Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Goal to Establish a Welsh Football Museum in Wrexham

Ten points to whoever can spot me in the crowd! Although I may be just to the left of the frame in which case, oh well!
This time of year no matter where you are in Wales it's difficult to ignore the saturation of the Six Nations in this country. Despite the disappointing opening draw against Ireland I and many other Welsh people are still excited for the rest of the tournament. However, growing up in the north-east of the country one sport was clearly linked to the culture of the area, and that sport was not rugby, but football. I still remember going to a lot of matches with my grandfather (my Taid) at the Racecourse, perhaps the most memorable moment was being part of a packed Kop to see Wrexham defeat Boston 3-1 in 2008 to remain in the Football League. I have since drifted further away from football, with it perhaps being my fourth or fifth favourite sport. Nevertheless football means a massive amount to the local community, and the fact that Wrexham Football Club is now owned by the fans is testament to that.

Due to the excitement for the Six Nations reaching fever pitch it may have been easy to gloss over the recent campaigns and debates in the Assembly. However, if you are from the Wrexham area or are a keen follower of Welsh football you may have already guessed the purpose of this post (otherwise, you may have just read the title!). But incase you're unaware a campaign has recently been launched to establish a Welsh national football museum in Wrexham. Plaid Cymru has called for this museum to be established by National Museum Wales in the town to pay tribute to the areas footballing heritage. It would also help even out the geographical imbalance of the National Museum's current locations, as can bee seen on the map below. 

"there is a trend, particularly in south Wales but also, perhaps, in the north-west, to consider the north-east as being a separate part of Wales, or even as an add-on to Merseyside, rather than being a central part of the Welsh nation" - John Davies
Except for maybe the coal industry (which is already taken by Blaenavon anyway) football is probably the thing which is most associated with the modern history of Wrexham and it's surrounding villages. The Football Association of Wales (FAW) was founded as the Cambrian Football Association in 1876 in the town, and it was formaly renamed to the FAW in nearby Ruabon just a few months later. Wrexham is one of the oldest football teams in the world and the oldest outside of England. It has long been the heartland of the game in Wales, I can't find the quote but I remember reading the Welsh team had to play dozens of "cenhadu" (essentially preaching or proselytizing) matches in Cardiff and Swansea for the game to truly take off in south Wales. Cardiff City wasn't formed until the turn of the century, a long time after the game was firmly established in the north-east. 

Football can also be viewed as a pioneer in the establishment of Welsh national institutions. The FAW was founded only shortly after the first university in Wales, and Wales had a national representative football side before most of Wales' modern institutions. It was also the first Welsh governing body of a sport, beating the WRU by five years. The FAW even beats out the National Museum itself by about thirty years, showing just how much the north-east has contributed to the national institutions and identity of the Welsh nation. Yet, as can be clearly seen, the north-east does not have one of the national museum sites. In fact, it would take more than an hour for someone living in Wrexham to visit the nearest one, the slate museum in Llanberis.

Wrexham County Borough Museum is a small museum which can have much of interest. It has twice recently housed the Mold Cape, and during the summer there was an Egyptian exhibition. Permanently, it houses an interesting exhibition on Brymbo Man and within is housed the cist where Brymbo Man was buried. There are also other locations such as Brymbo Ironworks and Minera Lead Mines which have exhibitions owing to the heritage of the area. However, despite football's links to Wrexham's culture little exists to cover its heritage. The most I can remember is the exhibition on John Charles which was hosted in Wrexham Museum over a decade ago. This campaign for the National Museum to open a site dedicated to Welsh football in Wrexham would fill in the sizeable gap in the locations of the National Museum in the north-east and would pay tribute to the area's footballing history.

By building a museum in Wrexham it would be close enough to the (English) National Football Museum in Manchester for people to quite easily visit both within hours of each other. Within less than a year of opening the English Football Museum took in over 350,000 visitors. The museum in Manchester has dozens of exhibitions over several floors, a national football museum in Wales would most likely be a much more modest operation, but the potential exists for hundreds of thousands of people to visit the museum every year.

In a recent short debate in the Assembly, it was clear there is cross-party support for the idea with Plaid Cymru's Llŷr Gruffydd, the Conservatives' Mark Isherwood and the Liberal Democrats' Aled Roberts, who is a member of the Wrexham supporters trust, all speaking on behalf of the idea. The Deputy Culture, Sport and Tourism Minister Ken Skates made clear that funding for redevelpoment of St Fagans would be prioritised when it comes to funding for the National Museum, although once this is completed a museum in Wrexham would be an idea to be explored. 

Could a version of the incomplete Wrexham Village project be revived to house a museum in a redeveloped Racecourse Ground? 
A possibility as to where to construct the museum could be borrowed from the Scottish Football Museum, which is located in Hampden Park. The Racecourse's Kop has been due for redevelopment for some time with the stand currently remaining derelict. The Kop requires redevelopment if Wrexham is to host international football or rugby union matches again, and for Wrexham and North Wales Crusaders to have any ambition of competing at higher levels consistently. The owners Glyndŵr Universty are keen to enter talks with the Welsh Government on the issue, with the First Minister not ruling out supporting the project with public money. The Welsh Conservatives have recently called for a trial of safe standing in Welsh football grounds, meaning the Kop could keep some of its charm as well.

A Welsh football museum being built into the stand as part of the redevelopment could mean a large number of people visiting the attraction on matchdays. However, a potential stumbling block exists in the fact that the land immediatley behind the stand has been put up for sale and there is interest from "developers unsympathetic to the club's interests". It could be an interesting opportunity to create a football museum in a redeveloped Kop as it would also benefit the town by modernising the oldest international football staidum in the world as well as creating a tourist attraction crediting the areas links to the history of Welsh football. 

picture credits
Markbarnes, Wikipedia
Google Maps
Wrexham Village proposals, Wikipedia