Pardon my ignorance, but I had no idea that England boasted a National Football Museum until I saw its advertisement for a development officer. Puzzlingly, the appointment, though described in the singular, is to be filled in the plural.
The ad says, “We are looking for three highly motivated, self-starting and enthusiastic individuals to join our team in the following role – Development Officer, Salary Range: &£15-18,000.” Perhaps two will spend their time on the bench while the third gets stuck in on the field.
At any rate, for those of you who, like me, know nothing of the museum, it describes its role as follows: “To seek to explain how and why football has become the people’s game, a key part of England’s heritage and way of life.”
Though I shall not be applying to be a third of a development officer (apart from any other consideration, it would entail moving to Preston, something which, for reasons that are probably wholly irrational, I am loath to consider), I am nevertheless happy to offer the triumvirate the benefit of my advice, which I hope will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given.
First, it is necessary to expand upon the museum’s self-appointed task, which is at present expressed more as an aspiration than an achievement. It is not good enough to seek to explain; we must not be mealy-mouthed, we must come straight to the point and do the explaining. So here goes.
There are several reasons why football has become “the people’s game, a key part of England’s heritage and way of life”. Principally, it is the most effective outlet yet devised for all those features of modern Britain that are indelibly associated with the working classes. They are, in no particular order of preference, envy, hatred, an inarticulacy masked by the incontinent use of obscenities, violence, crudity, the cowardice of the individual subsumed in the mob, cheap exhibitionism, and, above all, an atavistic yearning to return to a tribal, pre-civilised state in which the greatest form of self-expression is to stave in the heads of your enemies. Once this is accepted, much else becomes self-evident: for instance, the use of face paint, the ritualistic chanting and the blood lust.
Having got that much clear, the main purpose of the museum must be to explain and pass on this heritage to the next generation, or, to use the preferred term, “the kiddies”.
This, in turn, requires interactive, often computerised exhibits and “experiences”, all directed to hold the attention of an audience that is unable to concentrate for more than three or four minutes at a time. To its credit, the England and Wales Cricket Board, which has long envied the popular appeal of football and is eager to win its share of the people’s colourful attention, has this year introduced a short, 20-over form of the summer game. If the experiment succeeds, the ECB plans to mount three-hour pop concerts with a two-over match played in the nude during the interval.
Space prevents me from explaining in detail the kind of attractions that the National Football Museum should include, but a handful of examples may give a flavour of what I have in mind.
Sensational Saliva. This fun-for-all-the-family experience requires participants to vie one with another in spitting. There are prizes (six-packs of Fosters Export) for winners in two categories: the greatest distance and the greatest gob. You’ll be amazed at how far granny can lob a ball of spittle, and gobsmacked when her teeth follow.
The Rage Room. The idea is that kiddies inspired by surrounding pictures of Roy Keane in action should hold their breath until their veins stand out, their temples throb and their faces turn blue. There is a prize (four cans of Stella) for the youngster who comes most to resemble the original.
The Bung Ride. Participants cast in the role of football managers climb into a ghost train and are taken on a hair-raising ride through the Tunnel of Agents. The aim is to reach out and grab the sacks full of money that suddenly swing out from the tunnel walls (four cans of Heineken for the winner with the greasiest palms).
Shirt Sensation. See how much you can pay for a replica shirt. Lots of lager for the highest bidder. More fun with shirts: see if you can pull someone over by tugging his shirt when the referee is not looking. Pretend you have just scored a goal: pull your shirt over your head and run around in circles, drop to your knees, slide along the ground, give a V-sign to the crowd.
Since this is a museum, visitors should be able to see and marvel at some of the game’s magnificent artefacts. For instance, the first chair to be thrown through the window of a Brussels bar, sparking off the glorious riot of 2000; the 37 tequilas drunk before the great bimbo kiss-and-tell orgy that preceded our lads’ exit from the European Championships; the pair of shoes with elevator heels that Sven left outside Ulrika’s bedroom door; the wife’s knickers worn by the England captain; the first English language translation of a post-match comment by Sir Alex Ferguson; the collection of “calling cards” left on the beaten up bodies of supporters by rival fans.
What better introduction to the Beautiful Game?