Saturday, 31 January 2015

Salford City 2 Darlington 1883 0

Northern Premier League, First Division (North)
Attendance: 902

Approaching from the M60 the only sign for Salford City is about 18 x 4 inches and attached apologetically to the traffic lights for the right turn. It’s not much more than you might get for Bob’s 40th birthday party. At 3.20pm a Darlo fan burst through the turnstile f-ing and blinding because his taxi driver had taken him to Salford rugby ground by mistake. No tip there. The football club may be low profile in some respects, then, but there are signs of change within the ground, quite literally.

On the turnstiles a paper notice warned that there was filming (for a BBC) documentary) taking place inside the ground which included a drone buzzing around before the match and during the interval. Inside an old sign stating “This is Moor Lane. Home of Salford City FC” has been replaced by a new sign with stylish logo and simple slogan “Integrity and industry.” Thankfully, that – apart from a lick of paint to denote the club’s colour change from orange to red – is about as far as the ground improvements appear to have got since the club’s acquisition by the Class of ’92 last summer. I saw the Class and friends playing Salford in a pre-season friendly at the city’s rugby ground (I’d nearly gone to Moor Lane) and was glad of the opportunity to visit Salford’s regular home. I parked on Nevile (sic) Road: they’ve already started naming roads after two of the club’s new benefactors (not)!

Moor Lane is a basic, open ground with large grassed areas, some banked, on three sides which give a partial bowl and, as such, is vaguely reminiscent of Consett’s old stadium. That, combined with the origin of the visitors and the Arctic cold (I was in full 80s ski wear) gave the occasion a Northern League feel which is no bad thing. Steps made from railway sleepers lead gently down one corner of the bank in a manner that Diarmuid Gavin would be proud of. Another quirky feature is a small boat named HMS Scrooge inexplicably at pitchside. These are the things I love about non-league.

The main stand is fabricated from concrete, six sturdy pillars doing their best to obscure the view (see pic, below). The ground’s builder must have had shares in Readymix as the fences around the pitch and outer perimeter are made of concrete too. Steel also abounds in the form of the obligatory shipping containers which include three for changing rooms.

Today’s match pitched second place against third but the main reason for the swollen crowd was the support brought Darlington. Every away match feels like a cup tie if the Quakers are involved as I found out at Harrogate Railway and Padiham last season. Programmes were sold out by 2.30pm (it always surprises me how clubs don’t print more for predictably large gates) and the pressure on facilities was such that the PA announcer had to plea for fans to use the toilets, “you filthy animals.” The food ran out by half-time so the gates were opened for spectators to get to the shops.

The match was a tense, tight, niggly affair with few clear cut chances. The Ammies (Salford was called Salford Amateurs until 1989) took the lead on 32 mins when a striker burst through in the inside left channel and squared (or was it a cross?) to Webber for an unmarked tap in. The second goal in injury time was a similarly simple, incisive strike from Madeley, also from a cross from the left. By that stage it had all kicked off. White of Darlo was sent off for a second booking and teammate Mitchell joined him for a foul and abusive language. Players squared up to each other following a contentious tackle and the ref entered a 12th and final name into his by now bulging book. He was showing more cards than Paul Daniels (old joke, I know, but I like it). At the final whistle there was more pushing and shoving.

Enraged by the ref’s performance, Darlo fans massed at the gate which secures a compound outside the changing rooms and hurled abuse in the direction of the officials (clip here). One of Darlo’s backroom staff was similarly incensed, bellowing at the lino and jabbing his finger at him like an apopleptic Arthur Scargill. “Still gonna win the league!”, the away fans chanted defiantly as they scowled towards the exit. Salford go top and Darlo lose only their third league match of the season. If these two meet in the play-offs expect a sparky encounter.

Postscript: There was more trouble at the game among the fans than I was aware of. See here for report from the Northern Echo.

Star turn: Well, I’d have been disappointed if there hadn’t been one to report. Performing Class of ’92 duty today was HRH Nicky Butt, discreet under the hood of a black jacket in the directors’ box.

FA Cup extra-time: A mention in dispatches to Cambridge’s sub against Man U, the wonderfully named Harrison Dunk. I also like this story from the Northern League magazine about a fella who’s written a book about the FA Cup exploits of clubs from south-west Durham. A good fireside read, I bet.

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