The Class of '92, a meteoric rise and Wembley advantage - the lowdown on Portsmouth's EFL Trophy final opponents Salford
It’s a club that has attracted more attention than most outside the Premier League in recent years.
Salford City’s meteoric rise from step four of the non-league pyramid to the Football League has been documented at every stage.
In 2014, the Ammies were taken over by five members of Manchester United’s famous Class of ’92, who helped the club dominate English football for the best part of two decades.
Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt – along with billionaire Peter Lim – immediately set out their ambitions for the club to take it as high as possible.
That’s exactly what Salford have achieved and hope to continue doing.
In seven years, they’ve won four promotions, become a Football League club for the first time in their history and are presently pushing to reach League One.
In their maiden campaign in League Two last term, they reached the EFL Trophy final to set up a meeting with Pompey.
The coronavirus pandemic meant the game was postponed 12 months and will now take place behind closed doors at Wembley.
To get the lowdown on the Blues’ opponents ahead of a first meeting in history between the teams, we spoke to BBC Greater Manchester reporter Dominic Dietrich...
Q. Salford's rise has been well documented but what is the general feeling about the club in the local area?
Dietrich: It is an interesting one. If you speak to fans who've been with the club since the start, they were sceptical.
Things have changed but for the better, of course. They've got a lovely new ground and all sorts of facilities.
It’s exciting to see the rise, especially in this area where we have had so many sad stories with Bury, Macclesfield, Wigan at the moment and Bolton.
It’s nice to have a club that is on the up and the rise has been taken quite well.
Those who've been involved for a long time maybe took a little while to win around because it’s not the same club they starting supporting all those years ago.
It’s taken some adjusting – and adjusting quickly!
Q. Has it come as a surprise how quickly things have accelerated?
Dietrich: The intention for the owners was to always try to get to the Football League.
When you have Peter Lim involved in the club, who owns Valencia, in non-league then things are looking promising.
I wouldn't say it's been a surprise.
It's what they set out to do – climb the football pyramid as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.
When you look at the rise, they've not hesitated getting rid of people who have got them to the next level so they can keep climbing the pyramid.
Q. Has it been difficult attracting new supporters given there are two Premier League clubs in Manchester and a lot of EFL clubs in Greater Manchester?
Dietrich: There is a decent atmosphere when fans are allowed in and there is a growing fan base. People do go and watch them because of the Class of ’92.
It's a way for them to grow and use their reputation. Manchester United fans maybe want to support them.
As they've traditionally been a non-league team, they didn't get enormous gate figures. The fan-base has started to grow little by little given the pace they’ve grown.
Q. Is the same enthusiasm still there from the high-profile owners?
Dietrich: Absolutely. You'll often see Roy Keane and other friends of the Class of ’92 at games.
Gary Neville is very inspiring in how ruthless and determined he is.
Obviously, some of them have their own situations like Phil Neville going to Inter Miami, Ryan Giggs at Wales and Nicky Butt working for Man United's academy, while Paul Scholes managed the team as caretaker boss for a short period.
Q. Salford finished 11th in League Two last season which was their maiden Football League campaign. Was that about right?
Dietrich: It was, they didn't have the strength in depth to mount a sustained promotion challenge.
The thought was always there because they brought in the likes of Ritchie Towell, who's played in the Championship, and Adam Rooney, but didn't hit the heights many expected.
What Salford have always done well is build for the next season who can play the level above but didn't after being promoted to League Two.
It was a case of letting people know they were there but not quite going for it.
Q. Salford made the decision quite early on this season to replace Graham Alexander with Richie Wellens. Did that come as a shock?
Dietrich: I don't think anyone expected it at the time, but you could see why when it did happen.
They had given Alexander the transfer window to bring in players then he had just two months to work with them and were fifth in the league.
But Salford wanted a change of tack and to be a side that played "good football".
When it happened, I put Wellens near the top of the list because he'd been promoted from League Two with Swindon, is from the area, knows the Class of ’92 and plays a good brand of football.
If Salford had sacked Alexander in the summer, you'd have been able to understand it but it was a surprise two months into the season.
Q. Fair to say the decision for bring in Richie Wellens is now starting to bear fruit for the club?
Dietrich: It is. Wellens said he needed to get to January to get his own players to suit his style, while midfielder Darren Gibson's season-ending injury was a big blow.
There weren't too many players who could play Wellens’ way and in January he signed the likes of Paul Coutts (Fleetwood) and Robbie Gotts (Leeds) to fit his style.
You can see the difference now in terms of how fluid they are.
Salford currently play with three centre-backs, even though that's now exactly how Wellens wants to play.
But of the array of talent he has with Tom Clarke, Jordan Turnbull and Di-Shon Bernard, he has a 3-4-3 system with is quite fluid.
You can see his stamp on the team now.
Q. What was the feeling when Salford reached Wembley and what's the general feeling now the final will be behind closed doors?
Dietrich: The fact they got there was a huge statement for the club. While they were fighting for the play-offs, reaching Wembley was the cherry on top.
It was the normal procedure where managers play down the competition in the group stages then the excitement starts to build when you have a chance of reaching Wembley.
It will be such a shame there won't be supporters but this might do Salford a favour. It's fair to say Salford fans would have been outnumbered by Pompey, so it'll benefit them.
It's going to be weird for Wellens because he's not got the team there. It is bizarre.
Looking at the team, not a lot got Salford there either like Coutts, Gotts and Ian Henderson.
Salford have a much better team than 12 months ago.
That team was similar to the one that had won the National League play-off final.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
On Saturday, March 13 Pompey will finally get their day at Wembley.
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