Salford have started the season brightly. After a couple of teething problems in their first two games, the team which Dr Marwan Koukash, a man you can’t ignore in a conversation about Salford, has so expensively put together seems to finally be gelling.
Unbeaten in their last three, including picking up a very rare away point in the South of France, and up to 6th in the league – any other team would be receiving praise left, right and centre. Not Salford. Instead, when the news broke that their attendance for their round five home tie against Wakefield was just 2,712 they were ridiculed online. People, it would seem, want Salford to fail. Why? They’re a team of former underdogs suddenly looking like they’ll make good. Salford look to have reached a crossroads; they could either kick-on and become a great team, or plunge into relative-obscurity.
Salford certainly are an entertaining team to watch this season. Their victories against Wakefield and Hull FC were among the more exciting games of the year, and that’s before we even mention the 40-all draw they played out against Catalan in round four. Salford seem to bring value for money in terms of what you get for a ticket, so it is surprising to hear that the attendance is so low. I’ve seen, on Twitter, some people making the case that Salford had a lot of competition for fans over round five – Man United played at home combined with it being Mother’s Day, so perhaps people were just otherwise engaged. That’s a logical excuse, but until we ask every Salford fan individually why they didn’t go we can’t know for sure. Plus, it doesn’t account for all the other low attendances.
A poor 2014 won’t have helped either. There was very little on the field which inspired confidence in the team. They were in danger, at one point, of going down, at least while Bradford’s points appeal was still up in the air. When you add that they crashed out of the Challenge Cup at an early stage 2014 doesn’t look to have been a good year for the Red Devils. Come 2015, and the promise of a fresh start and some new high-profile signings don’t seem to have changed that. It’s an almost-comical imbalance: the low volume of fans and previous league positions simply cannot explain the quality of player they are attracting. The club is being entirely held aloft by the cash of Dr Koukash, and you have to fear for the long-term financial sustainability of the club if Dr Koukash ever does truly feel like he’s “had enough”.
Speaking of financial stability, recent news that Salford are actually losing money when they play at home due to their low attendances raised one, or more, of my eyebrows. He claims Salford have one of the most expensive stadiums in the UK, and those prices are only rising. Koukash is a businessman (has anyone ever pointed out that he actually has KASH in his name? Yes? Oh, alright then), he’ll not look to stay at a place generating a loss for him. Performances right now are crucial to keep the man who is basically holding Salford together. He’s pretty publicly on the lookout for an NRL franchise, and I can’t be the only one worried that his attention will be permanently drawn to the sunnier, richer shores of Australia.
Perhaps people still remember the pre-Koukash Salford. One where if you said they had ‘carefully managed expectations’ at the start of each season you’d be understating it. They were fighters. One of the clubs with very few resources, yet they continually made the best of them. Nowadays they have everything they need to be a huge-club, yet nothing seemed to be happening. No wheels looked to be in motion. Frankly, they looked more stagnant than ever. Yet, the club’s owners were making the promises that only a huge club would make to its fans. Red Devils’ fans have been promised play-offs, Grand Finals and Challenge Cups without, in reality, ever coming within a sniff. At times they’ve been like a tiny yapping dog snapping at the feet of the big boys, only to be brushed aside when they became an annoyance. Terrible metaphors aside, Salford have talked big, but produced little.
That brings me (almost) smoothly to the point that Salford have a huge online presence, possibly more so than any other club in Super League. The ownership is constantly talking about ‘bumper crowds’ and their relationships with other clubs, and it seems to rub people up the wrong way. This time last season, it was not uncommon to log on to Twitter to find Koukash in some kind of Twitter spat with a fan, or troll. Where some would argue their online presence counts as ‘publicity’ or ‘marketing’, others would say ‘gimmick’ and ‘annoyance’. Regardless, it’s not bringing the people in, and instead has inspired those on Twitter to see Salford as a target for ‘trolling’ and other general mockery. I’ve never bought the idea that all publicity is good publicity, some of their online antics have hurt the image of that club.
Whatever you think of Salford and what they’ve become in the past few years you can’t argue that they are running out of chances. Koukash, a man I’ve mentioned in all but one paragraph of this article, doesn’t inspire many as a man of unlimited patience, and should he decide to walk away in favour of a club with the promise of more immediate success Salford may well find themselves in real financial trouble once again. On field results look good right now, and if Salford carry on this good form and start attracting fans to their stadium they could grow into a force. However, if they find themselves taking any more backwards steps into continued stagnation then Salford’s shot at being a ‘big team’ could well and truly pass them by. The fans of this club deserve better than what they’re getting, especially for the price they’re paying for it. Salford need to grow.
They have to outgrow their owner first though, apparently.