Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sayonara Salford

The victory for Hull KR in the Hull derby settled the first major issue of the 2007 season last weekend, ensuring Salford will finish bottom of the pile and subject to whoever wins the National League One grand final will find themselves in that division for 2008.

On the face of it, this doesn't look much different from any other relegation in recent years. The club is making the usual encouraging noises about bouncing back. With their contracts rendered void by relegation, their better players are already being snapped up by other clubs - Luke Robinson and David Hodgson to Huddersfield while Andy Coley's move to Wigan, subject of much rumour for the last couple of years, has finally come to fruition.

This year of course is slightly different, with the automatic promotion route into the top flight closed and replaced by the franchise bidding process for 2009. Whereas before, keeping a full time squad would give you a great chance of returning at the first attempt, the option of securing promotion by results alone isn't going to be open to Salford and they will be bidding for one of an as yet unspecified number of places at the top table.

Much of Salford's hopes for a franchise will be pinned on their location. Their current home The Willows is in dire need of redevelopment. It's set in an unpleasant area, and has little in the way of modern facilities. Work is under way to move the club to a brand new purpose built stadium, the completion date for which is unclear. As part of the franchise application process, stadium quality will feature and it remains to be seen what the panel's view will be of Salford's proposal based at a stadium that has yet to be completed.

The other issue to be considered is catchment area. Although the north west is a hotbed of rugby league, Salford is/was the nearest thing to a Super League presence in Manchester. That gives it an enormous potential audience right on its doorstep. The club even shares its Red Devils nickname with Manchester United, and there has been talk of incorporating Manchester into the name over the years to identify the team with the sports mad city rather than the less salubrious suburb.

On the field the club has slumped dramatically this year after a promising season in 2006, with not even the replacement of Karl Harrison with Shaun McRae mid-season being enough to save them. Given the changes in structure, 2007 was the worst possible year to be relegated, and it remains to be seen whether the changes being made off the field will be sufficient to regain top flight status or whether it really is goodbye rather than see you later for the Reds

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