Chris Eldon Lee visits the National Football Museum in Manchester.
It’s strange how pent up anger can suddenly re-emerge….frustrations from 30 years ago coursing through your veins again. That’s how I felt when I spotted one particular display at Manchester’s new National Football Museum, which featured memorabilia from England’s various World Cup campaigns. There, looking most innocuous in a corner, was the surprisingly small blue shirt won by Diego Maradona when he ‘scored’ the ‘Hand of God’ goal in Mexico in 1986. The cheat! I was awash with indignation once more.
To cheer myself up I went in search of more modest memorabilia from Shrewsbury Town…and stumbled across Radio Shropshire commentator Stuart Dunn; not stuffed and mounted….but loud and clear.
The exhibition even-handedly features moments from the history of all 92 clubs, as well as the English national team. And clamping headphones to my head, I could hear once again Stuart’s rising voice as he describes Shrewsbury’s 2000 defeat of Exeter City to stay in the League – and the heroic comeback of 2010 when Town turned around a three-nil deficit to beat Charlton 4 – 3.
To mark this year’s 125 anniversary of the Football League, the clubs all sent paraphernalia from their histories. There were trophies, signed team photos, dog-eared programmes, boots of the famous, and commemorative plates. But Shrewsbury Town sent the best artefact of all; the coracle …and even the paddle Fred Davies used to navigate it, when fetching balls out of the Severn that flowed, sometimes rather too quickly, past the old Meadow. It’s such a large, iconic object it has it’s own special plinth.
The most recent relics are a collection of last season’s signed shirts …including The Shrews blue and amber kit. This season they’ve unveiled a new away shirt of black and bright yellow stripes. It’s been described as innovative…but wait! What’s this? A Bradford City football jersey from 1906 … looking remarkably similar.
There are a lot of shirts. Big woolly jobs from the 1890s – to Bobby Moore’s No 6 England shirt, as worn in Mexico. I don’t know why but I was surprised to find it was aertex…but in that heat it would be, wouldn’t it.
Suddenly we’re back in Shropshire again. There’s an England cap once worn by Mr. William Wright of Ironbridge. Billy won 105 caps so I guess he could spare it. And not far away is a life-sized image of Shrewsbury schoolboy Joe Hart, with an electronic invitation to kids to see if they can jump as high as Joe.
What appears to be the earliest written reference to the beautiful game flowed from the quill of another Shrewsbury School Boy – the poetical knight Sir Philip Sidney, who in 1580 wrote:
A time there is for all
My mother often says
When she with skirts tucked very high
With girls at football plays.
There’s a display about the origins of the Women’s game which started in earnest – when? In World War One. By 1917 so many men were otherwise engaged, Dick Kerr’s Factory Ladies were watched by 10,000 fans on Christmas Day. After the war they toured extensively and women’s football was pretty popular…till, in 1921, the FA banned it from all their grounds because it exposed ladies’ calves. It was another 50 years before the Doncaster Bells forced the issue.
In the section on sporting injuries is the story of the game’s first cartilage operation, performed of Willie Cunningham of Preston North End. And in a little glass jar or formaldehyde – is the cartilage in question…looking like a miniature sea horse.
There are other great stories that I, for one, never knew. In a display of football games there are blow football bellows and an 1884 toy football set that predates Subutteo by 6 decades. The Subutteo story is a classic. When Peter Adolph invented it in 1946, he placed an advert in the Boy’s Own comic and promptly went on holiday, not having actually made a single set. On his return he found 20 thousand orders on his doormat.
My 14-year-old godson Seb looked at the hundreds of tiny figures on display and couldn’t work out what they were for. He’d never heard of Subutteo..
Being in Manchester, City and United feature quite large. Not only is there a lock of City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann’s golden hair – donated to the nurses who cared for him after he broke his neck in the 1956 Cup Final (and there’s footage of the match) – but also the leather neck brace he wore whilst recovering.
Interestingly, Trautmann was reviled in some quarters for having been a Hitler Youth…but there’s a 1938 photo of the entire England team performing the Nazi salute before playing Germany in Berlin.
Even more poignant is a menu card from a restaurant in Belgrade. It’s signed by the Manchester United team shortly before they boarded the plane home in November 1958. The plane crashed at Munich and so many Busby Babes were killed or injured that the item beside it is even more poignant. It’s the programme from their next match against Sheffield Wednesday. The names of the Wednesday players are printed in the programme, but the United team sheet is blank – because no one knew who would be playing.
As you might imagine, another of Matt Busby’s discoveries has a gallery to himself; George Best There are objects ranging from the first official George Best jigsaw, a video of his wild dribbling technique, and his last black Mini Cooper; complete with miniature football boots where the furry dice should be. There’s a telegram from Lulu telling him he’ll never beat Scotland, and designer shirts from his boutique. And another “I never knew that” moment. There was, I can reveal, a hit record about him. I know the song well, but I never knew The Kinks “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” was inspired by George Best.
The National Football Museum is close to the Cathedral and Victoria Station in Manchester. It’s open every day and it’s free. It’s so good, in the end they had to throw us out.