Salford City - The club that keep on climbing
SALFORD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Sam Finley of Accrington Stanley challenges Joey Jones of Salford City during the Leasing.com Trophy Quarter Final match between Salford City and Accrington Stanley at Moor Lane on January 21, 2020 in Salford, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

With the SkyBet League Two 2019/20 season now over, there will be one club in particular that will be itching to be back in action already.

Now Salford City's maiden season in League Two may not strike many as a success. But for a club that were barely competing in the eighth tier of English football just six years ago, credit has to be given to the new boys. 

So, how did the Ammies go from average performances in Division One North of the Northern Premier League, to Wembley trips and giant killings in the FA Cup?

The name change

The name Salford City came about in 1989. Prior to this, Moor Lane, now known as the Peninsula Stadium and the Ammies' ground since 1978, was home to Salford Central.

Founded in 1940 with success in competitions like the Lancashire Amateur Cup and the Manchester Premier Cup, Salford Central dipped in and out of the lower levels of English football before their rebirth in the late 80s. 

Salford Central had been competing in the North West Counties League since it was founded in 1982, with stints in both Division One and Two.

And after the Ammies became Salford City, the side found themselves some minor success at the bottom of the football pyramid, reaching the final of the Manchester Premier Cup once again in 1990. Salford also entered the famous FA Cup that year for the first time in their history.

The start of the climb

The early 2000's brought another Manchester Premier Cup final appearance, but Salford were beaten again, this time by Ashton United in 2002. The 2005/06 season saw Salford lift the North West Counties League Cup, and also reach the third qualifying round of the FA Cup.

And after 25 years of competing in the North West Counties League, Salford were finally promoted to Division One North of the Northern Premier League in 2008. Under the management of Gary Fellows, the Ammies finished second behind local rivals Trafford. Salford also set the record that season for attendance at a Division One evening game, when 4,058 fans attended the derby against FC United of Manchester at Moor Lane.

But Salford almost went straight back down. A tough first season in Division One North saw three different managers take the reins. It was Paul Wright who steered his side away from relegation, as Salford went on a remarkable run of form that culminated with a 5-2 away win against Garforth Town on the last day of the season to stay up.

The next five seasons brought more managerial restructure, as the club went through a handful of managers. The Ammies were able to establish themselves in the league with a few mid-table finishes, but were unable to find that management consistency that every club wants.

It would take a small group of footballing legends to come in and give Salford the boost they needed to continue their rise up the football ladder...

Class of '92 takeover

In 2014, former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, also known as the Class of '92, bought Salford City between them. Speaking about the takeover at the time, Gary Neville said: "I had my first trial for Manchester United in Salford at age 11 and I will never forget how important that was to me. 

"Salford City FC to me represents those early years, the commitment, hunger, enthusiasm, desire and spirit of football and I am very excited about this venture," the Guardian reported.

Part of the Manchester United team that won the Treble in 1999, the Salford City co-owners had big plans from the off, with the Mirror reporting shortly after the takeover their ambitious plans of reaching the SkyBet Championship within 15 years with the club.

Later in 2014, the Class of '92 announced that they were to be selling a 50 percent share of the Ammies to cash-strapped Valencia CF owner and billionaire, Peter Lim. With serious financial backing and a group of owners that knew exactly where they wanted to take the club, Salford hit the ground running and were crowned champions of the 2014/15 Division One North, promoted to the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

SALFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: (Front Row L-R) Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Raphael Burke, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and (Back Row L-R) Phil Neville, Robbie Savage, Raimond van der Gouw, John O’Kane, Mikael Silvestre,Quinton Fortune of the Class of 92 squad line up before the match between Salford City and the Class of '92 XI at AJ Bell Stadium on August 7, 2014 in Salford, England. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
SALFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: (Front Row L-R) Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Raphael Burke, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and (Back Row L-R) Phil Neville, Robbie Savage, Raimond van der Gouw, John O’Kane, Mikael Silvestre,Quinton Fortune of the Class of 92 squad line up before the match between Salford City and the Class of '92 XI at AJ Bell Stadium on August 7, 2014 in Salford, England. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Now although there was still a lot of chopping and changing in terms of management, the new owners must have been doing something right as Salford claimed back-to-back promotions in the 2015/16 season to reach the Vanarama National League North, the highest level the Ammies had reached since they were founded in 1940.

That season also saw Salford reach the first round of the FA Cup for the first time, a giant-killing over then League Two side, Notts County. Salford's run was cut short in the next round, earning themselves a replay against Hartlepool United, but losing away to Pools, who were also a League Two outfit at the time. 

Unfortunately, Salford's introductory campaign in the National League North did not follow the chain of promotions they had started. The Ammies finished third in the table, losing to Halifax Town in the semi-final of the play-offs. 

There was some exciting news for Salford fans that year though, as the Class of '92 announced development plans on Moor Lane that would see four new stands built. Sir Alex Ferguson unveiled the new Peninsula Stadium in late 2017.

It did not take long for Salford to return to their title-winning ways, setting the bar higher once again as they lifted the 2017/18 National League North trophy. Salford lost only seven games all season, clinching the title with a game spare.

SALFORD, ENGLAND -MARCH 18: (EDITORS NOTE: A graduated grey filter has been used to take this image) A general view of Salford City's Peninsula stadium, home of Salford City at Moor Lane on March 18, 2020 in Salford, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
SALFORD, ENGLAND -MARCH 18: (EDITORS NOTE: A graduated grey filter has been used to take this image) A general view of Salford City's Peninsula stadium, home of Salford City at Moor Lane on March 18, 2020 in Salford, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Wembley

Salford began their first season in the National League under new management again. Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who had been joint managers at the Peninsula since 2015, had left the club on mutual consent after securing three promotions in four years with the Ammies. Later in the season there was also new ownership, as former Manchester United player David Beckham joined his Class of '92 teammates in January 2019, after buying his own 10 percent stake in the club from Peter Lim.

Graham Alexander was brought in, an ex-professional footballer with managerial experience in both League One and League Two. Shortly after Alexander took the role in May 2018, he told Salford City's YouTube channel why he took the opportunity: "You can see the progression that the club's made and how quickly its been done in the last four years.

"I felt that my gut was telling me I want to be a part of it and I'm delighted to be here. Hopefully we can continue that path of success the club's been on".

And they certainly did. 

Salford finished third in the National League table, qualifying for the play-offs. The Ammies came up against Eastleigh in the semi-final, Chris Neal in his first season at Salford saving two penalties to send his side to Wembley

Salford, a team who had been at the bottom end of the eighth tier of English football only a few years ago, were only one game away from the elusive English Football League.

And the Ammies breezed past AFC Fylde in front of over 8,000 people at Wembley. A 3-0 victory secured their fourth promotion in five years and a spot in next season's SkyBet League Two. Goals from Emmanuel Dieseruvwe, Carl Piergianni and Ibou Touray put Salford's name in the history books, and continued their steady climb up the ranks of English football. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Salford City players celebrate promotion during the Vanarama National League Play Off Final between AFC Fylde and Salford City at Wembley Stadium on May 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Salford City players celebrate promotion during the Vanarama National League Play Off Final between AFC Fylde and Salford City at Wembley Stadium on May 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Wembley...again

When the Class of '92 said in 2014 that they want to be playing Championship football with Salford within 15 years, some may have called that overly optimistic.

However, a somewhat successful 2019/20 campaign for the Ammies says otherwise.

Salford got off to a slow start in the league. Only two wins in their first 10 games was a rude awakening for a side that had been comfortable with being one of the big boys for the past five years. 

But the Ammies started to find their feet, picking up five wins and three draws in their last 10 games before COVID-19 brought an early end to the season. 

With clubs voting to curtail the 2019/20 season recently, Salford finished their maiden season in League Two in the top half of the table as 62.16 points per game secured them 11th position. 

With nine games left to play and only 8 points off a play-off position, who knows how Salford's season could have turned out with the form they were in? It is safe to say though that it was a promising start to life in the Football League.

And domestically, another trip to Wembley was, and may still, be on the cards for Salford. A brilliant run in the Leasing.com Trophy that saw the Ammies leapfrog past two League One sides, Tranmere Rovers and Accrington Stanley, meant Salford would be returning to Wembley, one year on from their historic victory over Eastleigh, to potentially lift silverware again.

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Liam Hogan of Salford City celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Leasing.com Trophy Northern Group C match between Tranmere Rovers and Salford City at Prenton Park on November 12, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Liam Hogan of Salford City celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Leasing.com Trophy Northern Group C match between Tranmere Rovers and Salford City at Prenton Park on November 12, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

The final against Portsmouth was scheduled for the start of April, but COVID-19 has put a halt to that with no decision as of yet on whether the game will be played or not.

Salford can also take credit in how they managed to bring the likes of former Manchester United players, James Wilson and Darron Gibson, the latter a Premier League winner, to the Peninsula Stadium. Ibou Touray was also named in WhoScored.com's best League Two eleven of the season in April, showing that there is recognisable quality in the squad. 

All of this bodes well for next season, and with more experience and hopefully a few more marquee signings, Salford could be seriously challenging for a play-off position next year. 

Seeing the likes of Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth, all Premier League sides not too long ago, dropping into League One and Two on recent occasions, means the opposite can also be achieved. Salford's dream of competing at the top tiers of the Football League could become a reality sooner than they think, anything can happen in football...as they already know.

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