Creating the National Football Museum

1 August 1997. My first day as the Director of the project to establish the National Football Museum for England. I find that there is no collection as yet, no building, and no money to speak of. And one member of staff apart from me, a curator. It’s going to be a challenge.

31 January 2017. My last day as Director (CEO) of the National Football Museum. The Museum holds the world’s best collections on football, including the FIFA Collection. We have welcomed over 5 million highly satisfied visitors. We have raised over £55 million in capital and revenue to successfully develop and operate the Museum, first in Preston, then in Manchester.

National Football Museum opens to great acclaim, 2001

It wasn’t easy. But nobody said it would be! It was a no brainer that England, the birthplace of modern football, Association football, should have a museum dedicated to its cultural significance. However, several previous efforts to set up the National Football Museum had failed, including that by the English FA in 1953.

The National Football Museum for England opened in the city of Preston in February 2001 to outstanding media and public acclaim. The £15 million Museum had been made possible by a £9.3 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund). The Museum  housed in the oldest football league ground in the world, where Preston North End had played football since 1878, attracted over 100,000 visitors a year – pretty good  in a city of just 120,00 people.

Yet we always wanted to take the Museum’s collections to an even greater audience. Even before the Museum opened, we started to loan objects to displays and to create exhibitions elsewhere in the UK and around the world. This successfully continued during my 20 years as CEO, in over 30 countries. We also first attracted interest from Wembley Stadium about the possibility of a second site of the Museum in 1998, even before we opened in Preston.

The new National Football Museum in Manchester, 2012

In 2010 we secured a £28.5 million deal to create a new National Football Museum in Manchester. Manchester City Council had the vision to underwrite £8.5 million in capital to convert the Urbis building into the National Football Museum, and to provide to the Museum the £2 million of revenue funding that was already given to the Urbis building.

The new National Football Museum opened to great acclaim from the media, football, and above all, the public, in July 2012. The visitor projection was for 350,000 p.a. The Museum soon attracted over 500,000 visitors a year. 

The National Football Museum, Manchester

The world’s leading football museum

In Manchester the National Football Museum went from success to success. The Museum was invited to join the UK’s Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) in 2014, becoming the 58th member – and was the UK’s highest rated attraction by visitors in the 2014 ALVA survey! In 2015 we welcomed President Xi Jinping of China, which led to an important cultural exchange through football. In 2016 we were delighted to host a visit by HRH Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. One of my proudest achievements was that, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2015, we were able to secure the greatest collection in the world on the history of women’s football, the ‘Chris Unger History of Women’s Football Collection’. This was just before Chris Unger very sadly passed away. His wonderful collection is part of his legacy to us all.

Sharing my 20 years of expertise

I left the National Football Museum in 2017 for new challenges, but remain very much involved in football history, sports history, sports museums and the museum and attractions sector more widely. I am now sharing all that I learned in my 20 years as the leader of the National Football Museum for England to museums and attractions all around the world[i].

Doctor Kevin Moore

[i] This includes in academic publications. In 2008 I published an academic paper on the development of the Museum to 2008 :‘Sports Heritage and the re-imaged city: The National Football Museum, Preston’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 14, No. 4, November 2008: 445-461. I will be updating this to 2017 in a forthcoming paper in the academic journal Soccer and Society. My latest book, Sport and Museums: Curious Connections? will be published shortly. My latest book is What You Think You Know About Football is Wrong: The Global Game’s Greatest Myths and Untruths, published by Bloomsbury, London, UK, 2019.

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