Manchester, the home of football. After the dominance of Manchester United over the last 20 years and their place as English football’s most successful and famous team, it perhaps made sense that the National Football Museum was to be placed in Manchester’s Urbis Museum.
The NFM opens on the 6th July and will host such remarkable items as the shirt worn by Diego Maradona in the famous 1986 World Cup game between Argentina and England; that shirt is among around 3,000 items, but the Museum also houses several interactive features, such as goal where you can practice penalty kicks (and hopefully be more Wayne Rooney than Ashley Young!)
We were lucky enough to catch up with Adam Comstive of the Museum who answered a few questions for 7Cantonas.
The Museum opens on 6th July 2012 – all the staff there must be really excited after all the hard work you’ve put in?
Yes we’re hugely excited. We’ve had quite a small team working really hard to bring the museum together, with some brilliantly talented creative agencies helping us. As we’re in the final few days before opening as I write this, it’s been great seeing the pieces come together, and seeing people’s reactions. I think visitors will be surprised how entertaining this museum is, even if you’re not a huge football fan.
Based in the Urbis Museum, right in the heart of a hugely redeveloped Manchester over the last 15 years ago, you could not have asked for a better location too?
It’s a fantastic location. The building is unique and challenging, but all the better for it. Visitors come to Manchester from all over the world, often with football on their mind. But we’re right next to brilliant shopping and some amazing historical sights, like the Cathedral and Chetham’s School of Music, as well The Printworks and the new NOMA development. And there’s Victoria train station right next door. Our shop and cafe open out right onto green space and our bar and restaurant have unique views, so all-in-all it’s an amazing location for a visitor attraction.
Manchester, at the moment, is the leading force in the Premier League, with Manchester United and rivals City looking like being the main title contenders for the next few years as well. We assume both teams will be well featured in the new museum, particularly United?
Again, the timing is perfect. The rivalry between the two teams in the city is now something that’s known about on a global scale. Of course, we’re a national museum and we tell stories from all levels of the game and all parts of the country. But United have so many stories, and so many great players in our Hall of Fame (as do City), that it’d be impossible to tell the story of English football without including United.
Will you be expecting plenty of International visitors? Manchester United and City will be playing in the Champions League which will bring European football teams’ supporters to the city. Plus, both teams, particularly United have lots of international fans that visit from all over the world.
Yes absolutely, Manchester is known all over the world for football and is increasingly a great holiday destination for lots and lots of international visitors. The museum is a brilliant introduction to how football is a huge part of our culture. For the thousands of supporters who have a great time visiting Manchester as part of a European away-day we’ve lots of high-profile items and entertaining displays that will give them a great reason to spend more time in the city. For those from further afield it’s something that will show them the role sport has played in our culture and society over the last 150 years.
Greater Manchester and the North West as a whole has a great number of Premier League and Football League clubs – these will all be represented in the museum as well, we assume? That points to a great potential for visiting supporters of many clubs from the region, plus from away supporters in the area visiting those clubs and from football fans from all over the country visiting the area for the museum.
Indeed. It’s not just a Manchester football museum, this is THE National Football Museum. We talk about the game at all levels and all abilities, not just the Premier League and the England team. The North West is home to so many great teams and stories, who we cover in lots of ways. It’s difficult to display items from every team in the country, but for example we hold the BBC Radio Commentary Collection, where visitors can hear great moments from the history of all 92 league clubs. Away fans will be more than welcome!
Looking on the museum’s excellent website, we see that in particular you want to encourage younger fans to visit the museum – we agree with this as we feel that it is important for them to learn about the history of our game. With free admission to the museum, this should prove popular for families to visit the museum, shouldn’t it?
Of course, throughout the museum there are lots of things for younger visitors to watch, see and interact with. You could be looking at LS Lowry’s Going To The Match while, a couple of yards away, your child is playing at creating a new club mascot. We don’t patronise younger visitors and we certainly give them plenty to do. There’s a Discovery Zone for ages 5 and under, and for slightly older kids (and probably lots of adults) our Football Plus+ experiences offer something that will really enhance your visit: from a full-size penalty shoot-out to your chance to commentate on great Match Of The Day moments (and watch your commentary back online afterwards).
We have also seen that you have a mailing list which not only sends out news to those fans interested, but you also update fans on special events planned for the museum. Do you hope that many fans will make return visits to the museum?
Definitely. There’ll be plenty to see that’s worth a return visit: there are lots and lots of films to watch and our collection grows and changes all the time. Our 3rd floor is dedicated to changing exhibitions, so when we open you’ll find a variety of artworks from West African artists who are inspired by football, and a fantastic selection of photographs from Stuart Roy Clarke, who has really captured the changing face of football support since 1989. It’s a brilliant body of documentary photography that shows us how the match-day experience has changed in that time. Then from early next year that floor will explore how football and fashion have affected each other. There’ll always be something to come back and spend more time exploring.
Manchester United opened their museum in 1986 and then reopened the current one in 1998, whilst your museum opened in 2001 at Preston and is reopening again this year. Do you feel that the growth in television coverage of football, in both this country and around the world, along with the growth of the internet, has also led to a growth in the interest in the history of the game?
I couldn’t say for certain whether TV and online coverage have increased interest in the history of the game, but I think there’s a change in how something that was once seen as very immediate and disposable, is now being recognised as something that is worthy of academic study and is ‘museum-worthy’. Football is brilliantly evocative of different eras and is a great tool for helping people learn about changes in attitudes and society, both positive and negative.
We see that there’ll be a shop on site at the museum, selling a range of souvenirs. The growth in football collectables and football memorabilia in the last 2 decades must be noticeable to you as well?
It is a fairly recent phenomenon, when you think how big a part of the game merchandise and collectables are now. The FIFA Collection, which we hold, was started by one man (a journalist called Harry Langton) who began collecting in the 1950s, when football items weren’t widely seen as holding much cultural or financial value. It’s a great job he did! Football can be an incredibly simple game, but it allows for so much creativity both on the pitch and in how artists, creatives, marketers and merchandisers can use it. It means you can look at almost any element of culture or society (or something like memorabilia) through the lens of football and find brilliant, personal, evocative stories, which is what this museum is all about.
Thanks to Adam for his time, and thanks to Daniel Burdett (follow him on Twitter) for conducting the interview.
The National Football Museum (0161 605 8200 – nationalfootballmuseum.com) will open at the Urbis Centre, Manchester, on Friday, July 6, and will be open daily. Admission is free, though there is a charge (from £2.50 a time) to use some of the interactive exhibits.