We're football crazy, we're football mad

Mary Novakovich is won over by the new National Football Museum

The English may be obsessed with football, but the country had to wait till last week to get a national soccer museum. The Scots have had one at Hampden Park since 1990 - the first in the world - and its revamped version opens at the end of May. And, of course, there is a very small number of football clubs with the money to put together more than a display cabinet for its fans. But what if you are not a Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal fan? Then it's a trek on the M6 for you, and on to Preston.

The English may be obsessed with football, but the country had to wait till last week to get a national soccer museum. The Scots have had one at Hampden Park since 1990 - the first in the world - and its revamped version opens at the end of May. And, of course, there is a very small number of football clubs with the money to put together more than a display cabinet for its fans. But what if you are not a Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal fan? Then it's a trek on the M6 for you, and on to Preston.

Not the most glamorous town, Preston. But the Lancashire club did win the first professional championship in 1889, so that makes it the spiritual home of the game. And that is where they have erected the Modernist colossus that is the National Football Museum. It cost £12m, has display areas of 7,000sq ft, and has the most extraordinary collection of memorabilia I have ever seen. Even those who profess to hate the sport will be captivated, so if you are dragged there by a fan you might not come out converted but your estimation of the game should go up.

Once you get through the concrete and glass entrance, you are in the official Game of Two Halves (well, they could hardly resist). Follow the arrows through the First Half and you reach the exhibition hall, which shows the game's history and development over the past 150 years. There is a lot of information to cover, and they have put a lot of thought into the layout so that you are not overwhelmed. They have also put each milestone in its social, historical and even musical context, so the Beatles serenade you while you gaze at George Best in his prime. But the soundtrack is so unobtrusive that I found myself in the 1990s before I registered it consciously. No bad thing.

You find your eyes are inexorably pulled along each exhibit, wanting to take in everything, and many of the displays will start talking to you when you step in front of them.

The 19th-century section is inevitably less cluttered, but a few oddities jump out. A Victorian blow-football set, for example, and those itchy wool jerseys players wore in the old days. And once you find yourself in the 1960s, you will see an old leather chair. So whose famous bottom sat in that? Today's players should regard that chair as a shrine because Jimmy Hill sat in it in 1961 when he negotiated the demise of the maximum wage. Hill was not to know that, 40 years later, Roy Keane would be getting a reported £20,000 a week.

A welcome exhibit is one showing the history of women's football. It started in the 19th century, but for decades the Football Association forbade teams to affiliate themselves with their local men's grounds. Brownie points to the NFM for a bit of recognition.

Before you enter the Second Half, there are a few diversions during the break. There is a special gallery that currently shows the history of Wembley, and another that focuses on the home team, Preston North End. Go through the Preston gallery and you will end up in a glassed-in pod overlooking its Deepdale ground. Great vantage point for a match, but they boot you out before kick-off, understandably.

Upstairs, the Second Half is hands-on heaven. It is all subtly educational, but children and adults will be too busy playing to notice. If you are not the shy type, you can sit with a virtual Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen and do a post-match analysis and watch the results on video afterwards. And Gabby Yorath pops up on a screen and answers questions about tactics, so there is absolutely no excuse for failing to understand the offside rule.

One of the most hilarious games is table football. Sounds mundane, but each goal is then shown on a four-angle action replay. The effect is so side-splitting you are certain to let in a goal, as I did. There is also a supporters' gallery in which various club devotees have donated their memorabilia in exchange for the chance to appear on a screen and go on about their obsession with Southend United and the like. That's real grassroots stuff.

Once you have absorbed and played with everything, there is the Ground Café to revive you and the Extra Time shop. Again, someone thought long and hard about this, and the result is an innovative selection of goodies. All teams that have ever been in the League are represented here, and the scope and depth of the exhibits go a long way to show that the game does not start and end with the big clubs.

But I was only 33 miles from Manchester, and that meant Old Trafford. I have a confession to make: I am one of those loathed Londoners who supports Manchester United. I know. You can stop jeering now. But as my late father started the tradition 50 years ago, I'm hardly going to change allegiances now. Three years ago Man U opened their £4m museum, which includes a trophy room that almost blinds you with silver. This is not a boast - just a fact. There is Man-U-Net on the ground floor, with its interactive games and computers, an enormous amount of paraphernalia and a moving gallery on the 1958 Munich disaster.

But the best thing to do is to combine all of this with a tour of the stadium. My group was led by Stuart, whose profound knowledge of the club was tempered with anti-Man City jibes and some unbelievably corny jokes. But his enthusiasm won us over as he took us to the North Stand, the press room and press lounge, VIP suite, players' lounge, home team dug-out and the dressing room - the site of near hysteria when one teenage girl discovered she was sitting in David Beckham's spot. Then we were led through the players' tunnel, with the group divided into home and visiting teams.

As we were about to walk through, Stuart pressed a button and we were accompanied by the roar of the crowd. It was a ridiculously exciting moment, leaving us wearing silly grins. After a day immersed in football, there was nothing I wanted more than to go to a match. With Man U tickets notoriously difficult to get, perhaps it's time I checked out my local Third Division side. Now that's glamour for you.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us