Night with stars at the other theatre of dreams

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IT has played host to some of Britain’s leading names as diverse as the London Philharmonic and The Beatles, but Harrogate’s “glittering palace of gold” has never seen anything quite like the scenes witnessed yesterday.

Seating was cleared away and real grass placed on the Royal Hall’s historic floors to provide a temporary five-a-side football pitch, with fans more used to cheering their heroes from the terraces at some of the country’s biggest grounds getting a more intimate glimpse of some of the game’s greats from the stalls and boxes.

Among those taking part in the charity five-a-side tournament were ex-Coventry player Dion Dublin, former Leeds United player and manager Gary McAllister, Peter Beagrie, goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and former Leeds United players Nigel Martyn and Danny Mills who played the beautiful game inside the historic hall.

They put on their boots once again to take part in the international competition which included teams from Holland and Italy and an All Stars’ team.

Netting was put in place to protect the historic venue which last year marked its 110th anniversary and which in recent times has undergone a major restoration.

Beagrie, formerly of Bradford City, Manchester City and Everton, told The Yorkshire Post that the venue provided a unique experience for the players.

“Its amazing. Its absolutely fantastic,” he said as he prepared to go on the pitch. “I have never played anywhere like this among such beautiful architecture.

“The atmosphere is absolutely brilliant. The crowd is in the stalls and the players are wandering around signing autographs.

“Everybody seems to be enjoying the day. We are just trying to help and to put something back.”

The event, which later included a dinner, on tables and chairs laid out on the temporary pitch was organised to help raise money for ABF, The Soldiers Charity, Sporting Chance, One in a Million and Show Racism The Red Card.

The event coincides with the publication of FL magazine, a football magazine, which is being launched in the coming weeks and which will be sent to all PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) members both active and retired.

It is planned that yesterday’s event will be held at other venues up and down the country and five-a-side tournaments may also be held aboard.

The Royal Hall has been an entertainment venue for over a century, playing host to acts as diverse as the London Philharmonic, dancer Anna Pavlova, Petula Clark and the Beatles, but by 2002 it looked like the venue’s better days were behind it.

There were fears that the hall which earned the nickname of the town’s “glittering palace of gold” in its heyday, could remain an empty shell whose faded grandeur merely hinted at a more dazzling past after it had to be closed. Concrete used in its construction was found to contain a hidden timebomb –chemical salts had begun to erode and sections of concrete became structurally unsafe.

A £10.7m restoration was launched and in 2008 the hall re-opened after being restored with a £6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £2m from Harrogate Council and £2.7m provided by the public through the Royal Hall Restoration Trust.

It halted the decay and has also made the 1,300-seat Royal Hall fit for use in the 21st century.