The National Football Museum and the continuing role of Football in British Culture

Finally! We visited the National Football Museum (N.F.M), Manchester. It’s been on our radar for quite some time! It’s a homage to all things football, but also a retrospective view of a cultural history very much intertwined with the wins and losses of football. 

Football is an active and fast changing sport with a huge audience across all demographics, a museum of football does the opposite of a ‘stereotypical museum’. It engages and unites from ‘the off’ and can cater for everyone – who loves football (or is willing to give the game a chance) and it doesn’t have to work at it. If it can change our perceptions of what football means, it will yours.

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We’d like to add that prior to arriving at the N.F.M our only experiences of the ‘beautiful game’ were from being hit in the face repeatedly as goalie in the school girls team and a very disappointing Leeds United (sorry lads) match in the nineties. 

Why is a football or indeed a sports museum so dynamic? It pulls you in to a match atmosphere, the camaraderie, the adrenaline of the game…you can even go through a turnstile as you enter and really get into the spirit! We could go into BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) viewing figures for football, but no-one pays us enough to do the analysis. Despite scaremongering from both the Financial Times and Guardian  newspapers regarding Sky’s Premier League viewing figures hitting, a now, seven year low. We’ve worked out that viewing figures might say more about how we choose to watch football than indicate that the sport’s popularity is dwindling.

The museum shows you that football’s popularity is ever growing. With everything at our fingertips and every broadcasting corporation on Twitter or Instagram. Who needs to tune into Sky to watch the Premier League when you can catch the highlights on your phone? Even better still, have whomever is running the social media/commenting on the other side share the joy or pure devastation experienced with you.

The N.F.M has a very people centric outlook with building a young audience at its core and plenty of active, football related activities to do too. It isn’t some strategy from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to push football onto the public, it is a genuine part of Manchester’s cultural identity. The enthusiasm of the museum greets you when you arrive and the people at the desk actively discuss football before you’ve even heard the click, click, click of the turnstile. We’d already discussed the wage disparity between the England football team and the Lionesses before we reached the museum and how the Football Association probably caused the problem in the nineteen twenties, preventing the Lionesses wage to inflate at the same rate of the England team (ahh, pay economics and the old chestnut “if only they paid [insert here] as much as footballers”) – Neymar is meant to be worth seven million (seven million!) Freddo’s.

The N.F.M effectively walks you through a timeline of British football, it’s highs, it’s lows but the long running theme is the fan (us) and celebrity culture that surrounds it. Notably card collecting (remember sticker books?), the rise of ‘the firm‘ in the eighties, popularised by films like Green Street and the adjacent cultures that came with it, Channel 4’s This is England touches on it a bit. The museum highlights football’s satirical value with many Spitting Image ‘easter eggs’ laid throughout the exhibition. Great, if like us, you love the fact Steve Coogan was the voice behind many of them.

Yet the real gems are the, er, holographic Gary Lineker (yes, you heard it) in ‘behind the scenes at the museum’, the Match of the Day broadcasting challenge, a real life tabloid news wall and an immersive cinema experience. So, we urge you to go whether you can sit through a ninety-minute game or not. The cinematographic experience alone with films from the Woodland Trust, the British Army F.A. and the N.F.M commissioned ‘month in the life of British football’ are enough to make you to feel part of the history and future of the game.

Our only hope is that with the newly released, D.C.M.S. Northern Cultural Regeneration funding that sports museums (all six) like the National Football Museum which exist within the geographically, defined ‘Northern Powerhouse‘ see the benefit of more investment. The N.F.M’s ability to create and maintain a community of active football lovers and potential sports broadcasters who are disabled, male, female, old and young is pretty groundbreaking. It’s something that should be greatly developed and supported for future generations. If not simply the potential of U.K. sport itself.

Lastly, Happy 5th Birthday to the National Football Museum! Long may you continue! 

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