Martyn Sadler, the editor of League Express, explains why Salford Red Devils would be unwise to change the name of the club. This is a version of an article that first appeared in this week’s edition of League Express
Salford is one of the oldest names in Rugby League.
Formed in 1873, 23 years later in April 1896 their club officials held a special meeting to discuss joining the newly formed Northern Union. They were admitted to the body that eventually became the RFL on 2 June 1896.
In their long history Salford have won six Championships and one Challenge Cup.
Before 1995, the club was known simply as Salford, from 1995 to 1998 as Salford Reds and from 1999 to 2013 as Salford City Reds. Since then, under the ownership of Dr Marwan Koukash, they have been known as the Salford Red Devils.
The Red Devils moniker actually arose from the club’s 1934 tour to France, when Rugby League was first being promoted in that country. The French press described the team as playing like devils (“Diables Rouges”), a nickname that stuck, even though it is sometimes also applied to the football team that plays at the other side of the Manchester Ship Canal.
But now Dr Koukash is said to be considering re-naming the club Manchester, dropping the name Salford.
He apparently believes that the club will be easier to promote to potential new fans and commercial backers. Manchester is a more glamorous name than Salford, Marwan seems to think.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it was all so easy!
Of course Manchester is already associated in most people’s minds with United and City, so at best the Manchester Red Devils (if that’s what they were called, and there would be plenty of opposition to that proposal, I would guess, from Manchester United) would be regarded as the third professional team in the city (and the Manchester Giants basketball club may have something to say about that).
Would it be worth the Salford club turning its back on its own history, whereby it has indisputably been the number one sports club in the city of Salford for more than 100 years, to face such an uncertain future by adopting the name of a city that doesn’t always appear to have much love for Rugby League?
It’s worth remembering that a few years ago the Sale Sharks rugby union club, which now shares the A J Bell Stadium with the Red Devils, changed its name to Manchester Sale. But that didn’t work out and they ultimately adopted the name of the town they originated from, even though they play in the A J Bell Stadium in Salford.
The precedents of clubs trying to change their identity are not too promising for Salford.
In Australia, Balmain in 1994 moved to Parramatta Stadium and changed their name to the ‘Sydney Tigers’. They stayed there for two seasons before heading back to Leichhardt Oval. The experiment was a dreadful failure.
In 1995 the Canterbury Bulldogs changed their name to the Sydney bulldogs, but almost immediately they realised the decision was disastrous and reverted to their original name the following year.
So changing a club’s identity doesn’t seem to work.
Of course the Red Devils deserve a much higher level of support than they are currently getting. I would love to see them selling out their stadium.
But to do that, they need to make the people of Salford and beyond proud of their club and supportive of the team that represents it. They have some great players and the club needs to promote them as personalities the people of Salford will look up to and want to come and see every week.
Eventually they will come on board, but the club needs to communicate how much fun they’ll have by doing so.
Threatening to change their name and even their location isn’t the way to do it.