The nearest that the late and lamented Duke of Edinburgh got to the Northern League may have been in October 1963, whe he visited ICI Billingham after parking his helicopter in the Synthonia centre circle.
His Royal Highness may thus have become the most eminent personage to tread that hallowed ground though Mr Brian Clough, himself briefly a Synner, might have contested the claim.
In truth the Northern League seems seldom to have rubbed shoulders with royalty – not what you might term Premier League royalty, anyway – not unless you count the occasion of the FA’s 150th anniversary banquet in 2013 when I found myself sharing the repast with the Duke of Cambridge and Mr Sepp Blatter.
Bro Blatter, it should be explained, wasn’t actually royalty. He just behaved like he was.
Prince William and the Northern League chairman, it must also be stressed, were by some distance at different directions from the salt. It is also highly likely that the prince was meant to be there, the Association’s president after all, whereas I was almost certanly the subject of the most glorious case of mistaken identity.
It’s very likely that the league also tried to persuade a member of the royal family to attend the centenary celebrations in 1989, but they must collectively have been washing their hair that day.
The Duke of Edinburgh spent just 50 minutes at ICI, a splendidly nostalgic video of the occasion kindly forwarded by blog reader Martin Birtle. Clearly it caused much excitement, route and rafters thronged, the constabulary anxious to show off their new-fangled walkie-talkies.
The entourage proceeded down Ammonia Avenue and Nitrates Avenue – it did, honestly – before dropping the Duke at the pressure steam reforming plant.
The prince who once said of himself that he’d never been noticeably reticent on subjects about which he knew nothing chatted to dozens, engaged easily, gave every impression not just of interest but of enthusiasm, like there was nowhere on earth he’d rather be.
I’d always thought him a good egg. That 15-minute video confirmed it. Then he was back to the Central Avanue stadium, never so crowded since Bill McQuarrie was banging them in, and – bless him – was up and away.
*Today’s Northern Echo carries a photograph of both the Queen and the Duke visiting Shildon in 1960. For the life of me I can’t remember it, nor do I recall being invited, not even in a case of mistaken identity. What were they doing on home ground? Mr Murphy?
*Even in the first golden age, when the Northern League seemed almost to have a season ticket to the FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley, there was precious little indication that the royal box was living up to its designation.
At the 1950 final between Bishop Auckland and Willington the chief guest was the Earl of Athlone – wasn’t that a radio station? – while the Bishops and Crook Town in 1954 were presented to the Lord Mayor of London. Field Marshal Montgomery did the honours in 1955; Sir Stanley Rous also figured on occasion.
It wasn’t until Crook’s reappearance, however, that royalty – third division royalty, but no matter – came along, too. The Duke of Gloucester presented the cup in 1959 while in 1964 the job fell to the Hon Angus Ogilvy, he who (memory suggests) had married Princess Alexandra.
Northern League clubs have many times thereafter contested the FA Vase final, though with none more exalted in the royal box than Mr R H G Kelly. They missed a very good lunch.
*Yesterday’s blog wondered if readership were strictly men only. Janice Bray emailed almost immediately to claim otherwise, but may yet be unique.
It’s coincidental that Janice should also have been a colleague at the Durham County Careers Service of Janet Murrell, whose death at 88 we’d also noted yesterday.
Janet, ever-appreciated, was in the habit during my Northern Echo days of returning whence they’d originated some of the more egregious typos and other solecisms.
Almost inevitably, Andy Lister – “quite committedly male” – counted six typos in yesterday’s blog. “Perhaps you should establish a purely honorary award for typo of the week,” Andy suggests.
You could call it, he adds, a Janet.