Non-league Salford City, backed by billionaire businessman Peter Lim, Manchester United legends Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, are planning to achieve Championship football within 15 years.
La Liga giants Valencia and Evo-Stick Division One North side Salford City may seem unlikely bedfellows and whilst immediate ambitions may differ, the two clubs now share a common director and benefactor.
Singapore businessman Peter Lim, 61, has agreed a deal in principle to buy a 50% stake in non-league Salford City, joining local boys and Manchester United‘s “Class of ’92” legends, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers on the Moor Lane club’s board.
Although currently in England’s 8th tier, Lim’s investment gives further credence to plans for the Greater Manchester club to be playing at Championship level within 15 years. With a personal fortune estimated at £1.5bn, the Manchester United fan’s investment in semi-professional Salford City, comes after he previously spurned takeover opportunities at Liverpool, Rangers and Middlesborough.
Lim’s business acumen, coupled with the footballing expertise of 5 of the Premier League’s most decorated stars, signals exciting times for supporters of the “Ammies” (a nickname that harks back to the club’s years as “Salford Amateurs”).
Salford’s board have been at pains to stress the importance of providing a platform for young British players to grow and thrive. The “Class of ’92” came through the ranks at Old Trafford, more than 20 years ago but times have changed, and with Premier League academies now as likely to include boys from Madrid as Manchester; clubs like Salford may be able to offer local lads a second chance in the game.
Public displays of Sporting philanthropy are nothing new in football. From the first factory owners whose workers’ teams turned professional, to the comparatively recent entry of oligarchs into the upper echelons of English football, benefactors have invested in football to “give back” to communities; in turn enhancing their own local legacies.
In recent years clubs boasting investment such as Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town have gained promotion to the Football League whilst other more established clubs have struggled to balance the books and fallen through the trapdoor into the Football Conference and beyond. Halifax Town, Chester City and Darlington are among clubs who have folded following relegation from the league structure. In their place, supporters have established “phoenix clubs” and Salford must compete with these teams to achieve their ambitions.
With 4 promotions required before Football League status, the consortium behind Salford City can take heart from Fleetwood Town whose own progress to League One began two divisions below the Ammies’ curent position.
Neighbouring clubs in leagues above Salford may cast envious glances towards the new consortium’s investment. Sixteen Greater Manchester clubs occupy spaces in leagues above the Ammies and with each side competing with Premier League giants City and United for support, not all will flourish or survive.
Fans of clubs with ambitions for Football League status should be mindful of the experience of Rushden & Diamonds. Formed in 1992 with the merger of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds, the club rapidly rose through the non-league pyramid and ultimately won promotion to the third tier of the Football League. Yet the club continued to need investment and when unable to pay its own way, benefactor Max Griggs (owner of the Dr Marten’s shoe company) decided he had taken the club as far as he could and attempted to sell the club. When no buyer could be found, Griggs gifted the club and its Nene Park stadium to a supporters’ group, Unable to make ends meet, Rushden & Diamonds fell as quickly as they rose and were wound up in 2011, less than 20 years after their inception. The ultimate insult came as rivals Kettering Town moved into the now vacated Nene Park. Supporters have now established AFC Rushden & Diamonds in the clubs place.
Competition in sport and business is vital to growth. Money talks at every level of football and within time, few would bet against Lim and the Class of ’92 establishing Salford City as a Football League club.
Building a level of support to ultimately make the project self-sustainable in an age of Financial Fair Play may be Salford City’s biggest challenge.