I remember my late father telling about Hampden Park. He had been to see Denmark lose 3-1 to Scotland in front of a mere 75.000 in 1952. But the imposing terraces of Hampden left a lasting impression on him. Perhaps that is why I have always been fascinated by pictures of the enormous and ominous, sloping terraces of the old Hampden Park.
So I was almost shivering with anticipation when I got off the train to visit Hampden and the National Scottish Football Museum in November last year. Normally, it is quite easy to find your way to a ground from the station. The stands usually tower above the neighbouring buildings – but not in the case of the new Hampden Park. (Well, maybe it wasn’t that different with the old one, as the ground is hidden in a “hole” behind the local housing. But at least you had the high floodlight columns to look for in those days).
Although the new Hampden has imitated the two towers of the old one, it didn’t quite live up to my – admittedly very high – expectations. It didn’t seem fearsome or awesome. Not so much different from other modern football stadiums. And in fact, inside the ground, it almost seems “nice”. Of course, I wasn’t there on a match day. Later in the evening, I went to Celtic Park, where Celtic was playing Barcelona – and there I found some of the fearsomeness, I missed at Hampden. Perhaps it was the crowd that made the difference.
The football museum inside the stadium is owned and run by the Scottish Football Association. The museum is a source of pride to the SFA, a place to show visitors the proud and impressive tradition of Scottish football. And the evidence for this is almost overwhelming.
The exhibition is devided in chronological sections:
- 1867-1902 when football developed from a hobby of gentlemen to the most popular team sport
- 1903-45 – when football became a passion
- 1945-66 – the golden age of Scottish football
- 1967-79 –new pressures with international competitions, economic challenges, nationalism and hooliganism
- 1980-now – the modern game with a changing image
The chronological display is followed by small thematic sections on Scots abroad and in England, football games, memory lane (a huge selection of photographer Charlie McBain’s 3.000 photos),and juniors – sections that go across the chronological divisions. Finally the exhibition is rounded off by the SFA’s Hall of Fame.
Each of the chronological sections carries a wealth of stories. There is no fixed pattern, but generally the sections cover the way the game was played (rules and equipment), the fortunes of the national side, the developing domestic club rivalries (and the league structure), the consumption and the economics of the game, along with descriptions of dramatic events such as the Ibrox stadium disaster in 1902, the Hampden Riot 1909, the Ibrox disaster 1971, trouble in Barcelona 1972 etc.
The sections are very thorough in their presentations and try to put events and trends in historical perspective. For instance, in the first section the Irish Catholic origins of several clubs are described and the battle over professionalism, and in the second section, the role of football during WWI and the depression are described.
It is very much the script – the written story – that dictates the rhythm of the exhibition. Objects, graphics, and dioramas serve to illustrate it. In the first section, figures clad in 19th century clothes peep through a hole in a wooden fence to follow an international between Scotland and England – and entering the second section you pass through a gate and turnstyle from the old Hampden and are met by a slope with a crowd on the top
In other sections, you can see kids playing tanner ball, and quite originally, Archie Gemmil’s route through the Dutch defence in the World Cup match 1978 is marked in the green carpet – and Dutch defenders are standing there as statues.
The dioramas are supplemented by showcases, filled with objects relating to the storyline. In some showcases, the objects are mainly letters, in others cups, caps and badges. In some instances, the texts work well with the objects, for instance the explanation of the tradition of awarding caps in the showcase on players’ kits, which is dominated by caps. But the distance between text and content can also be quite big. For instance, the text on the transition of the game from amateur to professionalism in the 1880’s does not really tell a story of the displayed objects. There are some tickets, a tiepin, the Queens Park chain of office, a scrapbook and medals and a couple of caps.
In other showcases there is a relation between the objects and the theme. In the showcase on Scottish clubs in European competitions in the 1960’s, there are several programmes on display. The labels don’t tell about the programmes, however. They tell about the matches. The objects serve just as hooks, on which to put the story of the matches, which are the real ‘objects’ on display. The programmes could be replaced by tickets or something else match related with hardly any difference.
Most objects seem to be displayed in this way, basically as a link to a significant event or trend. In this way, the museum is quite traditional, and if you don’t follow the story line of the text, the showcases tend to become monotonous with small variations over the same theme of a selection shirts, programmes, tickets – with the odd outstanding object thrown in.
Some of these, however, are really outstanding. The centre spot from Wembley 1977, torn up by the invading Scottish supporters, for instance – or the Fabergé George Best and Jimmy Johnstone golden eggs. Or the Scottish cup – the oldest national trophy in the world.
Others are perhaps not spectacular, but add variation to the standard ingredients. A floodlight lamp from Dunfermeline’ s East End Park from the 1960’s, a crush barrier from Hampden Park, an invalid car, representation gifts from international matches in the shape of a Don Quixote statue from Spain 1957 and an Italian footballer giving a fascist salute from 1931, and a Dundee Christmas Card from the 1950’s. But you have to look hard to find most of them.
In the final thematic sessions, some of the showcases, however, differ radically with all the present Scottish Premier League shirts in one showcase, and football games from various decades in another. And it is rounded up by the Scottish FA’s Hall of Fame. Here the visiual power of the showcases clearly correspond with the presented story, making it much more easily accessible.
Altogether, there is plenty of exciting stuff to see in the exhibition as well as a lot of information and knowledge to pick up; and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I am, however, not sure that my family would have enjoyed it, if I had brought them. If a visitor doesn’t follow the text driven story line, it may be difficult to find out what to focus on in the many showcases. Obvious object driven stories like the development of equipment such as boots, balls and shirts have to be pieced together by the visitor across several sections and showcases. Points about the changes in fans’ consumption of football are equally difficult to piece together. It is not that a football museum has to do that, but such thematic showcases that make comparisons obvious are more appealing to visitors, who are predominantly visual. At the same time, the storyline is extremely complex. Separate, focused exhibtions on the national team, on Scottish league football, etc. would probably have made it more accessible (I am thinking of the Wolves museums as a good example of a well-working storyline based exhibition). There are not many interactive ingredients either, making the exhibition overall very traditional. The dioramas go some way in making up for it, but compared to more modern interactive elements in other museums, they underline a “static” impression of a classic museum exhibition, albeit a good one.
You sense that the exhibition works brilliantly for the SFA, whenever they have official visitors from other countries to show around Hampden; or for settings such as inaugurations to the Hall of Fame. But it does not really have the playfulness of, say, the English museum. Some of this, of course, has to do with the English museum being able to invest heavily in interactive installations. But I think that the story line dependence vis-à-vis the pure thematic approach at the English museum is just as telling a factor.
Favourite object: Well, I must admit that the George Best golden egg ought to take the prize. Who would have expected to find that in a Scottish football museum? But if we look at the Scottish objects, it goes down to a battle between the Wembley centre spot, the crush barrier – and the Italian fascist sculpture. And perhaps the last one should take it for its ability to link football to a wider historical context.
Character: I think I will go for current Scotland captain, Darren Fletcher. He is not the crowd-pleasing, flash individual; no fancy tricks on or off the pitch. It is not that the young kids fight to be Darren Fletcher when they play in the school yard. But to older people like me, it is always reassuring to see his name on the team sheet. To have a solid player with a tremendous work rate, intelligent positioning, total commitment. One for the few to talk knowingly about, while all the youngsters drool over the Ronaldos and Messis of this world. In other words a must for the connoisseur. As for the football interested kids, it will beat most museum experiences hands down; but it will still feel like a “museum”.