Museum peace plea

Andrew Baker feels the FA can act as referee in the rift over football's history
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The Independent Online
It is odd - some would say scandalous - that while there are national museums of tennis (at Wimbledon), cricket (at Lord's) and rugby (at Twickenham), there is none for the game that arguably has the strongest hold on the national consciousness - football. It would be laughable if there were soon to be too many, competing for scarce funding and even scarcer artefacts and memorabilia. But according to some of the collectors and curators busily at work on various projects all over England, such a situation is inevitable unless central direction and leadership is forthcoming from the Football Association - who for the time being are reluctant to endorse any specific enterprise. And all the while, the sound of grinding axes grows ever louder.

The projects - in Preston, Carlisle, Sheffield and Birmingham, with others apparently mooted for Leeds and Wembley - have differing aims and seek funding from differing sources. Preston, "the birthplace of professional football", has 1,650 square metres of space built and ready for its museum. Carlisle plans an area of 30,000 square feet and is in the market for artefacts; Sheffield has conducted extensive research and has plans for imaginative interactive facilities. All three envisage extensive educational links. Birmingham plans not a museum as such, but an International Football Hall of Fame.

But all share a common ambition: to provide football-based entertainment and information that appeals to a national audience. "Everybody has big plans," an official with one of the projects said. "We need to draw them all together. It would be lovely to see some sort of national policy, and frankly it is amazing that something hasn't happened a little further up."

The FA declined to comment on the situation. But sources indicated that their attitude was far from apathetic; that, instead, they are waiting for certain projects to gather sufficient momentum and backing to warrant their official endorsement.

Not all the projects listed above are unhappy with the conduct of the FA. But the association's "wait-and-see" stance, and the scepticism that accompanies it, undoubtedly concerns some curators and collectors. Gordon Wallace, whose Soccer Nostalgia collection of memorabilia is one of the largest in the world, has examined many different options in the search for a permanent home for it. "We want to have our collection in a static location so that all and sundry can look at it," he said. "We have looked at a lot of different possibilities. But there should be one major football museum, in an ideal location, with the best collections. Why haven't the FA supported one?"

Harry Langton, whose collection, now controlled by Fifa, will form the centrepiece of the well-advanced Preston museum, said: "All I have ever met, including from the FA, is a blank wall. They have been unhelpful, supercilious and arrogant. I'm glad that at long last they have decided that they do not want to forget their history."

All the different projects have much to recommend them, not least the enthusiasm of the people behind them. But if they are not to cancel each other out, the FA must step in soon in the role of referee. "Two things would be wonderful," Harry Langton said. "England to qualify for the World Cup in 1998, and a national football museum to be up and running by 1998."

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