Creating the National Football Museum Hall of Fame

Ian Wright is inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame by his childhood idol Alan Ball

George Best. Bobby Moore. John Charles. Bill Shankly. All-time greats of football at English clubs, legends of the game. When we opened the National Football Museum in 2001, they rightly featured strongly in our collections and displays. And yet as the CEO of the National Football Museum, I believed that these legends needed to be honoured in an even more special way, through the creation of a Hall of Fame. In 2002 I led the creation of the Hall of Fame for English football, the ‘National Football Museum Hall of Fame’.

The Museum’s Hall of Fame was for the greats of the game, from the beginning of Association football in 1863, up to today. When players were considered for induction into the Museum’s Hall of Fame, they were to be viewed against the very best, the all-time legends of English football. The Selection Panel we established for the Hall of Fame was the Hall of Famers themselves, led by the Museum’s President, Sir Bobby Charlton. Only the very best therefore were to be inducted, chosen by the greatest. In the first year Sir Bobby led a panel of all-time great players to choose the initial inductees, by secret ballot.

Annual Awards Ceremonies

At the first National Football Museum Hall of Fame Annual Awards Ceremony in December 2002, 22 players and 6 managers were honoured. As a first step in the recognition of the hidden history of women’s football, the Museum also inducted arguably the greatest player in the history of the women’s game in England, Lily Parr. In this first year, the Selection Panel had players and managers from over one hundred years of football history from which to make their selection In subsequent years, much smaller numbers were inducted, to ensure that only the greatest names in the history of the game were included the Hall of Fame. The Annual Awards Ceremonies were attended by an outstanding array of star guests and attracted substantial media coverage. The National Football Museum Hall of Fame soon became an outstanding awards event in the English football calendar. 

Sir Bobby Charlton, Lady Charlton and Mark Lawrenson at the National Football Museum Hall of Fame Annual Awards Ceremony

Selection Criteria

The selection criteria for inclusion in the National Football Museum Hall of Fame were set as follows. A player must have played in England for at least five seasons and have retired from playing. A manager must have managed in England for at least five seasons. The choice of who is then selected to be inducted, from a list of eligible nominations, is then down to the votes (by secret ballot) of the Selection Panel.

New Categories

Two other important categories were later added to each year’s inductions. First, players with disabilities. For example, in 2007, Stephen Daley, a footballer whose professional career was ended by loss of vision at 18, who later became the captain of the partially sighted England national team, was inducted. Second, a special awards section for those who made an outstanding contribution for the good of the game. Niall Quinn was inducted in this category, for donating the £1 million raised by his testimonial game to charity. He said he was delighted, but recognised that unfortunately he would never be good enough to make it into the Hall of Fame for his playing abilities! He was a very good player – but not a great one.

All-time Greats

By 2017, when I left my role as CEO of the Museum for new ventures, 111 male players, 17 female players, 11 players with disabilities and 21 managers had been inducted. A highly successful book of the Hall of Fame was first published in 2005, with a new edition in 2011.[1]

Rachel Brown-Finnis is inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame

Halls of Fame

Halls of Fame are much more complicated to set up and run than it appears, as I have written in my forthcoming academic book, Sport and Museums: Curious Connections? (Routledge, 2020). Yet they are in my view an essential part of any sports museum. Fans will always have heroes, whether they are players or managers. Those that excel in any sport deserve this special recognition.

[1] The Football Hall of Fame: The Ultimate Guide to the Greatest Footballing Legends of All Time

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