City’s on-field rise has reinvigorated the local area
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