Chance Morrison was a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. With a name like his, how could he be anything else?
Only 33 years of age, he was a player of little reputation – deservedly, he’d have told you – but had a good mind for the game. He had spent his career in the very low leagues.
“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the League League,” he would say to friends who asked him about where he’d played. In reality, it was the North West Counties League – for Irlam, which played its home matches at Silver Street in his home of Salford.
He had been happy with the semi-professional club, if not especially skilled. He had been a midfielder and he wasn’t likely to make anyone forget Roy Keane, or even Eric Djemba-Djemba. Or, if you preferred, Yaya Toure or Stephen Ireland.
He was a Salford lad, though, and that meant two things to him: Manchester United and Salford City, and in some weeks not necessarily in that order.
After his career, such as it was, came to a close at age 30 after his release by the Mitchells, he wanted to try to stay close to the game. So it was that he ventured to Salford City – where he bought a season ticket. This put him in a distinct minority among residents, because the club didn’t have many.
Irlam’s club crest contained the motto of Irlam and Cadishead College. Ingenio et Consilio¸it read: By natural ability and council.
Chance Morrison possessed neither. But he loved the game, and managed to worm his way onto manager Phil Power’s team as a volunteer coach. That in itself wasn’t a big deal – nearly everyone at Salford City, which was in the eighth tier of the English game at the time, was a volunteer – but he made some friends, enjoyed his time there, and tried his best to help his club succeed.
That was enough for him during his evenings and alternate Saturdays when the club played at home. During the week, he made ends meet by working as a roofer. It was a good life, if not an especially good-paying life, but on the whole he couldn’t complain.
Business was good. But then something highly unusual happened.
Salford City was bought, lock, stock and barrel, by five members of Manchester United’s famed “Class of ‘92”. Phil and Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs bought in, and completely changed the culture of a local club.
They changed the logo. They changed the club colors from orange to red. Most importantly, they changed expectations.
The new owners said their goal was Championship football within 15 years. That was rather amazing, for a club that drew about 100 hard-core fans a match to Moor Lane.
But then the club started to play real matches, and the owners came to the realization that simply wishing something into existence didn’t always make it so. After a strong start, the players stopped performing for Power, and the owners made a change.
Enter Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, non-league legends for either the wrong or the right reasons depending on who you talked to. They had led Ramsbottom United to promotion from the Northern Premier League Division One North the previous season but were known as taskmasters. The owners installed them as co-managers.
Johnson, known as “Johnno” and a former British Army squaddie, was involved in a touchline fight shortly after his arrival, showing one and all that his tenure would be an interesting one.
And one of the first things they did was clean house. That meant about 75 percent of the part-time playing squad – and a coach named Chance Morrison.
That hurt. Why you’d sack volunteers was anybody’s guess, but the new men wanted their own new men in place and so Chance was asked – well, not asked, but told – to watch future contests from the stand if he cared to attend at all.
As much as that stung, the new managers led Salford City to 15 wins from their last 17 matches and promotion. So they were doing something right.
They did it again the following season, earning promotion to the Vanarama Conference North through the playoffs – the highest place on the tiers that the club had ever held in its 76-year history.
But then, Johnno pushed too hard.
A story published in the Mail said that the two had told the owners they knew they were under pressure to perform. “We made sure we told the owners that we knew that if we were underachieving we knew our fate,” Morley said. “Johnno sent that message, and I don't think they took it very well, did they?”
They sure didn’t. The Class of ’92 had gone out of its way to try to avoid interfering, but being told their business didn’t sit well.
So it was that the partnership was split. The owners, which now included Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim – yes, that Peter Lim – had seen enough.
More than a bit ironically, Lim had hired the Nevilles to manage the other sporting interest in his life – Valencia – in 2015, he both hired and fired Gary Neville, his Salford co-owner, who had assistance from Phil along the way.
Phil had learned the hard way about management and returned to his punditry at Sky Sports now needing to find a new boss for his team.
He was a bit surprised to find Chance’s CV waiting for him. He had gone through licensure and now owned the National A license, the same as Morley. And he had a good reputation, which one-half of the departing management team couldn’t exactly say.
So he got the job. For good or bad.
Author’s notes: FM 17. English Leagues to Tier 9 and Home Nations loaded. This will teach me to watch television. Fictional characters are randomly generated and no similarities with actual people are intended or should be implied. Reactions generated by the game engine and backstory. Enjoy!
# # #
Great to see you back doing stories, Malone Again and Raising Cain were brilliant
thank you so much ... I've taken a bit of a break from writing since I've been doing it more or less constantly since 2010. I also want a story I can finish strongly, so I'm trying something different here. I appreciate the comment and it's nice to be back!
“I don’t expect this to go well.”
Bernard Morley was smiling but it looked forced. That wasn’t surprising. He and Johnno had sacked Chance two years previously but now the season-ticket holder was running the club and getting paid a bit of dosh to do so.
“Bernard,” Chance said coolly. So far, Morley was right.
Last time it had been “boss”. Now the shoe was on the other foot.
“I’ll go,” Morley said immediately.
“No,” Chance replied, to Morley’s considerable surprise. “That won’t happen. Right now the club can’t afford to buy out contracts. So we’re stuck with each other.”
If Morley resigned, of course, that would be avoided, but he had no such intention. So the two men would have to form an uneasy alliance.
Chance wasn’t thrilled about working with Morley. Nobody should have expected him to be. But the club had priorities and sacking an existing staff member wasn’t one of them. He didn’t dislike his deputy, but he didn’t think he had been given a fair shake the first time around. That was enough for both of them.
He also thought he had bigger fish to fry.
Chance needed at least one more coach, a physio, a scout and, after he had placed the necessary ads, an Ibuprofen. All the figuring and budgeting made his head hurt.
A Director of Football would help with the details, though, and he had permission to see who might want to try their hand. So there were plenty of positions open and about £30,000 to pay them all. Not exactly chump change for the Conference North, but he still wasn’t going to get a whole lot for less than Wayne Rooney’s weekly wage packet.
He had a (very) modest transfer budget but also more pressing needs, such as a right full back. The rest of the squad was small but fit for purpose, or so he thought. With limited resources, it would be a challenge to meet needs.
The board gave Chance an extra £10,000 for payroll when he told them he thought he could finish mid-table. At the same time, he hoped they didn’t read the newspapers, which said they thought Salford could finish third.
They were a ways away from that, Chance thought. Getting promoted twice in three years is good, but at some time a team needs to consolidate. From the matches he had seen the previous year, he wondered how many players would be up to standard for the new league.
One gave him no doubt. Midfielder George Green was on loan from Premier League club Burnley and from the first training sessions Chance thought he could be the best player in the league.
But he needed more. He needed fullbacks. Salford City had clearly been set up to play with three at the back, and Chance wasn’t a fan. But if you play with three at the back, it’s also a good idea to have depth in wing backs, and Salford didn’t have that either.
The club also had only one pure striker on its books. In short, it didn’t look like a team with much of a plan. It was going to be a challenge.
# # #
LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT
Did I mention I loved it i will read this every day nice start
Awesome! Thanks very much!
Those who weren’t on the senior squad either had youth contracts or were transfer listed. Some of them were players Chance knew fairly well from his volunteer days – but more of them were new to the club after its promotions and subsequent semi-professional status.
They didn’t make a lot of money in the sixth tier. But it was better than playing for love of the game. You had to really love the game to pay in some of the places Chance had during his career, and he had never had a contract that paid him any money to play football.
So his very first actual contract in the game was to manage. That seemed a bit odd at first but he quickly did two things: first, race to the bank to deposit his first paycheck that allowed him to earn a decent living and second, frame the front page of his contract and hang it on the wall of his apartment.
But Salford City was still only a semi-professional club. That meant they could only train three days a week, which would place them at a disadvantage against certain clubs. The roofing business was of course at its best in the summer, so Chance wasn’t lacking for work, but as he started to spend more and more time at the ground, he wondered when his other employers would ask him to make a choice.
Training began and the first friendly for Chance’s team would be against his own U-23s. He saw several areas where battles would be held for the available shirts:
In goal, former Bolton trainee Jay Lynch was the two-year incumbent but would be competing against his mentor, goalkeeping coach Craig Dootson.
Salford was his 16th club in 17 seasons, which took some doing, but the 37-year old could still do a job when called upon. Sadly for him, that job had only come up twice in the last three seasons.
The club only had one senior right back, 27-year old Michael Nottingham. A free transfer arrival from Solihull Moors, he figured to walk straight into the eleven as his only opposition was youth teamer Matt Webb. But Nottingham had already played for six teams in seven years as well.
One of the more interesting positional scraps was in the number ten role. With only one senior striker, Josh Hine, on the club’s books, it obviously didn’t make sense to play with two strikers. But he needed to bring in competition for Hine. Mike Phenix could play striker but looked like better value as an attacking midfielder.
The day after he was hired, Chance faced something more or less like a news conference. That only Joe Bailey from the Non-League Paper showed up was a bit disquieting, but he did the deed while trying not to sound sarcastic.
Bailey was an interesting sort. He sort of looked like the comedian Steven Wright. He wore a frilly Afro-type hairdo with what Chance liked to call a five-head – too big for a four-head, if you will.
And he wrote what he saw, which was not much.
Jessica Granger, the club’s volunteer press officer, tapped at the door to Chance’s office the following day. She held a copy of the paper in one hand.
“See what your friend wrote,” she smiled, handing him the paper, opened to a brief piece on how little people cared about Salford’s new boss.
Chance shook his head. “Who cares what Bailey thinks?” he asked, tossing the paper onto his desk. It slid apart as it landed because it wasn’t stapled, so the non-league scene was covered comprehensively, if you will.
“Well, I do, since I need to get him back here,” Granger replied.
“Jess, maybe we don’t need plonkers like him poking around,” Chance smiled.
“Why, then I’d have nowt to do,” she grinned.
They traded smiles, and the young lady left for home. After performing that task, she really did have nowt to do.
# # #
“That guy” called again the very next day, with a rumor that Chance’s chief scout (and since he was also the only one, that made sense) Gareth McClelland had been linked with the manager’s job at Northern League Division One’s West Auckland Town. Chance said he was proud of McClelland, but he had other fish to fry with the caller.
“If I’m honest, I’m a bit narky with what you wrote yesterday,” Chance added, but Bailey just laughed. He knew what Chance meant, though, which was both good and not good at the same time.
“What do you want me to say, Chance? That you’re the next coming of Pep and people should bust down doors to see your team?”
“Cute. No, I’d just appreciate it if you wouldn’t off my chances when you haven’t even seen us play.”
“I didn’t do anything of the sort,” the reporter said.
“Well, telling the people that nobody cares about us wasn’t exactly fair dos, was it? I can’t get people excited about being here without you telling them to first?”
“That wasn’t about you, it was about your fans,” Bailey said, and Chance frowned.
“Why would you take sides?” he asked, and the reporter quickly backpedaled, since that was exactly what he wasn’t supposed to do, at least not in print.
“Well, I didn’t mean it exactly like that,” Bailey said. “But you know the reputation you ‘ave now that you’ve got those moneybags owners.”
Chance knew it all too well. For this level, Salford City was nouveau-riche, taking the same kind of flak Manchester City got when it was first bought out and turned into a free-spending cash machine, only on a much smaller scale.
“All they care about is being seen,” Bailey added. Now, since Chance had been one of those fans as recently as a week before, that stuck in his craw.
“I had a season pass,” he snapped. “So I was one of those fans. I didn’t care if I was seen or not. I love the club.”
“I didn’t mean you,” Bailey protested.
“Why don’t you get your story straight the next time you call?” Chance suggested, before hanging up his phone.
He shook his head and cleaned up the copy of the paper strewn across his desk.
“Bellend,” Chance said.
# # #
Chance wasn’t sure whether he should be laughing or crying.
As the first order of business he had ordered a match between his would-be senior side and the u-23s, to see who could play and more importantly, who couldn’t. One he wasn’t going to get to look at was 17-year old midfielder Richard Roberts.
Calling in a favor, the Nevilles had managed to persuade Premiership referee Lee Probert to make the trek to Salford to take charge of the glorified scrimmage, and now the big-time official had a friendly hand on the lad’s shoulder, telling him exactly why he was being sent off in a practice match with only four minutes played.
Roberts had hit Josh Hine, the only true striker on the senior squad, with a two-footed tackle. So he had to go.
Chance looked on sadly, as Hine was helped to his feet. He could continue – thankfully for Roberts, but the boy wasn’t happy and neither was Morley, who had taken charge of the reserves for the match.
Morley had set up his young team in 4-5-1, which was fine with Chance. He wanted to see if his team could break through a packed midfield, but now the opposition was down to ten and he couldn’t.
Hine showed he was just fine by scoring 12 minutes into the match, with the loanee George Green and makeshift striker Mike Phenix finding the range in 21 and 24 minutes.
But then the ten men scored not once but twice. Ian Morris did it first, when Probert correctly gave a penalty when on-loan defender Patrick Brough brought down 16-year old Ian Morris in the area. Craig King then scored two minutes after the break and suddenly the seniors were breathing hard, their lead reduced to 3-2 through the most comical of sequences.
Green restored order in 56 minutes, and Simon Grand did it again in 68, before Chance let the young players finish up. It had finished 5-2 and he had reason to be upset with nearly everyone except George Green.
He walked onto the field to thank Probert for making the trip and the referee was kind. “It’s mid-summer, Chance,” he said, as they shook hands. “Give them some time.”
“Not like I have a choice,” he replied glumly. “We’ve arsed about for half this match and we need to be better.”
He gave a post-match talk that was the only one he could give – when you score five and win, it’s hard to be critical – but he had seen areas that surely needed shoring up.
As such, he and Morley retreated to the manager’s office area for a post-match discussion.
“I saw a lot I didn’t like,” Morley began.
“Me too,” Chance replied. “When we don’t get it right on the back line we’re bobbins.”
It’s not as bad as that,” Morley replied. “I think you know that.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Chance said. “But let’s not talk about it here. You up for a bite? Curry Mile, maybe?”
Morley saw what Chance was trying to do. He knew that someone had to try to break the ice between them.
“That’ll do,” he said simply. The two men rose and headed to the car park, and then to Rusholme for dinner.
# # #
Great to see you back on the site and writing again. As others have mentioned, you have a great writing style so I'm sure I'll thoroughly enjoy this as much as I have others. Good luck!
Very kind of you sir ... nice to be back with some energy behind me!
Shere Khan was waiting for them, but then it had been waiting for Mancunians for thirty years.
Recognized as one of the best Indian restaurants not only on the Curry Mile but in England, it was a bit pricy but a good place to talk. And since they were talking about club business, the club could pay for the meal.
Chance liked Dhansak, and as he ate the curry alongside his Chicken Tikka he listened to Morley expound on the virtues of the first team and the U-23s. He was nearly done with his first course before Morley was finished.
“Just some thoughts,” he concluded, starting to eat his own first course before it got cold.
This much Chance knew: Bernard Morley might have been responsible for his departure, but he cared about the players as much as Chance did. His methods of motivation were different from those Chance preferred – he was the boss and he made sure everyone knew it – but his view on the players was important to have while Chance made up his own mind.
Finally, though, Morley turned the conversation 90 degrees. “So I’ve been curious, Chance,” he finally said. “Why are you called Chance?”
It seemed an odd question to ask, but the manager knew what his deputy was trying to do. It was the same thing Chance had done.
“Well, it’s a bit embarrassing,” he began, “but if you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’m called Chance because I was conceived in the back seat of an Aston-Martin. I was an accident, as they say.”
Morley tried very hard not to smile. He failed, and the relationship between the two men hung on the knife’s edge as he waited for Chance to react.
Finally, the manager smiled in return. “Can’t be changed,” he said.
“’Course it can,” Morley replied. “People change their names all the time.”
“I sort of fancied the name,” Chance admitted. “It wasn’t like mum and dad treated me like an accident, they brought me up just fine. I used my name to help me decide how to live. I try not to let too much get me down.”
“Well, to be fair, that’s what me and Johnno noticed about you,” Morley said, turning the conversation another 90 degrees in an awfully big hurry. “We saw a happy guy and what we didn’t see was a hard guy, like what owners wanted.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Chance said immediately. “Now I work with my hands for a living, and I know how to use a hammer.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Morley said. “But you didn’t use your hammer on me, and I was expecting you to. The lads were expecting you to. You’re already coming across as a nice guy and that isn’t what the players need.”
Chance thought it over for a long moment. He looked down into his drink and finally replied.
“I’m here because the way you and Johnno did it didn’t appeal to the owners,” he said. “Now, if you want us to play good cop, bad cop with the players I’m good with that, but I also believe in not showing my teeth until I have a reason to. But I’ll tell you something else – I learned from being told to leave.”
He didn’t elaborate, so Morley wondered just what it was that his new boss had picked up the last time he was with the club.
Clearly the Class of ’92 had seen it, but Chance was leaving Morley to figure it out for himself.
# # #
Sweat ran down Chance’s face, and the salt it contained stung his eyes.
He was sitting atop a roof in Manchester, installing shingles. It was miserable work on cold days, but even worse on hot ones, and this certainly was. The temperature was over thirty degrees and as such, he knew it would be a day where he would have to stay hydrated.
With the team’s first friendly still over a week away, he took on a part-time job to boost his income after training. It felt a bit odd because he had gone from a place where he was the boss to a place where he most certainly wasn’t, on the roof of the house in Hale.
He had to be on someone else’s time schedule, working at someone else’s pleasure, and that felt a bit strange as well.
But it was what he knew outside of football, and he knew he’d do a good job because he always did. And it was certainly a way to keep his waistline under control.
This particular house had over 3,000 square feet inside so its roof was pretty big as well. And as the July sun beat down on him, Chance stopped for a moment to take a long pull from a canteen he held on his back. He also wiped the sweat from his brow and eyes and put on a dry bandana.
There had to be easier ways to make a living. Neither of his jobs were especially secure in that regard. The housing industry was still showing signs of hangover from the financial crisis and of course, being a football manager was life on a high wire on the best of days.
He resumed work, shifting his weight from one leg to the other to save his left leg from cramp. One after another, the nails went in and the shingles took over the roof as they were designed to do.
It gave him time to think. The club had offered a contract to its first target, North Ferriby’s Sam Topliss, and offered a trial to Australian striker Peter Skapetis, recently released by Stoke but who could sure do a job in Salford’s league.
His request for a parent club had also been approved by the board, but even there Chance had to be careful. The Class of ’92 would surely have a say in which club was selected and Chance dared not err on that account.
With each shingle, it seemed as though Chance was thinking about a different variable for his eleven. There were upgrades which needed to be made. The team was woefully short in depth in certain areas. It was more than simply taking whatever fell off bigger clubs, of course, but an injury crisis would really harm the team’s chances to reach its goals.
The row of shingles was done. He prepared to start the next. His foreman called up to him from street level.
“Come on, Morrison, you can’t lay about like you’re on training ground,” he snapped. “Get your arse in gear.”
It was funny in a way. During the last two seasons, Morley had been a ceiling fixer working with his dad, so the two had that much in common. But Chance suspected that nobody would talk to him in that way. Morley would have told his boss where he could get off, and some people would have thought him right to do so.
Chance smiled to himself, and tried to work faster. He wanted the job done right. His boss wanted it done fast and right. That was why his boss was the boss, at least in this case. On the pitch, Chance’s hammer could wait, but on the roof, it couldn’t.
# # #
An interesting insight into what is more or less an alter ego for him, just without the name change. Wonder when he'll get out of the rat race of civvy work
As soon as Salford succeeds .... whenever that is
It turned out Chance didn’t have to worry. Peterborough was the choice for a parent club. It wasn’t exactly Man United, but the club could provide Salford with warm bodies, fit for purpose at Salford’s level.
He also didn’t have to worry about Topliss, who signed for Kidderminster shortly after receiving Salford’s offer.
As such, the team prepared for its first friendly against Goole of the Northern Premier League Division One North at their home, eyebrow-raisingly named the Victoria Pleasure Grounds.
On the positive side, Chance derived some pleasure when Skapetis agreed to come to Salford on trial. At age 21, he could have been a player either for the present or the future and once he found fitness, could do a job. The only problem was that Skapetis didn’t appear to have a lot of staying power, which explained why he had yet to make a senior appearance in English football with his two prior clubs – QPR and Stoke.
But if he figured that out, he had the talent to score for fun in the Conference North. He was also recovering from doing his ACL with Stoke, which had led to his release.
“Look at him,” Morley said as Skapetis bent over for his breath after a series of wind sprints the other players seemed to handle with ease. “Shattered.”
“Well, that’s the trouble, innit?” Chance replied. “I can put him on cardio but he has to want to do it. Otherwise I like what I see.”
“You’re right there,” Morley replied. “Some good skill on him.”
That was how conversations had been going between manager and assistant – point-form and short. They weren’t friends, but they weren’t circling each other like Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo in Tombstone
“I’m your Huckleberry,” Chance thought to himself with a smile. He didn’t share the reference with Morley, but then, to say anything would have gone against everything Chance claimed to be.
As they watched training, Jessica Granger approached. “We put out the word on Skapetis,” she said. “Bailey was the only one to respond.”
“Well, you gave it a bash, good job,” Chance said. “What did you tell him?”
“Same as everyone, we want to see him succeed and we’ll consider offering a deal if he does.”
Chance nodded. He smiled at the young lady, who seemed to know her business fairly well. So did her boyfriend, a fellow called Kieran Wolfe who seemed to be a decent bloke. “Well done,” he said, turning back to training.
“Thanks, Chance,” she replied, smoothing her long blonde hair back behind her ears. A slight summer breeze had kicked up her hairdo and this seemed to annoy her. “I’m off to get Kieran from work and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Chance nodded and the press officer left.
“Don’t know what she sees in that Kieran,” Morley offered.
“Don’t even go there,” Chance said, without looking at his deputy.
“Well, it’s true,” he replied. “He’s a good lad, mind, but he’s on the dole as often as not.”
“Maybe she loves him,” Chance replied, going there. “In the meantime, we’ve both got better things to do.”
“True,” Morley said, watching the defenders.
Chance shook his head. “If I’m spending time worrying about a bit of all right, I won’t last long,” he sighed.
At that moment, defender Chris Lynch fell to the ground heavily, grabbing at his face. He had been struck by a ball in a drill and he was rolling back and forth, a small stream of blood running from between his fingers.
The physios arrived and quickly confirmed a broken nose. It wasn’t that difficult. Lynch was going to have a couple of really beautiful shiners and, in the coming days, a plastic mask to guard the injury, but for now he was just a bloody mess.
# # #
Goole’s biggest problem for the upcoming season wasn’t likely to be youth or inexperience. It was likely to be diaper rash.
As Salford arrived at the Pleasure Grounds for what they hoped would be some truly sexy football in their first friendly, they were greeted by Vikings player-manager David Taylor.
He was twenty-three years old and looked like he hadn’t even started his A-levels yet. Talk about boyish.
That said, he had scored four professional goals – two with Buxton and two more with Goole, though it had been over two years since he had last played. Chance had scored seven goals in his career at Irlam, which gave him a slight sense of superiority.
He showed the Salford players to the visiting changing rooms, which were essentially clothes hooks drilled into the wooden walls of a small shed on one end of the pitch. Since Chance had brought 22 players, that posed special challenges.
“Some of you will have to double up,” he said. “Sorry.”
That was life in the Northern Premier League Division One. It was a bit sad for a player to have to make the right to his own clothes hook a sign of his professional status, but goals have to start somewhere.
On the way to the ground, the club had tendered offers to onetime Forest Green manager Gary Seward to act as a scout and to former Wales captain Barry Horne, 59 times capped and top flight midfielder for Portsmouth, Southampton, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, to be Director of Football.
Chance was a bit intimidated by the thought of Horne, who had forgotten more football than Chance reckoned he knew, being on his team. Yet, he would be a fabulous acquisition for a club Salford’s size and Chance would have to grow up quickly to have a good relationship with him if he signed.
The day before, he had attended the England trialists matches, which to him were confusing since both the sides he saw had a player called Aleksandar Gogic.
The match also helped place Yvan Wassi into Salford’s colors, as Chance’s first signing. The former Man City and Bolton trainee could play any position on the back line as well as both sides of midfield and his arrival was greeted with enthusiasm. The depth issue at the back was therefore solved, and Chance could turn his attention to his backroom staff.
Short a physio in addition to everything else, he offered a position to former Exeter man Graham McAnuff. So it had been a busy day and Salford hadn’t even kicked off yet.
Once they did, however, Chance had his first chance to look at his ‘new’ team in his preferred alignment of 4-3-1-2. They didn’t look like much, which was to be expected for a club on a part-time training schedule learning a new way to play.
Goole presented very little in the way of attacking threat so for the first half hour the players simply had a kickabout and tried to put their training application into practice.
Hine was the first to break through, finding the range in 37 minutes after picking up a bounding ball near the top of the penalty area and beating keeper Max Dearnley from range.
That was the half, and though Salford hadn’t played especially well in the attacking third, they had been air tight in front of Jay Lynch. Chance boosted the team at half and watched George Green hammer home a sublime second ball from a Salford corner in 63 minutes. Dearnley had been beaten from fully 25 yards and that got the Ammies traveling support happy.
Then Lynch gifted a goal back through a rather stupendous howler six minutes later. Joel Dixon’s long punt forward bounced outside the area and Lynch came to collect it – too late. On the way up, attacker Graham Williams got a head to the ball, popping it over Lynch’s outstretched arms where it bounced into the goal.
“Ace goalkeeping, that,” Chance moaned, as he prepared to make a wave of substitutions.
One of them was the new striker, Skapetis, who scored in 71 minutes with a superb little turn-and-shoot which showed that the striker liked playing with his back to goal.
It was enough. It wasn’t spectacular but then first friendlies rarely are. It provided only a moderate amount of pleasure.
Goole 1 (Graham Williams 68)
Salford City 3 (Josh Hine 37, George Green 63, Peter Skapetis 71)
A – 126 (34 away), Victoria Pleasure Grounds, Goole
Man of the Match – George Green, Salford City (MR 8.3)
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Barry Horne was sat opposite Chance in the small manager’s office at the ground. The office was small. Either Horne was larger than life, or the walls needed to be moved.
The former Wales captain pronounced himself delighted to be at Moor Lane after spending time two years in the same role at Wrexham, where he had also been a board member. Chance couldn’t see the attraction to Salford for the older man but as long as he was there, he wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth.
He had been part of the 1995 Everton squad which had beaten the Class of ’92 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, which made for some interesting introductions when the co-owners showed up at training. Phil Neville had been the only member of the group who hadn’t played in that match, so the banter was playful, if a bit stilted.
Giggs had once said that losing that final had ruined not only his day but his entire summer every time he thought about it. That was understandable to Chance, even if he had never played in a match anywhere near that important.
Now, though, Horne’s pay packet was authorized by his former adversaries, but for the most part the owners were well pleased with Chance’s hiring decision. He got a chance to pick Horne’s brain for the week after the Goole match and hoped the former Everton man’s connections might eventually help bring a better standard of player to Salford City.
But if connections alone were all that was needed, how could anyone at this level not want to play for Salford?
The problem had been with the Class of ‘92’s influence on the club’s ethos. Overnight, Salford went from a neighborhood club with a few passionate, volunteer fans, to a growing business, especially when Lim bought in for 50 percent.
Yes, the new owners fixed up and expanded the ground, but it wasn’t the same Salford City in a lot of ways. Word did get around.
So it was that Horne’s first act was to offer a trial to goalkeeper Rich Searle, a former Nottingham Forest trainee, to help with the goalkeeping situation. Behind Lynch, whose howler in the first friendly had been duly noted, there was only 37-year old goalkeeping coach Craig Dootson who had the ability to hold the senior squad in anything like a real match.
The second friendly would be much more difficult than the first – Lincoln at home. The Conference National opposition would be made of sterner stuff.
The preseason odds had been released and it seemed that some people thought Salford had a shot at double promotion. Their odds were comparatively short at 6-1, 35-1 to go down, and those odds were fourth best in the league.
AFC Fylde were installed as favorites to earn automatic promotion at 11-4, followed by Kidderminster at 7-2, FC Halifax at 11-2 and then Salford. At the other end of the table, Gainsborough and Stalybridge Celtic were listed at 1000-1 with Stalybridge also suffering the slap in the face of being posted at 3-5 to go down.
On the positive side, Skapetis had been excellent in his first match and looked like someone the club would want to keep around. But it also needed another goalkeeper, and it was soon obvious that budgets wouldn’t permit both.
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Interesting move with Horne, be good to see who he can bring in
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