On International Museum Day 2020, in these challenging global times, we need to celebrate what is wonderful about our museums like never before, and the ways in which they encourage and enable equality, diversity and inclusion. Let’s just take one museum to celebrate, that is close to my heart, and was a very powerful exemplar and advocate in these terms, under my leadership. The National Football Museum for England used the power of football to reach diverse and inclusive audiences that other museums found difficult to reach, particularly in terms of social class and ethnicity.
I was the CEO of the National Football Museum from 1997 to 2017, leading its opening to the public, first in Preston in 2001, and then in Manchester in 2012. The Museum attracted millions of highly satisfied, very diverse visitors – over a half a million a year in Manchester. The National Football Museum was a highly international museum at this time, with visitors coming from over 150 countries.
The reaction of the public to the National Football Museum was extraordinary. The Museum was invited to join the UK’s Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) in 2013, and in 2014 was the UK’s highest rated attraction by visitors in the annual ALVA survey!
The national and international media wrote glowing reviews of the Museum, first in Preston, and then again in its new form in Manchester. As a celebration of the Museum, here is a sample of the national press reviews from the UK and overseas:
“It is a fantastic place. Yes, fantastic”.
‘The place is truly captivating… should become a place of pilgrimage for anyone with even the remotest interest in football … It is though you’d died and woken up in football heaven.’
The Daily Telegraph
‘The most extraordinary collection of memorabilia I have ever seen … Even those who profess to hate the sport will be captivated.’
Independent on Sunday
‘If you think museums are musty, dusty old places, forget it. This one is a sheer delight, for fans of every age and persuasion… A football shrine to gladden the heart.’
‘Sumptuously designed pictorial evidence …. The public will be hammering on the doors.’
“I spent five hours, dazed by all the wonders, and can’t wait to go again. It’s brilliant”.
The Mail on Sunday
… the marvellous National Football Museum … On one level, this is simply an unparalleled collection of football memorabilia. … But you really don’t have to know anything about football to enjoy the museum, since ‘the true story of the world’s greatest game’ is backed by fascinating print, film and sound material on football’s origins, its social importance, the experience of fans through the ages, and other relevant themes. Plus, there are some great interactive exhibits.
The Rough Guide to England
‘The New National Football Museum hits the target’
‘The New National Football Museum in Manchester is World Class’
‘The People’s Game exhibits its heart’
‘A new sports shrine in soccer’s birth country’
‘National Football Museum another triumphant display for Manchester.’
‘You walk out into the triumphant Manchester spring feeling warmth, love even, towards football and its history, and convinced of Germaine Greer’s words, emblazoned on the wall, “Football counts as culture just as much as opera does.” ’
Tanya Aldred, The Telegraph
‘The best museum about the best game. Intriguing, captivating and a whole lot of fun, the Football Museum perfectly captures our shared sense of obsession. It is not just the game itself that is so celebrated here, it is our involvement in it: the spirit of the fan informs every inch of the place. Going to the museum is – almost – like seeing your team win the local derby in the last minute of added time. There is no greater compliment than that.”
Jim White, The Telegraph
But I leave the last words to three members of the public, out of millions of visitors to the Museum:
“The best time I have ever had in my life.” (Lewis, aged 11).
“Hate football. Love the Museum.”
“I would live here if I could!”