When Stephen Wright clicked his lens on a cold, damp winter’s day in Salford, back in 1985, he had no idea that he had just captured one of the most iconic images in music history. “It was a dark day in December, weather and light wise it should’ve been called off,” he recalls. “In comparison to the next generation of band photos – it was very crude. It was just a man with a camera, no make-up artists or hair stylists, just very simple and quite casual. It looks almost half arsed rather than overly posed. I’d say it was a gritty photo.” The band in question was The Smiths. Wright had just snapped them standing in front of Salford Lads Club and the photo was to be used on the sleeve of their 1986 album The Queen Is Dead. Stephen Wright spent 25 minutes with The Smiths that day and still, over a quarter of a century later, fans travel to Salford from all corners of the world to recreate that famous shot in front of the club. While Smiths fanatics continue to head to Salford to attempt to emulate Moz and co with their tall quiffs and skinny jeans, many don’t realise that what stands behind them is a building of great heritage which still offers a fantastic service today. Established in 1903 and opened in 1904 by Robert Baden-Powell, who later went on to start the scouting movement; Salford Lads Club aimed to keep young boys off the streets and it still operates today as a recreational club for both boys and girls in the local area. Inside the club, many of the interior fittings remain the same and with awards and photos on the walls which stretch right back to the very beginning, it’s clear that this is an establishment steeped in tradition which takes great pride in its history, and quite rightly so. Based on a deprived estate in Salford, the club still strives to “brighten young lives and make good citizens” and offers a wide variety of activities such as football, basketball, snooker and boxing all led by a mixture of volunteers and workers. The club has received funding in recent years including being featured on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire as well as receiving a donation of £20,000 from Morrissey himself, which has helped restore the building and provide vital repairs to damaged roofs. They also received publicity when the BBC filmed an episode of Football Focus from inside the club following their move to Salford, drawing attention to the great heritage of the club. Local artist and project manager at the club Leslie Holmes told the Manchester Evening News: “With their move to Salford, they wanted somewhere that was close by and iconic and we were a perfect fit with our sporting history.” He added: “Since the war we have had 22 members go on to be professional footballers.” One of which being Eddie Colman, the youngest of the 8 Manchester Unitedplayers who tragically died in the 1958 Munich air disaster.
Although the club now embraces the link between themselves and The Smiths, as Stephen Wright explains, it hasn’t always been that way: “Initially there was an unfavourable reaction from the club about them being used for the album sleeve. This relates to a more old-fashioned committee, they were a lot more royalist back in 1985 when the photo was taken and they thought the album title ‘The Queen Is Dead’, was insulting.” He added: “But in the last 10 years they’ve stopped cleaning off the ‘Moz was ere’ graffiti and they’ve embraced the association by making them (Smiths fans) welcome. I think the association with the photo has helped in terms of profile and by setting up a room Smiths fans can enjoy, they have benefitted themselves.” Wright also praised the work of the club today: “The lads’ club is fantastic; most of the people that run it are ex members, they do a great job.” Travelling for a photo outside Salford Lads Club has almost become a pilgrimage for Smiths fans and the club now welcomes them inside. Beside the main gym, is a room aptly titled ‘The Smiths Room’, which tells you everything you need to know about what’s inside. Plastered top to bottom in treasured Smiths memorabilia, photographs and messages from fans, The Smiths Room was Leslie Holmes’ idea to not only enhance the visit of The Smiths devotees but also to get a feel of what Salford Lads Club is all about. Twenty-one-year old Jamie Skelton from Edinburgh follows Morrissey’s tours religiously around the country, and has visited the club on a number of occasions. He said: “I’ve been several times and aim to again in summer. The best time I visited was shortly before Morrissey’s 50th birthday concert at Manchester Apollo later that night. On that day it was rammed. I spoke to people from Japan, America, Australia and South America who’d travelled for the gig and naturally made the club their first port of call, if only to recreate that Stephen Wright shot of the band and to proclaim ‘this is where they stood!.’ It remains a symbolic image of British pop culture and always will do. It’s iconic.” With the resurrection of fellow Mancunians The Stone Roses, proving to be a huge success, rumours have once again been circulating about a possible Smiths reunion and there might yet still be another era to document in the ever growing Smiths room. Reunion or not, Salford Lads Club will always remain the focal point of Smiths fans’ pilgrimages, but the next time you’re striking your best Morrissey pose, remember, the real heroes are the ones working behind those tall green doors.