It’s kicking off in Manchester – the new National Football Museum opens today

{ Posted on Aug 14 2013 by B-man }
Categories : Travel news

England may not be too hot at playing the game these days – as we witnessed at Euro 2012 – but the vast collection of exhibits and memorabilia on display at the new National Football Museum, which opens today in Manchester, is world-class.

There's so much fascinating stuff on display over the four floors of the Urbis centre, much of which would be gathering dust in bedrooms or football boardrooms around the world if it wasn't here. At the opening ceremony, referee Howard Webb, who has donated the shirt he wore for the 2010 World Cup final, said: "I'm much happier that my shirt is here where people can see it rather than sitting in a cupboard at home – along with my medal – forgotten about."

The museum has moved, somewhat controversially and at a cost of ?8.5 million, from Preston North End's Deepdale ground in a push to triple visitor numbers to around 350,000, but also to accommodate more exhibits. There are more than 2,500 on show out of 140,000 held in the museum archives. There's enough of interest to keep the casual browser happy, while hardcore fans could easily spend half a day here. And you can see it all for free as there is no entrance fee to the museum – a nice change for fans used to paying exorbitant prices to see their team play live, or even on satellite telly.

Ironically, the most talked-about exhibit symbolises one of the most crushing moments in the country's modern football history: the shirt Diego Maradona was wearing when he scored his infamous "hand of God" goal for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final against England. Up close the reviled object isn't much to look at; a royal blue cheap nylon garment that you could mistake for a knock-off replica. It certainly pales next to the item alongside it, the iconic yellow cotton Brazil shirt worn by Rivelino in the Mexico 1970 World Cup.

These are just two of hundreds of shirts that have been donated or loaned to the museum: Pele's, Sir Stanley Matthews', Nobby Stiles' 1966 long red sleeve and Bobby Moore's 1970 ventilated Airtex number, created to play in the Mexican heat, are all here, as well as a classic late 60s frilly affair worn by George Best (not on the pitch obviously) in his swinging, fifth-Beatle heyday.

Their are dozens of footballs from famous matches too, including those used in two World Cup finals – the first, in 1930, and the 1966 one (a happier day for England), plus the original 1863 FA rulebook, setting the laws that have been followed around the world ever since, seats from the old Wembley and the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup.

There are interactive displays everywhere, including a chance to commentate on great Match of the Day moments – and watch your efforts online afterwards – and a penalty shootout room where you try to beat the virtual goalkeeper and kick the ball between posts that once stood at Wembley (perhaps the England squad should be based here). Given the long queue of suited middle-aged men at the opening ceremony, waiting their turn to become the next Andrea Pirlo, this promises to be one of the museum's big draws.

Football artworks include LS Lowry's 1953 painting Going to the Match and Michael Browne's The Art of the Game, a homoerotic Renaissance-inspired portrait of Eric Cantona, with David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville sitting at the Frenchman's feet like lovestruck disciples. Cantona bought the huge canvas in 1997 but it had been sitting in his parents' home for years. Browne, a local artist and Manchester United fanatic, hired a van and drove all the way to the south of France to pick up.

Browne said: "I wanted to personally drive to Marseille to see the home environment of the painting since 1997. It was sealed in a crate, stored in Eric's father's art studio (his mum and dad were very kind). It is great to see it again, lots of memories. It's a huge painting, 10 foot by eight, and it will [soon] be framed for the first time."

His is just one of thousands of lovely football stories you'll find at the museum.

• 0161-605 8200, Open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 11am-5pm. Admission free, although some interactive exhibits cost ?2.50 a go. Travel from London to Manchester provided by Virgin Trains (; fares from ?12 one way. Accommodation provided by The Lowry Hotel (0161-827 4000,; double rooms from ?116.10 a night if booked 10 days in advance. Further information:

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