Wednesday night marks a monumental day in Salford City’s history when they face Manchester United for the first time in a competitive environment – in what will be a moment that Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville could never have imagined when they took part-ownership of the former.
Salford host the Red Devils at the Peninsula Stadium in the EFL Trophy in a match that will see the two teams linked together by Giggs, Neville and fellow Class of 92 alumni Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. All six United greats have a 10 per cent share in the club with Peter Lim holding the other 40 per cent.
Although the match won’t see the visitors’ first-team in action, they’ll be fielding an Under-21 side due to the competition’s rules, it’s still an enormous game for League Two Salford and their owners.
Salford City will be playing Manchester United in a competitive match for the first time ever
Ryan Giggs (right) and Gary Neville were on hand to talk about the match and the club’s future
The Neville brothers, Giggs, Scholes and Butt all bought into the club in 2014 – Beckham invested in 2019 – when they were in the Northern Premier League. Six years on they’re now a League Two side preparing for the visit of the Red Devils.
‘We certainly couldn’t envisage that when we took over six years ago,’ Giggs told Sportsmail.
‘It’s exciting and great for the club. It’s a really good competition as it’ll be a test for United’s young players and of course for us, coming up against such talented young players. Everyone at the club is excited about it.’
‘There is a buzz around the game and, even though it’s their Under 21s, just the idea of us playing Manchester United is something you’d never imagine – especially when I watched our first game six years ago,’ Gary Neville added during a TalkTalk media opportunity.
‘It’s a big moment but one that we’ll enjoy and one from our point of view we’ll enjoy to see how we compete against them.’
Salford will be facing off against United’s Under-21s rather than the first team squad
Giggs is keen to see Salford’s players in action against Manchester United’s youngsters
A week later Salford have the tantalising prospect of facing Premier League opposition once again when they travel to Goodison Park to face Everton in the Carabao Cup second round – a reward for beating Championship outfit Rotherham 4-2 on penalties at the weekend (it finished 1-1 after 90 minutes).
That result demonstrated the potential of the Ammies moving forward but Neville is under no illusions that the league is their priority this season. Their rise up the football pyramid has been impressive with the club having enjoyed four promotions in the last six years. However, they finished 10th last season – a position that Neville describes as a reality check in their quest one day to rub shoulders with Manchester United as a fellow Premier League side.
‘That would be very nice and that’s our ultimate ambition with Salford, to get as a high as we can, but we’re aware that last season we got a reality check in League Two,’ he said.
‘It gave us a sort of wake-up call that you have to make sure you’re at the highest level all the time and we weren’t last season so we’re a long way from that yet, but it would certainly be very nice.’
While the Premier League may seem a bit far away for now, the Championship has been a stated aim of Salford’s – with the Class of 92 targeting the second tier within 15 years of their ownership back in 2014. That dream could become a reality within eight years if Graham Alexander’s side secure successive promotions starting this season. Once again though, Neville knows that is going to be tough.
Six members of United’s legendary Class of 92 are part-owners of the League Two club
Neville says it’s a match he didn’t imagine happening when he invested back in 2014
‘Our timeframe is very different from reality. We say promotion every year so we’d take two seasons but we know that’s not realistic.
‘We’ve got to try and get promotion every year but so has every other team. We want to get there as quickly as possible. We’ve always said to be aggressive in the leagues and make sure we prioritise getting promotion as our biggest focal points for us.
‘The cup competitions are nice but we know, from [our playing days at] United, that the league is always going to be your bread and butter. That’s where you’re going to be measured and that applies to these Salford players – they won’t be measured by beating Manchester United or Everton.
‘They’ll be measured against the games such as against Exeter on Saturday or Oldham and Grimsby the week after.’
It’s been a testing calendar year for football clubs throughout the football pyramid due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of this season, Salford have managed to bring in six new signings as Alexander targets promotion to League One. And despite the logistical problems posed due to lockdown earlier this year, Neville believes the enforced break has helped fine-tune their squad.
Salford City are now in League Two after starting in the Northern Premier League in 2014
David Beckham, also co-owner of Inter Miami, invested in Salford City more recently in 2019
‘Because of what happened last season, where I don’t think we got the recruitment right, we really focused hard and did a lot of work,’ he says of their transfer policy.
‘We knew who our targets were and we were quite aggressive in trying to get them. There were a couple of the deals that took a lot longer than we wanted. There is no doubt that clubs are spending less money and that applies to us in comparison to last season as well.
‘But the top players in each division are still going for the most money and they can get that money – that’s the reality. What we’re finding out now is that we do our business quite early, and we’ve always done that, and we’re happy with where we’re at.
‘We may add one more to our squad if we get an injury but we’ve got 17 players that we’re happy with and will form part of a tight squad. Last year we had 26 and it was too many. I don’t think coronavirus hasn’t hampered us, it’s given us more time.
‘Like everyone else we were at home so all we could do was talk to scouts, analysts and football managers as all they could do was watch football. As a result, they had more time to scout players, look at clips, look at different leagues and different players than we would’ve ordinarily done if we were still playing. When you’re playing football as a coach or a scout, you’re obviously busy doing stuff with your existing team so it probably gave us more time to recruit well and hopefully that’ll pay off.’
Salford have been promoted four times in six years, and the club’s owners are aiming high
The recruitment too has been done within a budget following the EFL decision to impose a £1.5m salary cap on League Two clubs starting this season to force clubs to spend within their means and to guard against the financial ruin that befell the likes of Bury. In League One there is a £2.5m salary cap.
This decision, which was voted by the clubs, is something that Salford were not initially in favour for, but as Neville reveals they did it as a sign of unity.
‘Fundamentally as individuals and as a club we were against it. But when we sat within the working group and the League meetings it was just so obvious that the clubs were desperate for it and wanted it.
‘We are a member of a league that is 24 clubs and 48 clubs in both divisions. We actually voted for it in the end, as a number of other clubs did, because we realise that a vote was going to be a waste of time if you voted against it. It was 22-2 in our league.
‘We went with the rest of the clubs because I think unity was important during coronavirus. I was sick of football falling out with each other and not supporting it. We’re against it in principle because I do believe FFP is wrong and believe the owner should invest in the club if they want to. I understand the nervousness around how the situations of Bury, Wigan and clubs like that cause great problems.
They aim for promotion every year, but know it’s a tough task as they get higher up the leagues
‘We voted for it in the end on solidarity grounds but I’m generally against the cap on wages. We voted to end the season as well, which again we didn’t want to as a club, but we voted with the rest of the clubs as well because of financial reasons.’
Salford’s ambition as a club is clear not just on the men’s side of the game, but the women’s too. Their Lionesses, formed only in 2018, will be competing in the Women’s FA Cup for the first time this season in their history. And this campaign they will also be sponsored by TalkTalk – who have extended its partnership with Salford City to their women’s team.
‘It’s important for us that the ‘For Everyone’ platform is extended to the women for inclusivity,’ Ben Cooper, Head of Brand, told Sportsmail.
‘The business was set up as a way of bringing broadband to everyone and having that platform. You can’t, in all good conscience, have ‘TalkTalk For Everyone’ written on the front of the men’s shirts and not the Lionesses. Women’s football is on the rise so it makes total sense.’
TalkTalk has extended its partnership with Salford City FC to include the Salford City Lionesses. The sponsorship is the latest example of TalkTalk’s commitment to the local community and reflects the connectivity provider’s efforts to champion inclusivity and diversity.