January 30th, 2012, 11:33 AM
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With City and United fighting it out for the Premier League title, Manchester seems the natural home for the National Football Museum. David Henry gets a preview of what we can expect when it opens in Urbis this summer ...
IN the temporary offices of the charity bringing the National Football Museum to Manchester, there’s a sign on the reception desk that states: "Space reserved for the European Museum of the Year Award 2013."
It’s an unashamedly ambitious declaration worthy of a cocksure football manager.
Given the museum is currently a building site – it’s due to open this summer in Urbis in Manchester’s Cathedral gardens – it seems a little presumptuous. The man who put the sign there is the museum’s director Kevin Moore who is unapologetic when questioned about such a strong statement of intent.
"We’re very ambitious," he says. "We want to win lots of awards. This is going to be the best football museum in the world, arguably the best sports museum in the world and one of the best museums in the country."
Kevin’s not lacking in confidence then, a virtue in football but in the museum world a risk. He talks up his project like a rookie manager talking up the prospects of his team. But there’s no getting away from it, his boys are behind schedule. The museum was due to open early this year but the big day has been put back. The exact opening date is still to be confirmed. Apparently it will take place at some point before the European Championships begin. The tournament starts on June 8, so at least that offers a clue.
Kevin brushes aside questions about the delay, blaming the usual difficulties in managing big projects. "We’ll be open for the European Championships and for the London Olympics. It’s going to be a memorable summer of sport and we’re going to be part of it," he says. He can’t access his museum at the moment because the builders are still in. On the plus side, the window of his temporary office overlooks Urbis, giving him the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the work in progress.
That includes construction of a new staircase and escalator and a new entrance for the public. For those familiar with the old Urbis layout, the new version won’t be that different, despite the time it will have taken to put together – and the money spent.
It was announced in 2009 the football museum would be moving south from its Preston base to its new Manchester home, thanks to a generous financial incentive, funded mostly by the city council.
A total of £8.5million has been allocated for rehousing the museum’s collections in Urbis. Manchester council taxpayers will continue to fund the project to the tune of another £2million every year for the next ten years. At a time of austerity it’s a sizeable sum, so what do the public get for their investment?
"This is going to be the world’s finest football museum in a beautiful, iconic building," says Kevin. "It will house and display the world’s greatest collection of football memorabilia including the FIFA collection.
"The collections are amazing and there’ll be 2,000 items on display. Our crown jewels include the replica of the Jules Rimet trophy used in the post-match celebrations after the 1966 World Cup Final. We also have the ball from that game.
"We have the oldest surviving FA Cup, dating from 1896. And we’ve also got the shirt worn by Maradona during the 1986 "Hand of God" game against England."
Plenty for football fans but what about those who find the beautiful game a bit ugly? "Even if you hate football you will enjoy this museum," he says.
"We put the game in its social and historical context. It uses football as a hook to understand who we are and what makes us tick.
"It’s not a Disneyland version though. This is football in the round showing the negatives like hooliganism, racism and homophobia." Kevin, has been involved in the National Football Museum since its inception. In Preston, he says, it was failing to reach its full potential. Options to move to a new site had been explored when the offer came in from Manchester council.
The existing museum in Urbis was also struggling. Although visitor numbers had improved since it opened in 2002, the so-called "museum of the city" had not won over the public.
But many may wonder if we really need a football museum. Kevin, unsurprisingly, is convinced we do. "What we’re trying to do is answer why did this particular game become the world’s leading sport in the space of a century?
"The World Cup final is the most watched event in the world. There are 208 member countries in FIFA – more than the UN. The power of modern football is extraordinary whether people love, like or loathe it."
Entry will be free and it’s predicted more than 350,000 visitors a year will make the trip. bringing economic benefits to the city.