The List: Highlights of the Football Museum

When the National Football Museum opened this week at its new home in Manchester, World Cup-winning footballer Sir Bobby Charlton said: “I can’t think of a better museum anywhere in the world.” As its president, he might be a little biased but the collection is, at 140,000 items, impressively large. Kevin Moore, the museum director, reveals some of his favourite exhibits to Peter Leggatt.

1. The 1966 World Cup final ball

Football relics don’t get much holier than this ball, which has what Moore calls “that talismanic quality”. One of the most popular items at the museum’s former site in Preston, the ball is widely travelled, turning up at the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, and in Germany for the 2006 World Cup. For that trip, it had its own seat on the Eurostar. Moore says the ball is treated “almost like a person” by its caretakers.

2. The ‘Art of the Game’

This controversial 1997 painting by British artist Michael Browne is based on the Renaissance master Piero della Francesca’s “Resurrection”. This version features the former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona as Christ, surrounded by his followers – Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham among them. It drew criticism from the Church but has been displayed widely, featuring in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and the Manchester Art Gallery. Designed to reflect the “resurrection” of Cantona’s career following his ban for a kung-fu kick on a spectator in 1995, it now belongs to the footballer himself. The museum has it on loan for two years.

3. Diego Maradona’s shirt

The 1986 World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina took place four years after the two countries fought the Falklands war, and featured two of the most famous goals in the history of the sport – both scored by Argentina’s Diego Maradona. The first, dubbed the “Hand of God” goal by Maradona after his deliberate handball was missed by the match officials, provoked outrage. The second, a brilliant run covering more than half the pitch, is one of the greatest individual goals of all time. But, says Moore, the main talking point for those who see the shirt, on loan from the former England midfielder Steve Hodge who swapped jerseys with Maradona after the game, is just how tiny it is.

4. The original rules of football

On loan from the Football Association, one of the displays greeting you when you enter the museum is the original handwritten text of the first document outlining the laws of football, penned by solicitor and amateur sportsman Ebenezer Morley in 1863. Set next to this seminal text is a football constructed out of condoms. Made by African children in Malawi, who were offered a real football in exchange, the juxtaposition is designed to show just how global football has become since Morley’s time.

5. World Cup Willie

Willie, a small lion, was the mascot for the 1966 World Cup. In fact, he was the first official cup mascot of all time. The figurine on display is deliberately mundane – it is a toy that belonged to Moore as a child – but has high aspirations. The intention, says Moore, is to summon a flood of nostalgia for those old enough to remember England’s one and only World Cup triumph. He hopes the experience will prove “Proustian”.

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