Star rating – 7/10
Searching for an activity to fill the miniscule space between the end of the Olympics and the start of the football season (yippee!!), I paid a visit to the new National Football Museum in Manchester. With all due respect to Preston North End fans, its former home there was not a location destined to attract the hordes. So I was curious to see how the former Urbis, never a real success as an exhibition space, fared as the museum to our national game and abiding passion. As the home city of both the fading glory of Manchester United (well almost, if you count Stretford), and the newly crowned Premiership Champions Manchester City, on paper the setting couldn’t be more fitting.
The football Hall as Fame as you enter makes use of the awkward lobby space. The selection of footballers and football folk in it seem to be a bit random but it was nice to see my old school mate Robbie Earle there for his community work anyway. The second floor has some great exhibits, although some of them are a bit hidden away and the whole place feels just a bit too busy for my liking. There’s a Wembley turnstile and old Wembley seats you can sit in to relive happy (or heartbreaking) memories. The origins and history of the game are well documented. There is the beautiful L.S. Lowry painting Going to the Match, depicting Saturday afternoons of yesteryear – when all matches were actually played at that time of the week. But that was before we shook hands with the devil, to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, or Sky, if you prefer. And of course there is a lot of 1966 and all that – as you would expect.
Some exhibits are not quite so obvious. There's a very snazzy George Best designed shirt from the 60's. And it was very good to see a scarf from the Justin Campaign there against homophobia in football, named after footballer Justin Fashanu – who is still incredibly the only footballer to have ever come out as gay in our country, and who tragically hanged himself. It’s just a shame that the FA don’t back this up with actual action, like they have done with the Kick It Out campaign against racism.
To be fair, the contents of the museum seem quite balanced, and don’t favour any particular team. Of course as a Man City fan I loved Colin Bell’s medals, and Bert Trautmann’s neck brace. But one of the most moving exhibits there is the actual register of Manchester United players with so many names struck out with the words ‘killed in air crash’, and replaced with the names of younger, more fortunate teammates who did not perish in the Munich Air disaster of 1958.
There seems lots of interactive things to do for kids there, some of which you do have to pay for. But my favourite part of the place was a lovely 8 minute film showing in the small cinema there entitled ‘Our Beautiful Game’. It’s a touching and very moving love letter to football, in all its forms, at every level, by the people who play and watch the game, in pub teams and premiership alike, and well worth a few moments of your time.
And all that has got me nicely warmed up for the new season with all its highs and lows, and its jubilation and desperation to come.