Friday, 6 October 2017

Salford not for sale

I wasn't particularly surprised the other day when Marwan Koukash, owner of Salford rugby league club, announced that he was relinquishing control and handing it over to a supporters' trust. I'd been expecting something along those lines at the end of a season in which, despite the money he's put into the team and the highish league position that they achieved, attendances at matches have continued to fall.

When Salford moved to their new ground in Barton-on-Irwell from their longtime home at the Willows in Weaste in 2012, attendances were about 5,000. The stated aim of the move was to at least double that; instead, they are now around half, often bolstered by away rather than home fans supporting their team, and even some season ticket holders no longer attend as many matches as before.

Salford had apparently been told by the Rugby Football League that the Willows was no longer a fit ground for the twenty-first century, hence the move to Barton and a new 12,000-capacity stadium there, jointly owned by Salford City Council and Peel Holdings, owners of the nearby Trafford Centre shopping mall.

A modern ground, even one that incorporated standing areas and offered cheap tickets, was never going to have either the atmosphere or historical associations of the Willows, where Salford had played since 1901, but there have been many other problems with the site too.

I remember at the last match at the Willows, while in the queue for the turnstiles, that some fans were complaining that in moving to Barton the club was leaving the traditional (i.e. pre-1974) boundaries of Salford, and although that might be a minority opinion there's definitely a feeling that a lot of fans who walked to the ground from the club's Weaste and Pendleton heartlands in the past now no longer bother.

Public transport isn't great to the new ground - the nearest train stations and tram stops are at least a mile away - the proposed tram line to Port Salford, the freight terminal on the Ship Canal also owned by Peel Holdings, which will include a stop nearby, isn't scheduled to open for another four years, and the long access road to the ground means that despite there being a large, free car park outside the time it takes to leave it at the end of matches means many fans have given up using it and now park in the Peel Green housing estate opposite instead.

There has been some talk of Salford not taking enough advantage of their potential fanbase in the neighbouring city of Manchester, and while the idea of that city's name being incorporated into the club's has rightly been rejected, there is some truth to it, especially with their location miles out from the centre in Barton not helping with that.

If the funds could be found, the ideal solution would be to build a ground in the part of Salford that adjoins Manchester city centre, with its numerous transport hubs, but I suspect that they can't, what with the financial support Koukash has given about to be withdrawn and the money from the naming rights to the ground going to Sale Sharks rugby union club, Salford's co-tenants at Barton.

Rugby league has always been dependent on local businessmen becoming owners and directors of its clubs, whether for the prestige or connections that gave them, much like football clubs up until the last quarter of a century in which they have either become PLC's or been transferred to offshore trusts in exotic tax havens controlled by American or Middle and Far Eastern billionaires.

It's hard to see then how, without an alternate source of outside income, a supporters trust will work at Salford, the first board of which is apparently going to be appointed by the outgoing owner. It seems that rather than generously gifting the club to its fans, he is instead walking away from it, perhaps understandably given the circumstances, and taking with him the money which he is no longer willing to put into its continued maintenance.





Thursday, 28 September 2017

Wythenshawe between the wars

I've been reading 20th Century Pub this past week, a new book from beer bloggers Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey which charts the ups and downs of that quintessentially British institution across the last hundred years or so, and also, by way of acknowledgement, namechecks fellow bloggers and local CAMRA faces Pub Curmudgeon and Tandleman.

There are quite a few references to Manchester pubs. I was particularly interested in the section about how none of the six pubs built between the wars in Wythenshawe, the so-called garden suburb constructed by the city at its southern edge from the late twenties to early fifties and once apparently the biggest public housing estate in Europe, still exist as pubs, and indeed, according to the website they cite, five of them no longer exist even as buildings.

My grandparents moved to Wythenshawe from Old Trafford in the late thirties (he worked as a toolmaker at the Metrovicks engineering factory in Trafford Park and she as a barmaid at the Gorse Hill Hotel, a pub in Stretford to which she'd transferred from another Threlfalls house in her native Wigan) and I remember most of those pubs from the seventies and eighties, in particular the Benchill Hotel, the closest to where they lived and from where he was fetched when the telegram arrived informing him that his brother had been killed fighting with the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium in 1940, and whose weekend discos my older cousins later frequented. The nightclub attached to the Royal Thorn in Sharston was also where student parties were held by my secondary school in the late eighties.

One of the other pub types they look at is the post-war estate pub, those unloved flat-roofed buildings which were once common in inner-city Manchester, outer suburbs such as Wythenshawe and the towns surrounding them, but which are now as much in danger from conversion to other uses or the swing of the developer's wrecking ball as the pre-war drinking establishments which preceded them.

I also went to the Gateway in East Didsbury yesterday, one of the Manchester pubs Boak and Bailey visited while researching their book, and perhaps uniquely, as an inter-war roadhouse which is now a Wetherspoons pub, one which spans two of the categories to which they devote chapters in it.



Sunday, 17 September 2017

Back to Leeds

I went to Leeds on Friday night for Salford rugby league club's match at Headingley, the result of which we shall quickly skip over.

Up until a decade ago, when I left its employ, I used to go to Leeds fairly regularly as the bit of the DSS/DWP I worked for had its headquarters there, in Quarry House (nicknamed the Kremlin by the locals), as did the trade union group of which I was a branch rep.

Leeds station must be high up a list of railway termini with decent pubs in and around them: the Scarborough opposite the station was the the pub we usually ended up in after meetings at the adjacent Queens Hotel, but there's also now a Head of Steam just around the corner, and on the concourse itself a newish bar from the nearby Ossett Brewery as well as the Wetherspoons which back in 2005 was one of the first pubs to apply for a twenty-four hour licence and where on Friday I enjoyed a fresh, cellar-cool pint of Leeds Yorkshire Gold with lots of zingy, fruity hops bursting out of it (easily a 4 on CAMRA's beer-scoring scale).

Since Carlsberg closed Tetley's, the major brewer in the city, in 2011, the micro Leeds Brewery has become its flagship beer producer. As well as a range of bitters (Yorkshire Gold, Leeds Best and Leeds Pale), it also brews Midnight Bell, a dark mild, and thus, having a professional rugby league team, now only needs a tram system to join Salford as a city which fulfils all three aspects of Ron Pattinson's definition of civilisation.


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Relaxin' with Lee

I've been listening to trumpeter Lee Morgan quite a bit this past week after attending an evening at Manchester Jazz Society dedicated to his life and music.

 As well as the joyful excitement of his playing and technical mastery of his instrument, Morgan was a key figure in hard bop, the movement which from the mid-fifties brought a harder, more blues and gospel-based, sound to jazz, first as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and then as a solo artist. The 1959 Jazz Messengers album Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, recorded live at Birdland in New York, on which he plays as part of Blakey's quintet, is also one of the first jazz albums I bought.

Morgan played on three seminal hard bop tracks, all of them title tracks to albums on the Blue Note label, as a sideman on John Coltrane's 1957 Blue Train and Art Blakey's 1958 Moanin' and under his own name on The Sidewinder, a 1963 soul-jazz recording which, when edited down from the ten minute-plus album version, unexpectedly became a hit single for him.

A couple of years ago, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke (with whom I share a love of real ale, football, cricket and jazz, if not the same political beliefs) presented a Radio 4 programme about Morgan in which he told the story of his death at the age of 33, after being shot on a snowy night in 1972 at a club in Manhattan's East Village by his girlfriend and manager Helen Moore, bleeding to death before an ambulance could reach it due to the weather, but until last week I didn't know that he had given her the gun with which she killed him after she was mugged of the takings from a gig. The Swedish film director Kasper Collin also released a documentary about him last year, I Called Him Morgan, which is being screened in Manchester this week.








Sunday, 20 August 2017

Not doing things by halves

A Twitter exhange with fellow bloggers Boak and Bailey has revealed the existence of something I've never heard of before, pubs that don't serve beer in half-pint measures.

Not only have I never been in a pub which didn't serve halves as well as pints, at least in thic country, I can only think of one place I've been that serves the new two-thirds of a pint schooner, Alberts Schloss in Manchester which dispenses their Pilsner Urquell "tankovna" in them (they sell other beer in half-pints).

I know what the legal measures for draught beer and cider are, but didn't know until someone just kindly pointed it out to me that since 2014 it's been a mandatory licensing condition for pubs to sell beer and cider in half-pints. It's probably because you just sort of assume that they will that it never crossed my mind that there might be some kind of regulation that actually requires them to.


Friday, 18 August 2017

Night and Day

The first Test match to be played in this country on a day/night basis, from two until nine o'clock rather than the traditional eleven o'clock until six, began between England and the West Indies at Edgbaston, Birmingham, yesterday, with a pink rather than a red cricket ball being used, apparently so as to be more visible to the batsmen under the floodlights.

In the United States, baseball games have been played at night under floodlights since the 1930's, but given the number of games in the regular season there are still plenty of day games for fans to watch on TV or go to.

Day/night games are also routinely played in Twenty20 cricket. Although I'm not a fan of that form of the game, with its emphasis on slogging and slightly predictable run chases in the final overs, I think Test cricket played in the later hours of the day is a good idea, allowing people to travel to the ground straight from work and still see most of the first innings and that, especially in hotter countries like those of the Indian sub-continent, the cooler temperatures then will make it more comfortable for both players and spectators, but I predict, and hope, that most Test matches will still be played in the hours of daylight.




Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Picc to Vic

Amid the news about rail fares going up yet again yesterday, there was one bright point: the Ordsall Chord connecting Manchester's two rail terminuses, Piccadilly on the south side of the city centre and Victoria on the north side, is a step closer to opening as engineers have completed the 1,600 tonne bridge which will carry it across the River Irwell and it is now expected to become operational by December.

I remember as a child in the 70's talk of a Picc-Vic line, a tunnel beneath the city centre connecting the two stations, but the idea was ultimately dropped and we had to wait until the Metrolink tram system opened in the early 90's for a slower light rail connection between them.

The running of through trains between Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria will be handy for those travelling from Lancashire and Yorkshire to Manchester Airport, and also for those of us on the south side of the city travelling northwards. I'm looking forward to using the new line en route to watching Salford play rugby league at Barton-upon-Irwell and when travelling up the Rail Ale Trail to West Yorkshire.