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NPL chairman pays tribute to Noel White

By James Gordon

Northern Premier League chairman Mark Harris has paid tribute to the league's late president, Noel White.

The below words were read by Mr Harris at the funeral of Mr White, who died after a long illness on June 30, aged 89.

It’s my privilege to pay tribute to a true legend of British football.

One of the very few to travel all the way from non-league football to the very pinnacle of the game.

I will leave David Dein to talk about Noel’s achievements in the professional game.

Instead, I am going to talk about what Noel did for non-league football and Altrincham Football Club in particular.

Noel and his business partner Peter Swales took over Alty in February 1961. The club was struggling at the foot of The Cheshire League and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Noel and Peter had been invited by Robins’ secretary Harry Wood to get involved with the club.

They subsequently bought up the un-issued share capital, with Peter becoming chairman and Noel vice chairman and general secretary.

Managing to keeping the club afloat - no mean task - things began to look up in the mid 60’s.

Freddie Pye was appointed manager and centre-forward Jackie Swindells scored 82 goals in his first season to help Alty lift the first of two Cheshire League titles.

In 1968 Alty became founder members of the Northern Premier League.

By this time Noel had become chairman at Moss Lane after Peter left for Manchester City. Noel focussed his energies on getting the club promoted to the Football League.

It truth, it wasn't until the 1970s that lift-off was achieved.

After that, Altrincham enjoyed a run of un-paralleled success that earned them the nickname of ‘the Manchester United of non-league’.

Everton and Blackburn Rovers were taken to replays on the own grounds. Over 35,000 fans attended the Everton replay at Old Trafford.

As other directors of the time (and their cheque book stubs) will confirm, the secret to Robins on-field success was simple – they bought the best players.

Under manager Tony Sanders, they added to talent like Graham Heathcote, Stan Allan and John Davison, legends such as John King, John Rogers, Jeff Johnson and Barry Howard.

According to Noel, when signing John King, the target was to “win us the Cheshire senior Cup John”. That target was not just beaten, it was obliterated.

Between 1978 and 1982 the Robins had a better FA Cup record than any team outside the top two divisions of professional football. The team reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup four years running, playing Tottenham and Liverpool along the way.

Noel also recognised the importance of commercial revenue to his club.

He pioneered the concept of sporting dinners.

He actually ‘borrowed’ the idea from Tranmere Rovers but attracted sporting luminaries like Nat Lofthouse, Brian Clough, George Best, Henry Cooper and Peter Alliss to speak at a staggering 124 dinners at the Bowdon Hotel.

Then there were the golf days, Chinese evenings and annual dinners at Manchester’s Piccadilly Hotel.

Uniquely, Noel was instrumental in setting up not one, but two non-league competitions.

Noel skills had already been spotted by the Cheshire League, where he became chairman.

Later, a chance meeting between Peter and John Nash, chairman of Kettering Town and the Southern League led to the creation of the Northern Premier League in 1968.

Noel served as President until his passing. I am the chairman of the Northern Premier League and can honestly say we owe Noel everything.

In 1979, he did it again, being instrumental in the setting up of the Alliance Premier League, knows today as the National League.

Alty were funder members and won the competition in both of its first two years.

But the club failed to secure election to the Football League under the old system, missing out by a single vote in 1982 when the Luton chairman got lost en-route to the crucial meeting and another changed his mind at the last moment.

It was a devastating blow to Noel personally and to the football club.

By the time that Alty had become only the second non-league team to beat a top-flight team on their own ground, Noel become frustrated by the closed-shop attitude of football league clubs.

In the summer of 1986, after 25 years and 2 weeks he left Moss Lane to become a director at Liverpool.

Ironically, that summer automatic promotion and relegation to the Football League was finally agreed.

Although no longer at the helm, Noel was appointed President of Altrincham FC, another post he held until his passing.

He was also a life member of The National League.

Noel’s non-league story doesn’t end there though.

In 1976 he was elected to the FA council as a divisional representative for full member clubs in Cheshire and Merseyside.

He immediately joined the Football outside the Football League committee (catch title huh!) which he later chaired. He also chaired its successor, the Pyramid of Football Committee.

It would entirely fair to say that Noel is the father of today’s National Leagues System.
It’s the only one of its kind in Europe and Noel played a massive part of that.

To close, I had the pleasure of knowing Noel since I was 14 years old.

I know I speak for you all when I say he was, and will remain, a critically important influence in the lives of everyone here.

Thank you.

Where next?

Henry departs Dolly Blues Rob Henry has left Lancaster City to seek playing opportunities elsewhere.
Rodrigo signs Gingerbreads deal Grantham Town have handed a two-year deal to Rodrigo Silva.

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