It was a sad day for the city of Preston on Friday evening when the National Football Museum locked up for the last time. The concrete cavern built into Preston North End's stadium will remain in partial use as a repository for artefacts, but the displays now move to the Urbis Centre in Manchester.
It's a blow for Preston and a blow for the idea that the wealth of a nation should be spread the length and breadth of that nation. Concentrating everything in metropolitan centres is great for the metropolitan folk, but there is more to our country than that. Having the NFM in Preston was part of a wonderfully English pattern in which you can visit St Ives and find a world class art gallery or go to York and find a magnificent railway museum.
The economic reality was different and, in the end, compelling. Not enough visitors came to Preston. The NFM on its own was not enough of a magnet. Manchester will, I am sure, be different. People visit Manchester for many reasons and while there, a good proportion will find their way to the new NFM.
My company did a fair amount of work for the NFM a few years ago, and the work we were asked to do pointed up some of the problems. We filmed the annual Hall of Fame ceremonies in three consecutive years for the Museum's own use, but on no occasion was the event held in Preston! We trekked to Blackpool, to Bolton and to Liverpool to film fabulous events attended by the glitterati of football and many top media people. Why on earth were these people being invited to every which place EXCEPT Preston? The argument was that Preston did not have anywhere big enough to host the event, which for many simply emphasised that Preston was the wrong place for the museum in the first place. But surely the Hall of Fame should have been used as a gilt-edged opportunity to drag the good and the great to the museum itself, even if it meant putting up a giant marquee on the Deepdale car park.
The other weird thing was that the museum didn't seem to know what to do with the footage once we'd filmed it. Every year we not only filmed the presentations and speeches but conducted exclusive one-on-one interviews with the big personalities, everyone from Sepp Blatter to Sir Alex Ferguson to Dixie Dean's daughter Barbara. What use has been made of that footage? They asked us to put together a short promo which was used to attract sponsors but to the best of my knowledge a large amount of exclusive material has never seen the light of day, and probably never will.