There has been an increase in the number of museums dedicated to sport across the world, developing in a variety of forms, from Halls of Fame, to important archival collections, and more celebratory corporate entities. Football clubs which are also important global marques, such as FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou Experience and Manchester United Museum and Stadium Tour have realized that their history, and heritage are important to the authenticity of their brands. So many clubs have followed suit. However, these loyalties can often be linked to the fan experience, and other major stadia sometimes struggle to develop their own historical offer as a convincing, and, ultimately accurate. Wembley stadium tour for instance, makes little mention of the significance of both greyhound racing and speedway which were so central to Arthur Elvin’s successful business model at the original ‘twin towers’ Wembley stadium, let alone the Rugby League Challenge Cup final, boxing, American football, ski jumping, and the 1948 Olympic Games. Very much reflecting that the stadium is run by the Football Association, football is emphasized at the expense of these other regular users of the ground and Elvin’s use of the wider Wembley complex for the local community, including ice skating, swimming and athletics. Since the stadium was built as the centre piece for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, this varied use is neglected at the peril of simplifying the story to the FA Cup, England’s victory in 1966 and football more generally. So historians of sport have become engaged in both reviewing exhibitions and the uses of public history as part of a paying visitor attraction experience.
The FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich
The National Football Museum, in Britain, originally opened in Preston in 2001 with the Harry Langton collection of over 140,000 boots, balls, programmes, paintings, postcards and ceramics. Although the rugby items in Langton’s collections were separated and sold off to the World Rugby Museum, the football collection was so extensive that it was sold in 1996 to FIFA as their museum collection and Harry Langton continued after the sale to act as consultant to add to the collection, particularly collecting art and fine art. But there was no permanent museum to house the collection. Forming the core of the National Football Museum, with Heritage Lottery Funding, a permanent display was situated at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground in February 2001. However, financial difficulties meant that the National Football Museum moved to the Urbis building in Manchester in 2016, with support from the European Regional Development Fund. At this time, in recognition of the fact that without Harry Langton’s dedication there would be no National Football Museum, the collection was renamed the FIFA-Langton collection. More than two million visitors have now seen the exhibitions and there is a varied round of temporary displays covering world cups, art and animation, and celebrations of football in World War One, and landmarks like the 125th anniversary of the Football League.
Meanwhile, work on a new FIFA World Football Museum at Tessinerplatz near Zurich-Enge station in Zurich began, and the building contractor officially handed the building over to FIFA Museum AG in December 2015. The museum opened to the public on 28 February 2016. The FIFA World Football Museum is based upon the FIFA archives. While the National Football Museum, Manchester is currently free to enter and encourages donations to support its work, entry to the FIFA World Football Museum costs, on average around CHF 20, with some concessions and group savings. There are a wide range of attractions awaiting visitors: an exhibition area over three levels, measuring more than 3,000 square metres and containing more than 1,000 unique objects, will cover all aspects of the world of football, plus on the top floor a range of active football related games to emphasise health and fitness as part of the visitor offer and covering Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) subjects, such as velocity, speed, geometry and so forth. This speaks also to recent concerns about health and wellbeing in museums and where sporting museums may have an advantage in promoting healthy eating, and exercise. There is also an art space encouraging young people to interpret football graphically.
The collections, exhibits and related activities showcase significant artefacts, documents and photographs of global association football and its governing body. The permanent exhibition shows more than 1000 exhibits from an evolving collection including memorabilia, texts, and pictures. Particularly valuable for researchers, the museum manages the FIFA Documentation Centre involving thousands of historic texts, official documents, letters and books related to the game and its development since the early 20th century. FIFA was founded in 1904, but important early documents relate to earlier periods, such as the International Football Association Board (IFAB), formed in 1886 by the four British associations, and expanded to include FIFA in 1913.
By August 2016, visitors from 140 nations had taken in the colourful display of a rainbow of national jerseys that open the visitor experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its close proximity to Switzerland, Germany topped the list of international visitors with the UK in second place and the USA third. Many visitors were from further afield, with China, Brazil and India, Middle-Eastern and Arab-speaking countries notable. At the time of my visit in March 2018, school groups and a range of nationalities were visiting in various groups sizes.
As might be expected, there is a dedicated space for every FIFA World Cup since the inaugural tournament was held in Uruguay in 1930. The permanent exhibition has individual showcases filled with items from every edition of both the men’s and the Women’s World Cups, all located next to the World Cup Trophy.
In some senses the work of the National Football Museum and the FIFA World Museum overlap, as, at both, there are also displays to showcase football around the globe. However, there is more emphasis on Football League clubs in the displays in Manchester, whereas, in Zurich, the displays have to be mindful of a global audience. Both really rich sources for the historian of football, both facilities show that the serious study of the world’s favourite game has a rigorous public face as well as a fun way to engage those who may not be traditional audiences for heritage.