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SALFORD SPORTS: Fans speak out after stadium swap speculation

SALFORD SPORTS: Fans speak out after stadium swap speculation

Salford City FC fans, Image: LDRS

Sports fans have spent the summer speculating whether Salford’s football and rugby clubs will swap stadiums – and wondering what it would mean for them.

Salford City FC and Salford Red Devils could swap stadiums if a deal is agreed.

The AJ Bell Stadium, which is currently shared by the rugby league club and rugby union’s Sale Sharks, is owned by Salford council and developer Peel L&P.

If the stadium is sold, it would be jointly owned by Salford FC and Sale Sharks.

Meanwhile, the local authority is looking to acquire the football club’s lease of the Peninsula Stadium at Moor Lane which would give the council full control.

Salford Reds could then potentially lease the smaller stadium from the council.

An agreement could be signed soon, but a date has not been set for the move.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to football fans at Moor Lane ahead of Salford’s match against Bradford City on Saturday (September 11).

John Kilby, who is a Red Devils fan too, said the move ‘makes absolute sense’.

He said: “It suits Salford Red Devils to come here because it will look more full. It will take more for Salford City to deliver to get a big enough presence.”

The Peninsula Stadium has a capacity of 5,108 seats while the AJ Bell can currently accommodate 12,000 people with potential to expand to 20,000.

One Salford City FC supporter said the AJ Bell Stadium is always empty and fears that the football club ‘hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of filling it up’.

Luke Ferrier agreed, saying: “It’s not like we’re selling out this crowd often.”

Another young fan, Dylan Garton, thinks the move may be premature, saying: “I don’t think it’s right at the moment. I think we should stay here. It’s too soon.”

However, Marla, who has been following the Ammies for 30 years, is torn.

She said: “It’s a bit sooner than I would have liked. But we’ve got to move with the times, haven’t we?

“If we go up this year,” she laughs, “next year, there will be bigger crowds.”

Salford City are currently in the bottom half of the EFL League Two table – but if they are to climb the football league, they would require a higher capacity.

Marla, who has been a Salford rugby fan since her father took her to watch matches as a young child, recognises the move would benefit the Reds too.

Salford Reds’ bosses have said they cannot afford to buy the AJ Bell Stadium.

Meanwhile, The City of Salford Community Stadium Ltd – the company which owns the AJ Bell – is more than £32m in debt, according to the latest accounts.

It comes after the local authority has invested millions into the jointly-owned stadium company as well as giving the Red Devils a break on loan repayments.

Salford Reds fan Christian Lyth sees some positives to the Moor Lane move.

He said: “A smaller stadium that could occasionally sell out is better than a huge ground we’re not even half filling.

“The pluses are that, the revenue we could generate and it being in Salford.”

David Marchment agreed, adding: “We’d be in control of our own destiny for the first time since we left the Willows. We’d own our own stadium and attract the revenue that comes with it – something sorely missed at the AJ Bell.”

David has enjoyed seeing the Red Devils playing at the AJ Bell stadium, which he describes as the best pitch in the Super League, but he says a smaller, more intimate ground like Moor Lane would far better suit the crowds the club gets.

Another fan, who asked to remain anonymous, was less optimistic though.

He said: “I can’t see how it will be a positive move – although it may be the best available option.

“We will have a capacity less than lots of championship clubs and we can’t just say it meets current needs.

“If we continue trying to compete with current resources we will be relegated sooner or later.

“Having said that we obviously can’t expect to continue playing in a ground we can’t afford.”

Several Reds fans raised concerns about parking at the Peninsula Stadium.

The stadium in Barton benefits from a car park – although fans must book ahead – whereas Moor Lane is located in the middle of a residential area.

Chris Young added: “I believe public transport isn’t the best round there.”

Salford City FC fans might benefit from better parking facilities at the AJ Bell, but some are concerned about traffic the nearby Trafford Centre attracts.

Mark Ratcliffe, who lives in Cheshire, says he would still travel to watch the Ammies if the club moved to the AJ Bell, but said: “it’s going to be a struggle.”

He said: “For us it’s closer. We’ve got the atmosphere here. We go to the rugby stadium sometimes, but it’s just miles away and there’s nothing around it.”

For fans who live close to Moor Lane, which is located in Kersal, the move is inconvenient – but most say that it is a step in the right direction for the club.

Chris Ferrier said moving to a bigger stadium is ‘progress’ – but he is worried about sharing a pitch with a rugby union club due to the overlap in seasons.

The Super League season starts in March with the final scheduled in October, while the Premiership Rugby season starts in September and ends in June.

This means Sale Sharks and Salford City FC’s seasons will be concurrent.

Salford City owner Gary Neville held a private meeting with season ticket holders earlier this summer, together with Red Devils chairman Paul King.

According to a fans’ blog following the meeting, they told attendees that the deal is expected to be agreed by September – but the clubs have denied this.

Marla, who attended the meeting, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Gary Neville said this would be Salford City FC’s last season at Moor Lane.

When asked about their thoughts on the ‘rumours’ of a stadium swap, many fans spoke in no uncertain terms. One said: “It’s not rumours, it’s happening.”

Keen to get into the stadium swiftly, this Salford fan continued walking when he was asked what he thinks of the move. He shouted back: “It is what it is.”

All three clubs have declined to comment until negotiations are complete.

 

Words: Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter


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