by Andy Robinson
When I decided to write a feature about the newly opened National Football Museum my original intention as always was to try and make it as professional as possible. This paper does have a growing reputation after all. I was going to tell you about the reasons for its move from its original home at Preston and how unhappy this had made the legendary Sir Tom Finney. I had also intended to get some background from some of the key players at the Museum such as Peter Evans who is the Head of Learning at the NFM or its project coordinator Andy Pearce. However, less than a minute after walking through the entrance all that changed. You don’t really need to know stuff like this, you just need to know how fantastic the place is. My next visit is planned for a 3pm kick off and I shall take sandwiches, a flask and a torch and at 4:55pm just before closing I shall find a broom cupboard to hide in so I can have the place to myself. With 5 floors and then another with a bar and restaurant it’s impossible to do it justice with a single visit.
The first feature to catch your eye as you walk in is the Hall of Fame and all the greats are up there on the wall as you would imagine but they are also at your fingertips at the touch of a button on monitors and screens. How it works is this – you go to a screen, press the Letter B and up will pop the biographies of George Best, Colin Bell, Alan Ball, Sir Trevor Brooking, Denis Bergkamp and so on. As the day progressed it became clear that the NFM’s greatest achievement was this wonderful marriage it had made between the technology and science of the present with the romance and drama of the past. This theme is the heart of its success. Also getting in on this modern technology lark is your friend and mine Sepp Blatter. In what looked remarkably like a cash machine you can have an on-line vote as to whether or not FIFA should introduce goal line technology. I voted for its introduction as any normal fan would, then noticing that just like an election in central Africa the thing wasn’t policed, I cast a no vote for fellow Cutter columnist Mr Draper. The other highlight of level one is the shop. As a collector of old football books (anything from a Shoot Annual of 1980 to a Bobby Moncur biography) I could have spent hours in here but I was dragged away by my companion for the day Derrick.
Next to see – or rather to listen to – and again going interactive was the commentary section. This was brilliant and my favourite part of the day. You have touch screens and monitors and headphones and you press what you want and then have a listen. The categories include “funnys,” Clubs, Historical and so on. I had a listen to the first BBC Cup Final commentary by George Allison on 23 April 1932 where Newcastle beat Arsenal 2 -1. In the “Funny’s” have a look out for the Radio Gloucester – Forest Green 5, somebody else 1. This is hilarious. The local commentator has £30 on a 5 -1 win and Forest Green score a fifth late in injury time so he can collect from the bookies. I did Wolstenholme’s “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over” and finally after seeing my mate Derrick (Everton supporter – bless) do Paul Rideout’s 1995 FA Cup Final Winner I went to the Manchester City link and pulled up Andy Buckley’s spine –tingling description of Dickov’s 96th minute equalizer against Gillingham followed by Radio 2’s version of Denis Law’s 1974 backheel that put Manchester United in Division 2. Happy days.
Level 2 is the most dramatic part of the museum. Here the original FA Cup is on display along with most other trophies we recognize – that’s quite strange actually if you think about, that we all know them so intimately but we only really see them once a year. Anyway moving on.
I then see this old Victorian photograph and some words to the side so I want to know who it is. The gentlemen in question was William McGregor 1846 -1911. If you don’t know who he is you will now. As secretary of Aston Villa he got so fed up of having the games called off – he set up a League. The Football League. Thanks Villa !
I read about former Spurs player Walter Tull who died in the first world war and a campaign is still ongoing for him to be awarded a posthumus Military Cross. Walter was one of the first coloured players in the game and also one of the first coloured officers in the British Army. I also saw the FA War Memorial. This was donated to the museum by the FA when it moved its headquarters from Lancaster Gate to its new offices at Wembley. Speaking of Wembley, in a little corner that everybody was walking past there was a beautiful carved model of the old Wembley, twin towers and all. Any idea what it is carved out of? Rubble from the original Stadium.
Going low tech just for a minute you can play “FA Cup Giant Killing Wheel of Fortune”. You pull a lever, a barrel spins and where it lands shows you your giant killing exploits! I pulled Blackburn Mechanics Cup Final win against Wanderers in 1872, the lowest ranked team ever to win the FA Cup and then on my second go – I pulled Lawrie Sanchez and the Crazy Gang in 1988.
Another example of this wonderful mix of the past and technology was sitting in original seats from Wembley whilst commentary and highlights come across a screen. I got the Sunderland and Leeds 1973 Cup Final and PC Storey. PC Storey was the copper on the White Horse in 1923. The museum also reflects on the tragedies of the game. Munich, Hillsborough and Bradford are all handled with a delicacy and decency that makes one stop and reflect.
What else? Ever watched a game and then gone ballistic from your seat in the ground or your armchair? Well you can play “You are the Ref”. A clip comes up – you make the decision and the screen tells you if you got it right and the ref got it wrong. For the youngsters – they have tokens and you can go in high tech booths and play penalty prize and something called pass master where you test your skills.
Banging stuff into the article before it gets too long – you can vote for England’s greatest ever goal or go touch screen and discover tactics from “Catternaccio” to Ramsey’s wingless wonders to Arrigo Sacchi’s pressing game to Spain’s no forward policy. There is a worthy feature on Football in the Community and football development in West Africa and I haven’t had time to go into detail about the wonderful exhibition currently on show by Roy Stuart Clarke, the country’s greatest football photographer.
All of this is set in the magnificent Urbis building. Designed by Ian Sampson in 2002 as a home for exhibitions of contemporary urban life from dance to art to fashion; less than 200 visitors a day meant it was rapidly turning into something of a white elephant. Not anymore. It compliments my game, my passion, my life in a spectacular fashion.
Finally, when I had a good look at my visitor guide when I got back home I realised that I had missed the following; Sir Stanley Matthews Cup Final shirt from 1953 and Bobby Moore’s from 1966. I missed the neck brace that they put on Bert Trautmann when he broke his neck in the Cup Final and I missed Donald Bell’s (Bradford Park Avenue, Crystal Palace, Newcastle) Victoria Cross. Donald was the first professional player to enlist for world war one.
Around the museum I noticed books for comments and when I picked one up I never saw a bad word and that says it all. I can’t wait to go in that broom cupboard.