Irlam Football Club have called upon the local community to visit their Silver Street ground more frequently, ahead of their promotion showdown versus Rylands FC on Saturday.
Secretary Warren Dodd has hailed the North West Counties League Premier Division club – who ply their trade in the ninth tier on the English football pyramid – for their communal approach and has appealed for larger attendances to support the side.
Dodd said: “We have a dedicated group of people who love the club and we have a larger group that we’re consistently trying to reach out to in our community.
“We’ve got such potential in this town for large attendances, and our attendances are growing year on year. We do our statistics at the end of every season and we look at how we’re doing; our attendances are growing each year and we’re always on the up.
“We’re constantly trying to reach out to the people in our town to come down and support us. When we get big games here the support pours in, so the trick is to try and find of them coming every week. People can come here and just have a nice day, that’s what we aim for.”
Irlam FC reached the Quarter Finals of the FA Vase Trophy last season – two wins away from a trip to Wembley – before losing to eventual winners Chertsey Town, and the club have continued their impressive form this year.
“The feeling was that there was a bit of momentum at the club as the season ended.
“Our league position was 13th, which wasn’t great, but it was almost as a result of our great cup run so we were okay with that. The players were doing really well; 13th wasn’t a reflection of how we were playing.
“Our ambition now is to move up the ladder. We’ve managed to gather together quite a good squad this season. The players have come back, we’ve added a couple more and we’re really realising our potential. The first team have got such a good squad this season, the lads are playing ever so well.”
With lateral movement within the Football Association – specifically the introduction of the Midlands League commencing from the 2020/21 campaign – the opportunity has arisen for three teams to gain promotion from the ninth tier, with Irlam currently sitting in third spot.
“We’re in a pack of about six clubs and we’re playing well. We’ve had some great results on the road recently and we’re halfway through the season now. Our hopes are high but we’re being cautious.”
The Premier Division table this evening pic.twitter.com/6Tva0TYNH0
— IRLAM FC (@IrlamFC) December 7, 2019
However, despite the promising start to the campaign, where Irlam FC have lost only one of their opening 15 league games, Dodd insists the main priority of the club is football development.
“That’s the heart of everything that we do. [As a] committee, we always put football first. We have partnerships and commercial interests that keep us going, but it’s great to get up on a Saturday morning and we’re just like the big kids who play under-13s and the dad who carries the bag of balls, and no non-league will say any different.
“We still get the same buzz as those guys; we come across as super professional in everything that we do but we really, we’re all community and all part of it.”
He added: “I’m so proud of the fact that the majority of people who are involved and who play for the club are based in this area. Our centre-half, Carl Cassell, lives across the road; how good is that? It’s incredible.
“That’s a great example of what we’re about, we can go and search a centre-half out who lives 20 miles away, but we’ve got one who lives 50-yards away, so that to me epitomises the club, it’s a local club.
“He’s a great example of what we try and do as a community;
“I will always pull for the local players if I can, [it’s] not always the case and it’s always difficult, I would have a dream of putting out 18 Irlam players who live in Irlam, but unfortunately we can’t do that, but wouldn’t it be nice.”
Manchester United’s under-21s visited the club for a friendly upon the reopening of Silver Street in 2003, and Dodd, who recalls the experience vividly, has urged fans of higher league clubs to support their local sides too.
“When the ground was opened, it was Manchester United who came down and opened the ground. Their under-21s came and it was a great occasion – the ground had been renewed and we didn’t have the stand at the time that we’re sat in now. Brian McLair was the manager and he came and asked where the stands were, we said ‘there aren’t any!’.
“There is room for both of us; I think that the people who support the professional clubs can also be a big supporter of their local non-league club as well.”
With Irlam FC now the only non-league football club from Salford (after Salford City’s promotion to League Two in May), Dodd concluded with a final message to the local community, urging them to visit the side and give them their backing.
“Our message is the same to the community whether it’s a big game or not, ‘get down and support the players and the team, show your support, we’re all from the same town, come down and cheer us on.’ And a lot do, I’m not saying that they don’t – we get great support, but we could get so much more. I’m sure every non-league club says that, they’re always striving for greater attendances.
“We are very much a local club and we do get a good response from the community.
“We get great support, the town’s great and we are the hub for football.
“There are two other sporting hubs in the town; we have Irlam Steel Cricket Club and Cadishead Rhinos Rugby Club so the three key sports are served well across the community.”