Football: Finney at home with history

Andrew Baker explains how Lottery cash helped to set up the football museum
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The Independent Online
The phrase has been criminally overused since Euro 96. But the award of a pounds 7.6m grant to the Football Museum in Preston justifies one last outing. Preston North End's Deepdale ground will soon be the last remaining site on which the game has been played ever since the foundation of the league. When the museum opens in the autumn of 1999, football will indeed be coming home.

Tom Finney, the Preston and England winger, is understandably delighted that the ground he graced is to be home to the Fifa collection of football art and artefacts. "It's fantastic," he said last week. "It's great for Preston. It's going to be a proper museum, something really worth seeing. It's amazing, considering that football is the national game, that no one has thought of the idea before."

It is not strictly true that the concept has not occurred to anyone before now. Several other sites - in Carlisle, Leeds and Manchester, for instance - either have museums or are developing "leisure experiences" based on the game. But Preston's Lottery grant, and their securing of the Fifa Collection, seem set to confer "National" status on the project.

The museum's director is Kevin Moore, formerly the head of the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. "The Lottery funding is the green light," he said. "It means the project is definitely going to happen. Agreement was reached in principle in February but the Lottery Fund wanted us to go back over the figures. We presented revised plans and costings and ended up asking for - and getting - more money than we had originally wanted, which is unusual." Among the changes required by the Lottery Fund was a more distinctive entrance to the museum. "We were happy to oblige with that," Moore said. "It is essential that the public should know that they are visiting a football museum, not just a football ground."

The Fifa collection, originally put together by a former sports journalist, Harry Langton, and valued in excess of pounds 1m, is at present being conserved by local specialists. But Moore claimed that growing public awareness of the museum project has led to a wave of unsolicited donations of memorabilia. "We have received more than 1,000 items from members of the public," he said. "Even though such collectables can have considerable financial value these days, people are still willing to donate them to us."

Such objects will help to ensure that the museum can focus on telling the story of football through actual artefacts, rather than relying on audio-visual displays, animatronics and other such theme-park stand-bys. "We will be a national museum," Moore insisted, "and that means that we have to be serious in intention. We will do for football what the Victoria and Albert Museum in London does for art and design. It won't be stuffy, it will be fun - but we don't want to be Disneyland."

Finney himself has donated a number of mementoes from his illustrious career. "Caps and things, signed programmes, including one from a wartime game against King Farouk's XI, a drinking-bowl presented after an international against Argentina... to be honest, I had a lot of them stored away in a pillowcase, so it is nice to know that they are going to a good home."

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