Thursday, 12 April 2012

Brand new in Barton

I was at Salford City Stadium in Barton-upon-Irwell on Easter Monday, my first trip to the new home of Salford rugby league club.

Salford's new stadium was always going to feel different to The Willows, the ground where they played from 1901 to 2011.  In part, it's because it's new and hasn't got the history associated with The Willows.  But it's also to do with design: it's similar to Warrington's new ground in having two seated stands facing each other with smaller standing terraces behind the goalposts.

I know Salford only rent the stadium (it's owned by a joint company formed by Salford City Council and Peel Holdings, owners of the Trafford Centre shopping complex just across the Manchester Ship Canal) and I wonder how much input they had in its design. Having watched baseball at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the prototypical retro ballpark, I know that even with a new stadium, brick and wood lend far more character than concrete and steel.

Salford, like other rugby league clubs, have effectively been blackmailed into leaving their historic grounds for modern stadiums by the threat of not having their Super League licence renewed. To Salford's credit, they've listened to their fans and included standing areas. Ticket prices are also still reasonable - £20 to sit or stand. The atmosphere on the home standing terrace is still pretty good although the noise is not captured like it was by the low-roofed Shed at The Willows. On the other hand, cantilevering means the view isn't blocked by roof supports. The terraces aren't quite as close to the pitch and from where I was standing in the South Stand the main stand seats looked a lot further away.

On the pitch, Salford are playing open, exciting rugby at the moment and are surely hoping that the extra revenues generated by the new stadium will allow them to be genuine Super League contenders in the next few seasons.

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