I had no truck with one-minute silences – until Eddie

Oh no, not Wem-bur-lee again. Why do we always get to go to Wem-bur lee - this is becoming so bo-ring, isn't it? About time other teams had a chance. Oh, well, s'pose we might as well.

The FA Cup semi-finalists must feel like this, but we Carlisle United supporters have also become like spoiled teenagers, with our sixth visit since 1995. OK, it was only the Johnstone's Paint Trophy - as it is now called - restricted to League One and League Two, but come on, year after year, having such excellent cup runs: it's an amazing achievement.

I was planning to go with the Carlisle friends I usually go with, when out of the blue I got invited as a VIP guest of the Football League. Never happened before. Were they confusing me with Lord Bragg?

I wondered who the other VIP guests could be for the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final. The manager of B&Q Workington? North-west region House Painter of the Year? When the official invitation arrived, it revealed I would be sitting in the royal box. Got a 1966 World Cup final in my collection of Wembley tickets, but not a royal box. Jackets, collars and ties had to be worn - oh no - and we had to assemble at 11, two and a half hours before kick-off, for a slap-up brunch.

It began, according to the menu, with a "Selection of Warm Morning Goods". Turned out to be rolls, followed by lamb cutlets, sausage, bacon, poached egg, potato cake - all total killers, sponsored by the Wembley heart attack foundation.

The posh hospitality suite had 34 tables of eight, all stuffing their faces, while elsewhere in Wembley there were dozens of other hospitality feasts and functions, just like it is in the Prem every match day, with people who normally never go to League games being waited on hand and mouth, feted and stuffed like Christmas turkeys.

My fellow VIPs at my table were people from PR companies who seemed to do a lot of football hospitalising; a BBC bigwig; Charlie Sale, a football columnist at the Daily Mail; and a civil servant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. When I asked him how often he went on football freebies, there was a bit of coughing, slight hesitation, a few darting glances, then he said, hmm, not often, really - it wasn't done to accept too many.

I was totally exhausted by the time the game started and seemed to have been at Wembley for days. I did have a glass of red wine with my lamb cutlet, which at 11 on a Sunday morning is awfully tiring, but it has to be done, one can't be rude.

Royal plush

Three days before the game, Edward Stobart had suddenly died, aged 56. I wrote an obituary piece about him for the Times. He was the genius - yes, genius - in his field, who came from a very small Cumbrian village, retained his heavy rural accent all his life, had a stammer, was very poor at reading and writing, yet went on to build up his father's small agricultural business into Eddie Stobart Ltd, the celebrated fleet of lorries, which inspired its own fan club, with 20,000 members.

Eddie Stobart Ltd has been the sponsor of CUFC since 1995, making it the longest continuous sponsor of any professional club in the UK, yet Edward had never been a football fan. He just liked helping his local club.

In my Times piece, as a joke really, I wondered if they would have a one-minute silence at Wembley before the game. Many years ago at Spurs when Glenn Hoddle was manager, we were forced to have a one-minute silence for his dad. I was furious at the time - what has he got to do with us, I thought? Then I thought, why not Edward, who supported Carlisle all these years? I contacted the Football League, which said sorry, no, so I contacted David Clark, a director of Carlisle United, and put the suggestion to him.
I took my seat early in the royal box's plush red, comfy seats, loads of room, stunning view, like a balcony in the sky. There was no one-minute silence, but all CUFC and Brentford players came out wearing black armbands. First time, I think, a football sponsor has ever been so honoured.

And Carlisle won 1-0. l


Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, GOD Special