Salford show old stagers no mercy
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers rolled back the years on Thursday night as they lined up together in a 'Class of 92 and friends' XI for a friendly against Salford City, the non-league outfit they bought between them this year.
It was an unfamiliar feeling in some ways for the quintet of former Manchester United players, though, as they ended up being beaten 5-1 in a contest that featured frequent pitch invasions.
The fivesome, who went on to enjoy trophy-laden careers with United after graduating from the club's academy in the early 1990s, all started the match at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium, alongside other former Red Devils team-mates from various eras.
That included the likes of Robbie Savage and John O'Kane from the 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning side, and Raimond van der Gouw, Mikael Silvestre and Quinton Fortune from later years.
But while there were some nice touches from the star names once play - following a kick-off that was delayed due to traffic - got under way, it was their Evo-Stik League Division One North opponents who looked more comfortable, and Salford raced into a 2-0 lead with a little more than half an hour gone.
Fifty-one-year-old Dutch goalkeeper Van der Gouw had already made a couple of smart stops when he was beaten by Paul Linwood, and Nicky Platt then doubled the Ammies' advantage by slotting home.
Giggs pulled a goal back seconds before the interval, the United assistant manager converting a penalty awarded for handball.
But Salford had their two-goal cushion restored shortly after the interval through a Phil Marsh header, and substitutes Gareth Seddon and Mike Oates subsequently added the other goals with fine finishes.
Comedian Jack Whitehall, ex-England cricketers Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison and other former United players in Tomasz Kuszczak, David May, Ben Thornley and Danny Webber - who hit the post - were introduced for the Class of 92 in the second half.
There was also a series of disruptions after the break caused by spectators getting on to the field of play.
On one occasion, a young fan wearing a United shirt got it signed by Giggs and Gary Neville, but other incidents were more unsavoury, and it took a while for security to clear a mass pitch invasion at the final whistle.
All the money generated by the match goes directly to Salford City, and Giggs was delighted to get back in action to help raise funds.
"I couldn't turn down the opportunity of putting the boots on with the lads again," Giggs said.
"It's for a good cause, it's a great way of raising the profile and for keeping fit as well.
"I grew up in Salford and a lot of the lads plied their trade there when they were young, so we've all got affiliations.
"It's a great way of hopefully putting something back.
"If we wanted glamour we wouldn't be doing this but we're getting a lot of benefits and a lot of happiness from what we're doing at the moment."
The new owners have ambitions of getting Salford into the Football League, and Butt - who, unlike Phil Neville, is retaining a place on the United coaching staff along with Giggs - said: "We all have dreams. We all think we can go as high as we can.
"We think it is a city that deserves a Football League club. If we can get there, who knows how high we can take it?
"Firstly, we need to get into the Football League as soon as possible. How long that will take I don't know. But once we are there we can reach for the stars."
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