By October 2016 the National Football Museum in Manchester had welcomed over 2 million visitors. Each and every one of those visitors was highly important to us, they were all VIPs, and were treated as such. Yet there was one VIP in particular that we very much wished to welcome, who had not yet had a chance to visit, due to his hectic work schedule. That person was His Royal Highness, Prince William, the President of the Football Association, and a keen football fan!
I first met Prince William in 2013 at the Gala Dinner for the 150th anniversary of The Football Association, to which I was invited as the Director of the National Football Museum. Prince William was of course attending in his capacity as the President of the FA. Towards the end of the evening I noticed there was a lull in conversation between Prince William and the two people sat on either side of him, the then General Secretary of FIFA, Joseph S. Blatter, and the then President of UEFA, Michel Platini. I introduced myself to Prince William and he was very happy to talk. He said he would very much like to visit the National Football Museum when his diary permitted.
We kept in contact with the Prince’s officials through the office of the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester. An opportunity for Prince William to visit the Museum came as part of an official visit to Manchester on 14 October 2016. We were delighted to hear that Prince William was to be accompanied by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
The Lord-Lieutenant of course greeted the Duke and Duchess on their arrival and was the official host at the start of the visit. When they were introduced to me, and my colleague Kevin Haygarth, the Duchess immediately put us at our ease, when she said she knew they were both going to very much enjoy their visit, because the nanny to their children had been to the Museum and said it was brilliant!
First, the Royal couple met young people from a number of youth projects across Greater Manchester, many already connected with the Museum, and some that were using the power of football for community engagement and social inclusion. Kevin Haygarth and I then took the Royal couple on a tour of the Museum’s displays, making sure to point out items relating to Aston Villa, given that Prince William is a fan! As Aston Villa was a founder member of the Football League, and has a long and proud history, there was plenty to see. Prince William very much wanted to take penalties on the Museum’s full-size penalty shootout, with a virtual goalkeeper, which has the goal posts and crossbar from the UEFA Euro ‘96 tournament at Wembley Stadium. We had arranged for two members of the England women’s team, Steph Houghton and Jill Scott, who both also played for Manchester City, to meet the Royal couple and to take penalties with Prince William. Given his strong support for women’s football, the Prince already knew them well. Prince William took three very impressive and powerful penalties and clearly enjoyed the experience!
At the time of the visit the Museum had a major temporary exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of England hosting the FIFA World Cup in 1966 and England’s victory. In the exhibition Prince William and Kate met with Roger Hunt, one of the England players who won the World Cup in 1966, and Rowan, his wife. We brought out from a showcase one of the outstanding artefacts in the exhibition, the ball from the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final. Prince William asked Roger about the 1966 World Cup Final and both held the ball – wearing white cotton gloves of course! They discussed how the leather ball from 1966 was so different to those of today, not least in getting heavier when conditions were wet. There was rain before the final in 1966, and the pitch was wet to begin with.
I showed some photographs I found in the collection to the Duke and Duchess, one featuring Prince Charles playing football as a boy, and another of Prince William playing football as a very young boy, which clearly kindled many memories. At the end of the visit we presented some gifts to the Royal couple, including a copy of a painting in the Museum’s collections, namely ‘Huddersfield Town footballer meets King George V’ by J. Higgs, 1933, George V being Prince William’s great-great-grandfather.
We were honoured and delighted by the visit of Prince William, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and they clearly very much enjoyed the tour!