I recently started a placement at National Football Museum, UK. There’s no doubt about the centrality of football in any analysis of UK nationalism and constructions of national identity. The terrace chants of “two world wars and one world cup”, and the more recent Euro 2016 England football supporters’ ditty that begins: “F**k off Europe…” indicate the intersections.
A couple of days before the placement started, I’m lying in bed a wondering how it’s going to go. This wondering segues into a dream… my tiny desk is on a glass ledge, overhanging a shark pool. At the bottom of that shark pool, sealed in a waterproof bag is a priceless manuscript. The phone rings on my desk. I pick up. I receive instructions from someone very deep in the catacombs of the organisation. They tell me I must dive from my ledge into the pool and retrieve the manuscript. I have two minutes before the waterproof bag dissolves. The line goes dead.
I look through the balcony glass at all the other staff who are inside the building. They immediately all point – each one of them has rescued a manuscript and they’ve kept the proof on their desks. Their message: good luck, most newbies make it out of the pool alive. The huge clock on my desk ticks away. Down below me, the sharks circle. I can’t even swim.
Here’s how it turns out:
The NFM team all come across as level headed and assiduous. We speak the same language. No sharks, no pools, no manuscripts to dive for. Everyone pretty approachable though the office does have a hum of efficiency. I’m shown around, introduced. It’s the names I struggle with. I try quickly scribbling someone’s name down on a piece of paper/in my phone the first opportunity I get. Still, after four or five introductions my capacity to attach names to faces is severely blunted. I develop this thing where my eyes wander down to the name badge while I tug my imaginary chin beard. Richard? Of course Richard!
The first sense of raw excitement comes with a visit to the archives in Preston. It has a ‘Night At The Museum’ feel. One of my fantasies is to be lost/trapped/allowed to camp overnight in a museum. I feel I will connect better with the spirit of the objects if left in seclusion with them. The football club grounds of Preston North End was where the National Football Museum used to be housed. The museum element decamped a couple of years ago to the swanky Urbis building in Manchester city centre. But under one of the Preston club’s stand there are vestiges of the old museum. It’s fascinating to see the boxes, the voids as well as the remaining artifacts that perhaps no human eye but mine has studied in a long time. Spirits move around here.
The library at the Preston football archives is similarly intriguing. Comics, annuals, trophies, earnest treatises, donations from visiting national teams. Bundles of letters. The one book that stops me in my tracks is a tome from the 1950’s. A History of Football by Morris Marples written in 1954. That book in turn references an earlier book written by a Harvard Professor in the 1930’s and published by a German press: History of Football from the beginnings to 1871 by Professor F P Magoun. That’s how research goes. One book leads to another. I want to get my teeth into that Harvard Professor’s book. I’m sure it’s a gem. The archivists say they have it on site, I can retrieve it there… There’s no shark pool at Preston North End is there?
Pete Kalu began his placement at National Football Museum in May 2016