ANDRIN COOPER is a member of the Communications Department of The Football Association in London.
Football's heritage has a new home: Preston. While it may not boast the international reputation of nearby Manchester or Liverpool, and while Preston North End may not have challenged for domestic honours for several decades, Preston nevertheless enjoys a richly deserved place in English football tradition. On 15 February, the Football Museum opened its doors to put the Lancashire mill town firmly on the football map once more.
|A view of the interior of the spacious and modern Football Museum in Preston.
Photo: Anne Worthington
However, after years in the football wilderness, the club is currently enjoying something of a renaissance, symbolised by the Football Museum. Built inside Deepdale, it is a testament to initiative, foresight and a deep-rooted respect for the game's history.
The driving force behind the museum is club chairman Bryan Gray. He set the wheels in motion in 1994 when, as head of locally-based heating company Baxi Partnership, he decided to invest in North End and redevelop the stadium with the help of graphic designer and long-time Preston fan Ben Casey. It was while exploring the stadium's crumbling architecture that he "came across a sort of vault containing boxes and boxes of medals, trophies and other memorabilia dating back to the early days of the club. That's when the idea of a Preston North End museum was born."
That vision would expand later the same year, when Gray met former sports journalist Harry Langton. Langton had assembled over 4,000 items with an astounding chronological and geographical range, including paintings, drawings and sculptures, as well as toys, books and playing equipment. The breadth and quality of his collection spurred Gray to look beyond Preston and think of a general football museum.
Financing the idea proved problematic at first, with the Heritage Lottery fund, which distributes money to cultural and community projects around the country, reluctant to provide a grant. However, when FIFA purchased the Langton collection in 1995, Gray successfully approached the world governing body with a view to providing a suitable home for it in Preston. By securing the FIFA Museum Collection, he succeeded in assuring the Lottery of the project's cultural importance and credibility, but he needed help in moving the project forward. One of the conditions for funding was the appointment of a director with museum experience, and Kevin Moore, a lecturer in Museum Studies at Leicester University with 15 years background in the field, was brought on board in August 1997. He describes his first task as turning an "in-principle award from the lottery fund into a definite guaranteed award".
|Boots, shirts, balls, caps, photos and paintings - the Football Museum displays all these and lots more.
Photo: Anne Worthington
Despite occupying a major area of Deepdale's two main stands, the museum is an independent charitable trust run entirely separate from the football club, and must stand on its own two feet financially to assure its future viability. Any money made is put back into improving services, and looking after the large collections is a costly business.
In total, the Football Museum boasts some 20,000 items, of which around 1,000 are on display at any one time. Nine collections are represented, including the FIFA Museum Collection, widely regarded as the finest collection of football memorabilia in the world. FIFA also contributed over 1,200 historical books and a variety of loaned items, mainly related to the World Cup, and Moore is quick to point out the vital role played by the world governing body in turning the project into reality: "FIFA are fundamental to the project and gave it validity and integrity right from the start. Once FIFA were convinced that Preston was the right home for the FIFA Collection that's effectively what opened the door to the Lottery funding."
|Football in Japan (Left), painted with watercolours on silk, 19th century. - This shirt (Right) was worn by Arnold Kirke Smith of England during the first international match on 30 November 1872 in Glasgow (Scotland - England 0-0).
Photos: Norwyn Photographics
The museum is split into two distinct sections, the first dealing with the history and development of the game, the second housing temporary exhibitions and an inter-active zone. The history gallery employs the novel but logical idea of starting from the present day and guiding the visitor back in time to the origins of the modern game. Images of key events and personalities capture the social context, while the opposite displays trace the experience of watching and following through the decades. The museum's policy is to show football "warts and all", and deals objectively with issues such as hooliganism, racism, and disasters.
120,000 visitors a year?
From the origins of the game, the story of football is then charted in a multi-media narrative on one wall, with audio and video clips providing first-hand accounts of historical events and the social evolution of the game, while the other wall houses the bulk of the collection itself. While the museum boasts such original gems as the world's oldest football book, published in Florence in 1850, the world's oldest football game, made in Preston in 1884, and the oldest recorded footage of a football match, between Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion in 1898, it is also careful to display seemingly mundane objects, such as sticker collections, comic strips, letters and programmes, that provide an illuminating insight into the everyday football experience of both player and fan through the ages. Similarly, each era is represented by an iconic object, from a shirt worn in the first international match between England and Scotland in 1872, to a plastic seat symbolising the post-Hillsborough stadium "revolution".
|The FA Cup trophy, as well as boots, balls, pump and weights from the fifties (Left); Arsenal shirt from the early nineties, signed by striker Ian Wright. Socks, hats, belt (Right) - part of the women's team's equipment, 1906.
In the meantime, the museum will be hoping its fortunes can mirror the club's recent success on the field of play. Preston clinched the Division 2 championship last year and are challenging strongly for a play-off place this season. Under the serene gaze of president Sir Tom Finney, whose face is imaginatively depicted in the seats of the stand that bears his name, North End's current generation strives to emulate the triumphs of yesteryear. The image is a fitting one for Preston: while providing a home for the past, the club is striding confidently towards the future…