National Football Museum move to Manchester Urbis sparks uproar

By Culture24 Staff | 19 November 2009
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A photo of a fountain outside a football stadium

A bitter row has broken out after leaders at The National Football Museum agreed to move the site from Preston North End's historic Deepdale ground to Manchester’s Urbis centre.

Preston City Council leader Ken Hudson accused the Museum trustees of being "spineless" and is threatening legal action to stop the plans, which propose keeping the centre at Deepdale for three years until the £8 million switch is completed.

In a heated exchange, Hudson said Chairman of Trustees Paul Dermody had "seriously let down the people of Preston and the football fraternity in general" and "given two fingers to the people of Preston and Lancashire."

A head and shoulders photo of a man in a blue suit

Preston City Council leader Ken Hudson said the National Football Museum trustees were "spineless".

"Preston has been totally betrayed by Paul Dermody and [Museum Director] Kevin Moore," he said.

"Even Gordon Brown and Phil Woolas [Minister for the North-West] both back the campaign to keep the football museum in Preston, and they are two people I don't normally agree with."

Hudson had led a rival bid by the City Council, Lancashire County Council and the University of Central Lancashire to fund the Museum to the tune of £400,000 a year and invest £3.5 million annually in improving the displays.

A photo of people outside a football stadium

Thousands of supporters have added their name to a petition opposing the move

"Our bid is the only one which guarantees the Museum financial security," he argued, pointing to the marketing resources of the University and Councils.

"Manchester may claim that they would put £8m into moving the National Football Museum to Urbis, but their bid is full of black holes.

"Manchester are basing their bid for the Museum on receiving millions of pounds of taxpayer’s cash from the North West Development Agency. Yet the agency's Chief Executive, Steven Broomhead, has said the NWDA cannot guarantee any funding to Manchester’s bid for the museum.

"They are talking about having some sort of publicly accessible museum in Preston until 2012, as long as Preston taxpayers fund it. In other words they want us to baby sit the Museum until they open a new one in Manchester.

"It would be ludicrous to spend £8m of public money on moving a public museum that is well catered for here in Preston, 35 miles down the road, just to fill the white elephant of a glass building that is Urbis."

A photo of a glass museum on grass at night

Could Urbis be effectively replaced by the Football Museum?

Dermody claimed the deal would ensure "an exciting future" for the Museum, calling it "a win-win situation" and predicting a leap in visitors from 100,000 to 400,000 punters a year for the Museum, which recorded a loss of nearly £500,000 in its last annual report.

"The Museum's future in the North-West has been secured," he declared, pledging to continue negotiations with the Preston consortium to keep the "national treasure" open in the city.

"An exciting new public face of the Museum will open in the Urbis building in 2011. It will be a major new visitor attraction and open up the collection to a much wider audience."

In Manchester, a different concern has been raised by hundreds of outraged Urbis workers and supporters who have joined a Facebook group expressing their fears that the popular centre could be replaced by the NFM.

"The people who run the NFM reckon they could get four times as many folk through the doors if it were housed at Urbis," wrote journalist Richard Jones, a 27-year-old who visited the Home Grown exhibition with his daughter last week.

"No doubt they're right, and if there's going to be a football museum anywhere it may as well be in Manchester. But if Urbis fills up with balls and caps and scarves, there won't be much space left for the sort of exhibitions I went to see today."

A photo of people looking at cases inside a museum

The NFM collection is expected to take up most of the existing space at Urbis

One former Urbis worker accused Manchester City Council of attempting to offload the "financial burden" of supporting Urbis by replacing it with the Football Museum, and another questioned the need for the move when funding for the 2012 Olympics had "decimated arts funding".

"It'll just be for the football fans and tourists," suggested one. "Urbis is for us and the visitors to our city.

"It's diverse and controversial at times, but most of all it's interesting. There's always a surprise when you pop in. It would be tragic to lose its character like this."

Staff at Deepdale were ordered to remove a Save Our Museum t-shirt – produced by local newspaper the Lancashire Evening Post – from a mannequin at the site.

"People were asking if they could buy one. We could have sold a lot of those," one anonymous worker told the Post, lamenting a "very subdued" atmosphere in the building.

"The morale of the staff, especially in the front of the house, is very low," he revealed. "There is a veil of silence."

A photo of the outside of a football stadium

Staff at Deepdale were banned from wearing Save Our Museum t-shirts

One of the heroes featured in the Museum displays, Blackpool legend Jimmy Armfield, told The Blackpool Gazette he would have moved the NFM to the seaside promenade.

"It's a shame Preston is losing it, because they started it and that's where the football league started," he said, before offering some stellar advice to the cultural sector.

"The key thing is, you have to get people into museums.

"The only proof of a museum is how many people actually turn up, so it's a case of wait and see now. If Manchester think they can do it better, let's see if they can."

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, admitted he was "delighted" their offer had been accepted.

"Manchester is not only a city with football in its blood but also one of the country's leading visitor destinations – the most visited English city outside London," he said.

"The Museum's arrival in Manchester will ensure it has a sustainable future while adding to our existing wide range of tourist attractions, building on the major achievements of Urbis to date.

"The Urbis team will use their creative expertise to reinterpret the football story as part of popular culture in an imaginative and interactive way.

"We've put forward a strong partnership proposal with Preston which we hope will ensure a continuing presence for the National Football Museum in Preston."

In an exclusive opinion column for Culture24 this week, Urbis Chief Executive Vaughan Allen said popular culture had "broadly failed in museum and exhibition terms."

"For the real fans, re-presentation in an exhibition context is simply bewildering," he observed.

"Placing things in glass cases fails to touch the heart of pop culture's fascination and strength. It fails to engage with the emotion involved."

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