Salford City football club have a great opportunity to be promoted from the National League into League Two via the play offs over the next few weeks. This meteoric rise through the division sees the Ammies in the highest ever position in their history, but we ask, are Salford City actually ready for League football?
Although personally, I have only attended four games at Moor Lane this season to watch City and therefore maybe not in the greatest of positions to answer this question, it has been the one burning issue that I feel needs covering.
The rise of Salford has coincided with the takeover of the so called “Class of 92” made up of Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and more recently, David Beckham. Along with Peter Lim, a billionaire businessman, they have helped the club rise from the 8th tier of English football in the Northern Premier North division, to 3rd in the 5th tier, the National League.
Sceptics have said that Salford have spent their way to the top. An unfair advantage against clubs around them, but in truth there are a number of clubs in similar positions in non league football who have wealthy benefactors. AFC Fylde are currently in the play offs and Ebbsfleet being two clubs with wealthy owners. You only have to look a few miles towards East Manchester at Manchester City whose rise on and off the pitch is due to the oil from Abu Dhabi. Had that oil money not settled at City, the blues would arguably still be a yo-yo club flitting between the Premier League and the Championship. However, there will always be the green eyed monster in football fans as some clubs have more money to splash than their own.
Off the pitch, there is no doubt that Moor Lane is fit and ready for League football. Redeveloped on all sides with two neat open terraces behind the goals and seated stands along the touchline, the ground really is fit for a higher division. Not to mention the club have got their pricing structure bang on with some of the cheapest tickets around.
Adult tickets are only £10 which is cheaper than the likes of Chorley FC who are in a division lower. £5 for children aged between 6-16 as well as concessions means when I have attended with my 12 year old son and my father, the total admission fee is £20 for all three of us. If we ventured slightly further a field to the likes of Oldham Athletic in League Two, the cost would be significantly higher for pay on the gate admission.
A fanzone behind the home end creates a good atmosphere with local ales being served alongside curry and other decent food. Attendances have risen consistently with the average crowd last season around 1600 and this season up to 2500. The recent bank holiday fixture against AFC Fylde attracted 3400. There is no doubt that the crowds do increase when United or City are not playing and you do see people dressed in those clubs colours at Moor Lane on match day, but to average 2500 is still a great achievement considering the area of Greater Manchester is saturated with league and non league clubs.
So the facilities and match day experience make Salford City more than ready for league football, however, the one thing I have noticed is despite having some very good players, I am unsure if Salford are truly ready for the jump up to league football on the pitch.
The reason I say this is due to performances against Ebbsfleet (1-1), Dover (1-3) and Fylde (0-1) where the football served up by Salford was poor. In those games, Ebbsfleet were mid table yet deserved more than a point causing Salford all sorts of issues on the break. Despite a late barrage in the second half, Salford didn’t appear to have any plan B and pumped high balls into the opposition area hoping for the best.
Against a relegation threatened Dover Athletic, Salford were well beaten by the better side. Maybe the sight of David Beckham in the stands motivated Dover players more than the hosts? Either way, Dover played some great football and ran out easy winners with Salford playing like 11 strangers.
On Bank Holiday Monday in a game Salford needed to win to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive, Graham Alexanders side played long ball football from the first to the last minute. Most of the crowd had stiff necks at the end as the ball was constantly hoofed into the oppositions penalty area. All this after Salford had been unbeaten in ten games. Whether the players struggle to play in front of bigger crowds or they flatter to deceive I am unsure.
Yet Salford have taken 4 points off champions Leyton Orient winning convincingly away 0-3 as well as winning at AFC Fylde and beating Wrexham at home. I can only go off the games I have watched Salford play and I have been more impressed with the opposition that the Ammies themselves.
Whilst Salford have some very good players in Adam Rooney, Rory Gaffney, Danny Lloyd and Carl Piergianni all who have impressed me, the style and quality of football has left me wondering if Salford would really be able to compete against League Two sides like Bradford City, Oldham Athletic, Tranmere Rovers to name just a few.
There is no doubt that whatever division Salford are in come August 2019, the club will have invested wisely and improved the playing squad. At some point you have to worry that too many promotions in a short space of time would catch up with the club and effectively cause more harm than good. We see double promotions regularly as sides like Luton Town go on incredible unbeaten runs but at some point the challenge facing those clubs hits them hard. As Gary Neville admitted in a recent interview, his expectations for Salford have been exceeded with no one predicting the club would be sat 3rd in the National League, two play off games from League Two.
On the evidence I have seen, Salford City are going in the right direction and are building something special. However, maybe just maybe they need another season in the National League before they embark on the inevitable rise into League Two.