One of the many display cases at the NFM.
Grand (re)opening of the National Football Museum in England
The National Football Museum, formerly located at Deepdale, the home ground of Preston North End, has been relaunched in a new venue in the City of Manchester last night. It was a grand occasion with over 600 people present and the museum will be open to the public from today. It is housed in the Urbis building, a great triangle of glass in Corporation Street in the heart of the city. This was designed by Ian Simpson as part of the regeneration of the city following the bombings in 1996. It was opened as an exhibition centre in 2002 and now the local authority has given the building as a permanent home for the NFM.
The seven floors of the building have been cleverly used to house nearly all the material which came from Preston and much more though I will miss the statue of Sir Tom Finney, The Splash, which greeted visitors to Deepdale and I didn’t find another favourite in my viewing of the exhibition on opening night. At Preston there was a hologram of two mediaeval Chinese figures in long robes playing ‘keepy uppy’ with a ball to hint at the ancient games with foot and ball. As you walked across the space in front of the screen one of the figures morphed into David Beckham. I hope it has been preserved somewhere.
Manchester, of course, is an ideal location for the NFM with both major teams in the ascendant at the moment. It is certainly more accessible at a major hub in the transport network. Entry is free, though the hope is that people will contribute by purchasing memorabilia, food and drink and taking part in various games and activities which attract a small charge. The extent of interactive exhibits is quite impressive. The list of sponsors and bodies contributing to the new museum is a very lengthy one and it is hoped that the permanent and occasional exhibitions will attract large numbers of people, not just from the local area but round the world. At the opening last night, Richard Hamernik, an Austrian researcher from the University of Queensland and myself were probably the furthest travelled attendees. He is working on the history of the women’s game in Australia, another of my own interests.
I also caught up with one of my heroes, Gordon Taylor, of the Professional Footballers Association in England. He was one of the people who had their phones hacked by the Murdoch newspapers and won some substantial compensation as a result, but it is his work over the years for the PFA and the lower level players in the game which has been his main contribution to the game. We talked about one of his predecessors, Colin Veitch, a syndicalist and a great half-back at Newcastle United before the First World War. Again I have to declare an interest since my grandfather played with, and captained, that side from 1911 until English football stopped during the war. I also met two of the mums who lost sons in the Hillsborough disaster. A sad and poignant reminder of the tragedies which have accompanied the game.
Many of the luminaries and lots of the lesser lights in the game were there last night, and three knights of sport, Sirs Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking, all spoke briefly. They all figure largely in the pantheon of players and officials and are members of the Hall of Fame. Bobby Charlton could not hide his commitment to Manchester United but as patron of the exhibition he was indulged by the audience. There was one rather nervous figure standing near the inclined lift which takes people up to the top of the building with a rack and pinion system, just like the railway that used to exist at Mount Lyell copper mine in Tasmania.
This turned out to be John Bentley, who designed and built the inclinator, which some people were calling incorrectly a funicular. He, like me, is a member of FC United, the team which was formed as a community club, when the Americans took over Manchester United. He is going to build the lifts in the club’s new grandstand as his further contribution to the other team in Manchester. Needless to say there were no lift dramas last night, but plenty of reminiscing about the game and its history.