Salford City Reds
The Willows

Ground No. 6
Visited - Saturday 8th July 2006
Result - Salford City Reds 20-24 Hull FC
Competition - Super League
Attendance - 4076

With Salford being another club looking to move to a new purpose built stadium, The Willows was up towards the top of my list of ‘must see’ grounds, and their Saturday lunchtime game with Hull seemed an ideal time to visit.

As usual, I left Wolverhampton relatively early, taking the train up to Manchester, which went smoothly, arriving into Piccadilly on time, and from there it was a short ride on the Metro to Weaste, where the ground was situated just up the road from.

On first impressions, you really start to see why they want to move. Tightly packed in by terraced streets, with only small alleyways running behind the two side stands, and wasteland restricting entry at the North end of the site, then the ground really is a testament to a bygone era. The only stand free from its confines is the Willows Terrace at the South end, which even then is built right up against the pavement.

After having taken a few pictures and paying a trip to the club shop, I eventually went in through the turnstiles. Inside, the ground is a lot different, with there being a brighter and more spacious feel to it. At one end is the Willows Terrace, which is only a few steps high, but has a number of buildings behind it housing various bars, giving that end more of an imposing look. Adjacent, and running for (near enough) the length of the pitch is the Main Stand. This is probably one of the more interesting stands that I’ve seen on my travels, with the lower half split into three sections of seating, whilst in the centre, a smaller stand sits atop of the lower section with only several rows of seats. Not finishing there, on top of that is a commentary box, which makes the overall stand look a little odd, if not quite interesting! Hull City fans will probably get a familiar feel about the two final stands at the Willows, with them being very similar to the East and South Stands at Boothferry Park. Behind one set of posts is the North Stand, which has a fairly large section of terracing below an upper tier of seating. Slightly more modern than Boothfery Park’s South Stand, it does bare remarkable similarities, right down to the slanting pillars in the upper tier. Completing the picture at the ground is ‘The Shed’, which is a fair sized terrace running the eastern length of the pitch, with the centre section covered by a low pitched roof, with a number of supporting pillars. Comparing it to Boothferry Park once more, although not exactly the same as Hull’s old East Stand, when sitting next to the North Stand, the similarities are there to see (Comparison 1, Comparison 2).  

Having surveyed the scene, and taken a few pictures, it wasn’t long before the teams came out to get the game underway. With both sides receiving plaudits in recent games, the match promised to be exciting, but no one was quite prepared for what followed the kick-off. Luke Robinson collected the kick from Paul Cooke, before passing to John Wilshere, who after taking it upfield, passed to Aaron Moule, who ran from inside his own half to put the home side 4-0 up after just 16 seconds! Stephen Myler converted the try, to add the two points, which helped get a good atmosphere going from the home fans in the Shed. It didn’t take Salford long to increase the lead, just five minutes to be exact, when David Hodgson went over beneath the posts. Myler once again converted to make it 12-0, before he successfully kicked two penalties to increase the score to 16-0. Despite the blistering start from Salford, Hull didn’t give up, and on 25 minutes, after good work from Graeme Horne looking for a weakness in Salford’s defence, he managed to squeeze through to make it 16-4, with Paul Cooke converting to make it 16-6 at the break.

If the first half had been about Salford, the second half would be not about Hull, but the video referee Steve Presley. Motu Tony’s try was the first bit of controversy, with him seemingly being held on the line, before the Salford players released him, only for Tony to touch the ball down. The video evidence would presumably have seen that the tackle had been made, but the try was given to make it 16-12 (with Cooke converting). Salford were next to score, with Wilshire going over in the corner after good work from Andy Coley, but Myler couldn’t convert what was a difficult kick close to the touchline. After this Hull started to dominate, and they bought it back to 20-18 following Richard Horne breaking a Super League record by scoring for a 10th consecutive game. With the clock counting down, that seemed to be it, but a second moment of controversy was to strike with just two minutes left when Gareth Raynor made it 20-22 to Hull. After picking up the ball a few metres before the line, he seemed to lose it whilst going over, touching it down with his chest. The Salford fans seemed convinced that it wouldn’t be given, but the video ref had other ideas, and effectively awarded the match to Hull. Cooke converted once more to make the final score 20-24, with the home fans not being best pleased with the officials.

For most of the game I had stood in the Shed with the Salford supporters, who helped by the low roof, created a great atmosphere, probably the best I’ve heard so far in Rugby League, so it was a shame for them that the match had to finish the way it did, but with Hull having dominated the second half, it wasn’t an entirely flukey win.

After the final whistle had gone, I went back to the metro stop, before spending the afternoon in Manchester, going home later on. Overall, I was glad that I’d made the trip up to The Willows. Despite it being obvious why the club want to move, the ground is a classic, and would certainly be a good place to visit if there was a big attendance in, so I can certainly see myself making another trip there before they finally move to the new ground.

The Club Shop and Offices

Rear of the North Stand

Rear of the Shed

Rear of the Willows Terrace (and clubhouse)

Rear of the Main Stand

The Willows Terrace

The Main Stand

The North Stand

The Shed

The North Stand

The Main Stand

The Willows Terrace

The Shed

The Willows Panoramic 1

The Willows Panoramic 2

The Willows Panoramic 3

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