Chasing crowds is a devil of a job for Salford

Regular columnist Louise Woodward-Styles (@MsCityRedGirl) has some suggestions to help Salford boost their attendances.

Delia Smith, the much-celebrated TV chef and Norwich City Football Club shareholder once took to the Carrow Road pitch at half time to grab a microphone and utter her infamous ‘Where are you, let’s be ‘avin’ you!’ rant at disgruntled supporters of the Canaries.

Amusing as this episode was, I take inspiration from Delia’s spectacular yet passionate meltdown. If it were possible I would stand on the corner of Weaste Lane, that ghostly area of Salford that is now a heartbreakingly overgrown fly tipping site and shout something similar. Instead of top-flight Rugby League, the site of Salford’s ancestral home, The Willows, now plays host to household rubbish, the odd tatty three-seat-sofa and a million memories.

The curtain came down on the grand old lady on September 11th 2011 with an 18-44 defeat at the hands of Catalan Dragons in front of a near capacity crowd of 10,146; a crowd that was swelled 99.9% by the citizens of Salford.

That attendance has been a monkey on the club’s back ever since leaving its spiritual home and moving into the purpose built A J Bell Stadium. The topic of attendances, or lack thereof, has been a matter of constant debate.

Just what happened to those 10,146 supporters, or should I say where have the ‘missing’ 7,146 fans disappeared, and why have they not followed the Red Devils a mere 4.8 miles down the road to Barton-Upon-Irwell?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you would think, it is rather a conspicuous cocktail of reasons. I spoke to many lapsed supporters to find out why they won’t be turning out at the AJ Bell Stadium anytime soon. Here are the findings.

Transport Links: The majority of those I spoke to live in the Charlestown, Broughton and Pendleton area of the city. At the moment, from those areas you can catch only one direct bus which, if caught from the local precinct would take you on a 40-minute journey in light traffic. The old journey to Weaste Lane would take 15-20 minutes maximum on a route that would pass through pretty much all of the highly populated areas of the city. The solution to this problem would be to provide a dedicated bus service running along the old route with a dedicated pick up and drop off at The Willows. For a club with more wealth than ever before this should be easily achievable.

Advertising: There is a lack of visible advertising throughout the city. Unless you are a dedicated user of social networking sites, you wouldn’t even know what date Salford’s next home game is. Since 2006 when the club’s media department produced innovative match day posters, the visible advertising for our fixtures has all but ceased. It would make a difference according to those I interviewed. Implementing visible and eye-catching match day adverts in every local shopping centre throughout the city would enable lapsed supporters to know when there is a fixture.

Ticketing: Since the small but efficient club shop closed in 2012, Salford have yet to replace it with a fully operational 24-hour retail outlet. The shared tenancy with Sale Sharks allegedly put paid to Salford having a fulltime retail unit at the new stadium. Irrespective of the situation with the current retail site, it is too far for supporters to travel to. The solution is quite simple: the club should rent a unit in one of the many available shopping malls, take your pick from Ellesmere, Swinton, Eccles, Salford or The Lowry Outlet Mall. A unit that will not only put the club back into the heart of the community but also serve their core fan base enabling them to purchase match tickets, replica gear or souvenirs without having to travel miles to find the ‘office closed’ sign up.

Identity: Many supporters fear the club is trying to shake of its Salford identity since it was rebranded simply as ‘The Red Devils’ under the ownership of Dr Marwan Koukash in September 2013. An attempt perhaps to make it more attractive, less ‘Dirty Old Town’ and more ‘Dubai Chic’?
However, since 1879 (although founded as Cavendish in 1873) Salford RLFC has been the premier sporting club in the city, using the name chosen when the visionary duo Archie Sutherland and James Higson realised that the reason Cavendish FC’s attendances were below par was the lack of relation to the city in which they played. Being a ‘Salfordian’ is something the citizens of this ever-evolving city take very seriously and any move away from those origins will have a significant cultural impact.

Results: For as long as I can remember the sporting public of this city have been apathetic. If Salford lose, everyone knows about it. If Salford win, it goes by without an eyelid being batted. The reason for that is for nearly thirty years, Salford has been the underdog, the club that is consistently inconsistent. Since 2013, Salford have won only 14, drawn 2 and lost 34 matches in all competitions. Iestyn Harris was recently appointed our seventh head coach in just three years, the latest in a revolving door that has seen Shaun McRae, Malcolm Alker, Steve Simms, Matt Parish, Phil Vievers, Alan Hunte and Brian Noble come and go after brief liaisons. If Marwan Koukash wants to know why supporters have been left dismayed, this is the answer.

Despite all this, there are reasons to be hopeful. Last weekend’s demolition of Huddersfield Giants saw the debut of Kevin Locke, a genuinely exciting superstar combining with a squad that included Greg Johnson, Jason Walton, Theo Fages, Junior Sa’u ,Mason Caton-Brown and Adrian Morley, all contributing  to a performance that should kick start a better run of form.

In 2015, Salford will be blessed with an abundance of power, youth, speed and magic. If the club can address the off-field issues documented above, I wouldn’t bet against the lost generation catching that bus and taking their seats once more.

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