“Man United’s playthings”, “Soulless City”, “£alford City”.
Look at football forums around the depths of the internet, and you can expect National League newboys Salford City being called all sorts of names.
The English fifth tier outfit have also become known as one of the more controversial clubs in recent years after being accused by some of wanting to buy their way into the Football League.
“You can’t believe how much it’s changed – in them days you had to pay your own way to get to and from the club, you even had to wash your own kit sometimes,” says Mike Willcock, who played for Salford (then known as Salford Amateurs) in the mid 1980’s.
He continues: “I just think, now the money’s there, why not spend it? If the owner wants to back the club to that extent, and he wants to put that money in, it’s his money, he can basically do what he wants with it.”
You might know The Ammies as being the team that were the subject of the BBC documentary ‘Class Of ’92: Out Of Their League’, after the North-West side were bought out by Manchester United legends Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs, alongside businessman and Valencia owner Peter Lim in 2014.
Four years on and the club has gone from strength to strength, earning three promotions to find themselves just one step away from the English Football League.
But their success hasn’t been without its controversy – the club’s significant spending power has made them a target for many fans’ ire, with the signing of Adam Rooney from Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen on a reported salary of over £4,000-a-week (the average in the National League is less than £1,000-a-week) becoming a tipping point for some in the game.
Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt accused Gary Neville of trying to ‘steal’ a place in the EFL, calling the situation a ‘piss take’.
Neville hit back by saying the club is living within its own means, and that they are investing in the city’s footballing traditions.
“I think there’s a bit of jealousy,” says Martin Bester, who became a Salford fan after the Class Of 92 takeover.
“The other clubs probably wished they could have owners who could put a bit more money in and be a bit more successful.”
Bester used to watch the likes of Neville, Giggs et al throughout their careers across the city at United after working as a steward at Old Trafford, but became disillusioned with the club following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
“I just didn’t like all the change in managers and all that. Then, out of the blue, this documentary comes on, I watched it and I was just hooked.
“I thought I fancy this, getting down to Salford, and it’s been fantastic – it’s non-league, you can chat to the players who are very amiable, and even with all the changes to the staff and stadium, it’s still the same.”
Salford’s matchday attendances have gone from around 200 fans to over 1,500 since the Class Of ’92 takeover, and the Meccano-esque Moor Lane is adorned with motivational phrases around the corrugated metal stands. Anyone familiar with Gary Neville’s Twitter will notice these sort of hallmarks.
To some of course, there is nothing wrong with the way in which Salford are going about their business. They are financially stable, and merely spend the money they have – rather than going down the route of many Football League clubs of spending money against loans and plummeting into financial ruin.
And while the likes of Andy Holt can say they are ‘stealing’ their way into League Two, others can claim they are simply accelerating their progress through the leagues – who is to say what is a ‘proper’ way of running a football club, after all?
The transition from Northern Premier League mediocrity to knocking on the door to the Football League has been a rapid one, and while some fans may feel left behind, most have bought into the vision of the project.
Willcock says: “When they first came in I thought ‘Oh yeah this is great’, and then when they started making the changes to the club I thought, ‘Do I really want it to change?’ because I like the grassroots element of it so much.
“But I’ve got on board with it and I just hope we can go from strength to strength. It’s far more professional now.”
The early signs in the National League were rocky for Salford, gaining just one point in their first three matches.
However, the tide has turned back in their favour after three wins in four helped propel them up to 10th in the National League, with the aforementioned Rooney top of the goalscoring charts with six so far.
It’s a long road for the Ammies, but while they may continue to win on the pitch, the fight for respect off it will be an arduous one.
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