The National Football Museum

Martin Samuel criticises the siting of the National Football Museum in Preston on the grounds that

The National Football Museum, like all projects of historical worth, has to be based where it is accessible. That is why there is a Tate Modern; not a Tate, Preston.

This is uncharacteristically crass. What about Tate St Ives, Tate Liverpool, the Bilbao Guggenheim?

Anyone who wouldn’t go to Preston to see this excellent museum presumably wouldn’t go to see a match there either.

I’m hoping that the Deepdale museum has nothing to fear from the proposed new Wembley set-up. After all, the new museum is only going to regurgitate the same old and plain wrong “History of Football” that you get everywhere else. You know what I mean:

1870-1914: Professionals good! Amateurs bad! Colonels and stuffed suits at the FA quit FIFA  because they’re monocled aristocrats etc.

1914-1960: Aren’t baggy shorts funny, and here’s Stan Matthews. Ay, those were the days…

1966: Eleven latterday saints. Which lifetime award are they collecting today?

1970-1990: Colour film, so massively disproportionate representation, followed by

1990-date: Aren’t footballers paid a lot? In my day, players spent their entire time riding the tram with the rest of us, puffing tabs and eating worst end of neck from a dirty paper bag.

And so wearily on.

But if you were starting from scratch, where would you put a National Football Museum? Preston, home of the first League Champions, is obviously a candidate, but what others are there?

  1. Sheffield. Home of the world’s oldest football club, and home to the Sheffield Association, which once threatened to dominate the game’s administration. In 1878, hosted the first floodlit game. Bramall Lane was probably the world’s first serious modern general sports ground, hosting football, rugby, cricket and athletics.
  2. Glasgow. Glasgow already has a football museum. This reflects the way the “Scottish Passing Game” won out over other styles, and remembers how most of the great early players were Scots, to say nothing of thousands more who’d make the journey south in the subsequent decades. Scotland’s John Cameron probably sums up the history of the game better than any man, and he played for Queens Park. On the other hand, there’s the SFA’s embarrassing campaign to derail the 2012 Olympic football tournament. They wouldn’t have done that in the 1970s, would they, when most of the British team would have been Scots..
  3. Highbury. What football history doesn’t involve John Cameron was the fault of Herbert Chapman. The look of modern football grounds, the times of games, the training of players, the international scene, questions of pay, modern tactics and more all flow from his curtailed career. What better place to put it than in the new development springing up over his old haunts? They could rename the tube station “Herbert Chapman Museum” if that didn’t set too much of a precedent.
  4. The 2012 Olympics site at Stratford. It’ll compensate for the absence of a British team in the football competition.

Speaking personally, I think such a museum would be better off subsumed into a greater museum of national life, an English version of the superb National Museum of Scotland. English football is as much a part of industrial culture as the Newcomen Engine, and as much part of popular culture as Bass and the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. We have nowhere to bring it all together.

We need somewhere like that. Last week in the V&A we trailed the British Galleries behind a group of teachers who were rehearsing their script for a tour they’d give their schoolchildren. The name of the Musuem was “arrogant”; everything on view was “arrogant”; all of Victorian political history was the result of “arrogance” even when it wasn’t the doings of the “rich.” And so forth: you can easily imagine the rest. This, in the middle of so much imagination, beauty, genius and craftmanship. It’s the politicization of history, by people who have no notion of historical relativism or why it matters.

I wonder how they’d cope with describing Tom Finney?

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6 responses to “The National Football Museum

  1. Even given Samuel’s argument wouldn’t Birmingham make more sense than London?

    I agree with you though- I think that Preston or Sheffield are good sites. Another place might be Great Queen street in London where the first meeting of the football association was held.

  2. Sheffield would be a great site for folding in a history of British sporting life. Bramall Lane is really a monument to the role of the sporting club in British history (and the rolling out of that institution across the world.)

    But Preston is on the WCML, and the London-Sheffield line is rubbish.

    However, the experience of regional museums (I have friends that work in a couple) is that the economics are hard and dependent on government assistance. A football museum in London will get a lot of random tourists going through, Preston or Sheffield will always be a pilgrimage.

    I haven’t been to the museum in Preston, (it was closed the day I was there watching a match) is it any good?

  3. I haven’t been, but might now that I live closer to it. I’ve heard rave reviews.

  4. You might be right, but imagine the jokes.

  5. It should be in the city where the rules were first written that were later adopted by the FA – Cambridge. That would satisfy The Times’ requirement that it be within an easy jaunt of Norf Lunnun.

  6. You’re thinking of Sarf Lunnun, and you have my permission to stop. North London is as she is spoke.
    If Cambridge, you could combine it with a Museum of Reformation Protestantism and open it on the site of the White Horse Tavern.