Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Granted an Audience with Prince of Football; A Life in Black and White - the Stories Behind the Headlines in Part Three of His Look Back through a Long and Remarkable Career, JOHN GIBSON Recalls His Audience with a Footballdaft Prince on Tyneside

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Granted an Audience with Prince of Football; A Life in Black and White - the Stories Behind the Headlines in Part Three of His Look Back through a Long and Remarkable Career, JOHN GIBSON Recalls His Audience with a Footballdaft Prince on Tyneside

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN GIBSON

GRACE KELLY was the original ice cool blonde. A Hollywood goddess renowned for her elegance and style with just a hint of red-blooded passion beneath a beautifully serene surface.

Every man who was not already besotted with the more basic sexuality of Marilyn Monroe hankered after Her Graciousness.

So to meet her son face to face and spend an hour alone in his company was not just a special thrill but something of a coup. It doesn't happen to us ordinary Geordie lads.

Oh, I should mention her son is Prince Albert of Monaco, then the heir to the throne and now firmly ensconced upon it.

I was unexpectedly granted an exclusive audience with Prince Albert when Newcastle United played Monaco in the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup in March of 1997.

It took place at the Gosforth Park Hotel when Monaco flew over for the first leg. A guard stood on the door of a bar cleared to allow only myself and the prince inside. Quite a moment for my memoirs.

Albert was a devout disciple of the principality's football club and he flew over for what was to be a momentous night of success for the tiniest but most wealthy of acreages.

A Newcastle businessman who I knew in my youth was responsible for pulling off the impossible. Joe Robertson is a Geordie who made his pile here and then hot-footed it to play in Monaco. I knew Joe well, he claimed to be a friend of Prince Albert, and casually asked if I would like an exclusive interview when Monaco came over to town. Amazingly he delivered.

The exclusive was blazed across the back page of the Chron, then a broadsheet, on March 4 under the headline "My Euro dream by the real Prince Albert" (as opposed to Philippe Albert!!) The heir to the throne talked knowledgeably about football and his beloved team with not a hint of superiority or arrogance. He revealed that he first watched Monaco at the age of five or six when his father, Prince Rainier, took him.

"I was hooked," he told me. "This is the best team we've had in the last decade. We had great teams in the 60s and 80s but this one is special."

Indeed it was. Boasting such fine future stars of the Premier League as Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Fabien Barthez, they easily took care of Newcastle on their way to claiming the French championship.

Albert spoke openly of Monaco's lasting problem, a chronic lack of support at the turnstiles.

"We have only 30,000 people and a catchment area of 55,000," he shrugged. "We can't expect people to come from Cannes or Nice because they have their own teams.

"We've tried many things to increase attendances but football isn't the only game in town. People take their families skiing at weekends."

I know, we have the same problem in Wallsend and Newbiggin Hall!

What perhaps wasn't realised is that Albert was a top sportsman himself. …

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