Following the crushing disappointment of the 1997-98 playoffs, an anonymously authored book appeared that captured the mood of the Sunderland fanbase. And Up Steps Michael Gray... The Secret Diary of a Sunderland Fan Aged 283⁄4, is a feature of many supporters’ bookshelves to this day and has some interesting insights that give a glimpse into that exciting era in our club’s history.
Flicking through its pages other day, I stumbled upon this entry for Friday 10th October 1997...
Lock up your daughters. Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, is coming to Sunderland to officially open our new stadium. The details were given in a gushing press release, where Bob Murray enthused about our stadium, and gave us the line “the stadium is the heartbeat of the city and its people”.
Little did the writer know how prescient this flippant advice would become, although it certainly shouldn’t be young women who have to change their behaviour to avoid lecherous men.
The people of Sunderland had a whole month to work up a sweat in preparation for the Grand Old Duke of York’s visit, which took place on 10th November. Bob Murray’s October statement was, indeed, gushing, as being graced by royalty was - ironically - seen as a mark of respectability:
We are greatly honoured that His Royal Highness The Duke of York has graciously agreed to officially open the stadium.
The Royal opening of the Sunderland Stadium of Light undoubtedly reflects the importance of the Club and the regeneration of Wearside. The stadium is a tremendous asset to the region and is the heartbeat of the City and its people.
The Marquis of Londonderry officially opened Roker Park on the 10th September 1898. The visit by His Royal Highness The Duke Of York almost a century later will be a symbol of civic pride for the next millennium.
The Queen’s son had his photo taken with the great and good, and made a visit to the club’s treatment room to see how local lad Richard Ord was getting on. [It’s worth zooming in on Dicky’s face and trying to read what he was thinking as the aristocrat was shown around the Stadium’s state-of-the-art facilities.]
All jokes aside, because it’s not really a laughing matter, the former associate of convicted pedophile and child sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, is not a figure that many like to associate themselves with these days, and so this episode is not one that the club doesn’t much publicise - for good reason. Photos of the event, it seems, are few and far between.
It was an occasion, nevertheless, immortalised by the Terrace Banter Publication in the entry for that day...
After Status Quo’s performance opening the new stadium against Ajax, we now have the official opening by Prince. Not the diminutive pop-star from Minneapolis, but the royal formerly known as Randy Andy.
Quite why a city that produced Honest John Lilburne and was a Parliamentary stronghold, in opposition to Newcastle, during the English Civil War, would want any association with the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dynasty, is beyond me - but then my republicanism runs pretty deep. Yet it happened.
We can’t airbrush our history; we can only acknowledge it and learn the lessons.