If ever you’re going to make a first visit to Manchester, what a better day to do it than when one of its home teams is celebrating winning the Premier League.
This is what happened when we took my father across the Pennines just a day after Manchester City won the league for the second time in three years, and we made it just in time to see Albert Square decked out in sky blue.
As such it seemed fitting that the National Football Museum featured on our 24-hour visit. Originally based in the nearby city of Preston, Lancashire, it moved into the former Urbis building in Manchester city centre in 2012.
Using more than 140,000 items of memorabilia – from original terracing to tiny collectibles and Baines football cards – the museum aims to tell the history of the game and help preserve its heritage for future generations. Best of all, it’s free to fans and tourists alike.
One of the gems of the museum is the Fifa Collection, which traces the history of football across the world. Put together by journalist Harry Langton, finding a home for the collection was one of the driving forces behind the set up of the museum itself.
The collection includes the Jules Rimet trophy, awarded to the winners of the first World Cup and used until 1970. In 1966, it was stolen prior to the tournament being held in England. Fortunately it was found seven days later by a collie dog named Pickles, who became something of a celebrity in the aftermath. Sadly the trophy was stolen again in Brazil years later and has never been recovered, but an official replica was loaned by Fifa to go on show at the museum in Manchester. Appropriately, Pickles’ collar is also among the exhibits.
Other historic items on show throughout the museum’s collections include the ball from the first World Cup final in 1930, which was won by Uruguay; the oldest surviving FA Cup Trophy, used between 1895 and 1910, and various items of match day memorabilia such as a Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter’s rattle from the 1949 FA Cup.
But there’s more here than just football. Known as the people’s game, the history of football is as much about society as the sport itself and the museum strives to tell it through the eyes of fans as much as players.
One of the perhaps more unusual items is German footballer’s Bert Trautmann’s neck brace. Trautmann was a paratrooper during the Second World War and ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. After his release in 1948, he settled in the county and ended up playing for Manchester City as a goalkeeper.
The signing of a former German paratrooper initially sparked protests but eventually he won over the hearts of fans and entered football folklore during the 1956 FA Cup final, when he continued making saves to hold on to Manchester City’s 3-1 lead against Birmingham City, despite having suffered a serious neck injury. Three days later it was found out that he had in fact broken his neck.
That year, Trautmann was awarded the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award, the first time it had been awarded to a foreigner and in 2004, he was made an OBE for his work promoting Anglo-German relations.
Among the more poignant tributes is an exhibit on the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire, which killed 56 and injured hundreds, and the implications it had on football ground safety.
There is also an artwork by Leigh-based graffiti artist Gecko called From The Heart, made up of 96 canvas, each commemorating an individual who died as a result of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, inquests into which are ongoing.
And, as appropriate for a museum in Manchester, there is a tribute to the Busby Babes – the young Manchester United players who died along with crew and journalists in the Munich air disaster of 1958. Museum president Sir Bobby Charlton, then 20, survived the crash and went on to become England’s record goalscorer.
Nowadays top footballers are as much celebrities as they are sports people, and one exhibit looks at the impact of players such Sir Stanley Matthews, George Best and David Beckham on popular culture.
And indeed if celebrity is what you’re after, the museum also houses the life-size statue of singer Michael Jackson which once stood outside Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage ground and donated by Mohamed Al-Fayed last year.
There’s also various interactive exhibits to young and old visitors alike entertained, although many of them you need to buy Football Plus+ credits for.
All in all, the museum makes for a great afternoon out, regardless of whether you are a football fan or not. And where better to learn about the beautiful game, than in a city home to two of the world’s greatest football clubs.
For more information, visit the National Football Museum website.