By RJP Red
May 28 2012
Many thanks to RJP Red for this contribution. I don't know what to do with myself this summer, there are so many stories rolling in! Maybe I'll have to spend some time doing the job I am paid to do? Anyway, here's to the start of what I very much hope will be a harmonious relationship between Sale Sharks and Salford Reds
Salford will play host not one but to two elite rugby teams later this year following the announcement that rugby union’s Sale Sharks will be joining rugby league’s Salford City Reds at the new £26 million Salford City Stadium.
Much to the bafflement of non-rugby followers, the two sports have endured a fractious history since breakaway northern clubs precipitated the formation of rugby league over the issue of professionalism back in 1895. But can the two sports co-exist harmoniously in the birthplace of the first ever ‘egg chaser’ William Webb Ellis? We sent two sets of supporters into ‘enemy territory’ to get a first taste of the other code. Here they share their first impressions:
A number of Sharks followers braved the inclement weather on Easter Monday to gain a sneak preview of their new home as Salford hosted Hull KR in round 11 of the Stobart Super League. Amongst them were long-time supporters Colin Colebrook and Cec Lowry. Their chosen game was a dour affair with the two lethargic looking sides labouring in greasy conditions but the duo saw enough to encourage them that the move could be a positive for both clubs.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the match – especially mingling with the Salford fans in the South Stand who I found very friendly and welcoming,” said Colin.
“OK, the match wasn't the best I've seen - no surprise after playing another one three days before -but being in the South Stand was great, with the Reds' fans giving great vocal support to their team and, just like the Sale fans, frequently giving the ref the benefit of their advice over his decisions.”
His fellow Sale fan, the appropriately named Cec Lowry, was similarly unimpressed with the action on the field but was equally positive about his club’s new environs: “We were surprised as to how easy it was to get there and the ample parking in the surrounding streets. We had a quick pint in the Unicorn, (which was) very friendly and welcoming to us Sale supporters and then made the 15 minute walk to the ground.
“As we approached the ground we were struck by its compact and modern feel. The layout is superb with excellent views from anywhere in the stands. All in all (it was) a good day out at an excellent stadium. Only down side was the match: it was dire. But I’m looking forward to next season, (and I) might even take in a few League matches - provided they are better fare than this one!”
Finding Salford supporters who were willing to make the return trip proved to be surprisingly difficult, with many seemingly still suspicious about their new co-tenants and unwilling to entertain the version of rugby disparagingly referred to by some league followers as ‘kick & clap.’ However, 25-year-old Reds fan Alex Herron agreed to put his preconceptions to one side and attend the Sharks’ Aviva Premiership fixture against Harlequins – their last ever game at Stockport’s dilapidated Edgeley Park.
“The atmosphere around the stadium pre-match was fantastic,” said Alec. “All the local pubs were packed with both home supporters and a healthy amount of away fans, all drinking and chatting together.
“The atmosphere (during the game) was quite dead, though there was little happening on the pitch to be vocal about, but it was a full stadium. Overall, the organisation on the club’s part was to a high standard, and fans were clearly important to the club and well catered for.”
Alec was joined at the game by Jimmy Potts, a proud Salfordian with fond memories of the club’s glory days in the late 60s and early 70s, and he too left his first ever rugby union game impressed by what he’d experienced: “Maybe it was the fact that it was the last game ever to be played at Edgeley Park, I don't know, I just know that there was a party atmosphere before, during and after the game, that I enjoyed immensely.
“From the drummer boys to the Mexican trumpeter, it was a most enjoyable experience. It's a pity the game itself didn't match the enthusiasm and party mood of the crowd, but I had a really enjoyable day and, although Rugby League will always be my preferred sport, I would certainly go and watch the Sharks again, if only for the craic.”
Although the ink is barely dry on Sale’s 25-year lease at the new ground, there are signs that both clubs can grow their support amongst those fans who are prepared to consign the antipathy between the two codes to the past. One fan who is certain that the arrangement will be positive for all concerned is newly-elected City Mayor of Salford, Ian Stewart, who said, “I have been a Salford Reds supporter from being six years of age. My wife, Mez, and I hold season tickets. I am very pleased that Sale Sharks will now be sharing the Salford Community Stadium. It will be great to have two elite teams from different codes playing in our City.
“These two great clubs will make a major sporting, economic and social contribution to our Community. Welcome to Sharks fans and my best wishes to both clubs for a successful future In Salford.”
With the prospect of continued Super League rugby and visits from the elite of Europe, following the Sharks’ qualification for the Heineken Cup, the eyes of the rugby world will soon be on Salford, and that can only be good news for the city itself.