Salford City might not be giving their neighbours over in Manchester a run for their money yet, but things are certainly looking promising for the club as it makes its Football League debut.
The Ammies beat AFC Fylde 3-0 at the National League play-off, with Mani Dieseruvwe, Carl Piergianni and Ibou Tourfay putting away a goal each at Wembley to secure the club’s promotion. The question on some fans’ minds is, can they make it stick?
One shareholder in the club is extremely optimistic about Salford’s chances of not just staying in the Football League, but excelling.
Gary Neville, one of a handful of famous ex Manchester United players who co-owns the club (the list also includes David Beckham, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes), has set an ambitious new target for the club.
“We’ve made some really good decisions which have enabled us to get four promotions in five years,” said Neville.
“If we carry on making good decisions, accepting the going will get more difficult, we have a good chance of getting out of League Two in the next two or three years. We’ve prepared ourselves to be a Football League club. Our ground is League One compliant. If we carry on making good decisions, we can carry on going through the leagues.”
It will certainly be interesting to see whether the pundits and customers on the betting sites will agree.
Neville and his co-owners have pursued an aggressive strategy for pushing the club forward. They noted that a budget of £700,000 or £800,000 isn’t enough to get out of the National League and that the cost can double or triple the longer you’re down there.
They decided that, in the long term, it was better to spend more early on and go up and hope that with promotion their spending would balance out and the wages bill would reflect the league they’re in.
It’s a strategy that seems to be working. The club has managed to get four promotions in five years and Neville has said that the dream is to get to League One and then see how they can progress from there.
Things are certainly looking promising on the commercial front. Salford recently signed a new sponsorship deal with telecoms giant Talk Talk on a five year contract.
The company is set to move to Salford Quays in September, bringing 500 jobs out of London with it, and is evidently keen to make a good impression on the locals.
The financials for match days look strong, too. Fans responded to Salford City’s landmark promotion with a surge of season ticket sales.
The club has sold upwards of 1900 tickets, up more than 800 sales compared to last season and a strong indication that crowds in the Peninsula Stadium could be very healthy for the upcoming campaign.
The club has made a raft of transfers, with recent inbound players including Oscar Threlkeld (right back); Richie Towell (central midfield); Dan Jones (left back); Martin Smith (central midfield); Joey Jones (centre back); Kyle Letheren (goalkeeper); Florian Yonsian (centre forward); Luke Armstrong (centre forward); Cameron Burgess (centre back); James Jones (centre back); Kieran Glynn (central midfield) and Josh Askew (left back).
They certainly look like they’re a club gearing up for life in the Football League, with the bulk of the signings coming from League Two or higher.
While it’s still very early days, the aggressive investment and transfer strategy looks to be paying off. The Ammies’ Football League debut created an ecstatic mood in the ground as Mani Dieseruvwe scored a goal in each half to secure a 2-0 win over Stevenage.
Manager Graham Alexander can’t afford to think the last few years’ momentum will keep Salford moving forward, however. He’ll need to build on the positivity of the last few seasons to keep propelling his team forward.
Still, with an ebullient fanbase and bullish club management behind him, he has a lot of support. A fifth promotion might be a bit much to ask for this soon after making it into the English Football League, but if anyone has the chops to make the promotion stick it’s looking like Salford City.