Outside the Deepdale home of Preston North End, and at the entrance to The National Football Museum stands the magnificent statue of Sir Tom Finney, THE SPLASH is a bronze sculpure by Peter Hodkinson based on an award winning photograph taken of the winger crossing the ball at a rain drenched Stamford Bridge during a league game at Chelsea in 1965. It is surrounded by a water feature with fountains and is spectacular at dusk when it is lighted.
Preston North End was a founder member of the world's first Football League, and actually won the title it its's first season 1888-1889. The club has been playing at Deepdale since 1878 the oldest Football League ground still in use. The Football League opened its office in the city in 1902, moved to Lytham St. Annes, and then back to Preston. www.football-league.premiertv.co.uk
I visited the museum 4 times in 2007 showing friends around and there is always something to get excited about wondering around the exhibits under the main stand at the stadium. Upstairs you can get a view of Deepdale from the inside with a new stand under completion for the next season. Built into the colour pattern of the main stand is an outline of a head and shoulders picture of Sir Tom , nicknamed The Preston Plumber. His dad made him learn a trade and his compnay is still in operation today. He was a one club player - 433 matches for North End and 187 goals, from 1948-1960 and 76 caps and 30 goals for England. In 1952 he was offered a huge signing on fee by Palermo of Serie A, but turned it down(perhaps he didn't fancy wearing a pink jersey, the Italian club's colours). The other 2 stands have the images of Bill Shankly and Alan Kelly
In recent years all national museums in England offer free entry which certainly boosts attendances. The museum had about 110,000 visitors last year and like all museums receives subsidies. They work out at about $0.90p per vistor, comparing favourably with The Royal Armouries-a splendid museum in Leeds £25.90 per visitor, Museum of London £20.93 per visitor and Victoria and Albert Museum £13.50 pv.
Football in England and the world has had many welcome changes in the last half century, all seater stadiums, improved security, clean rest rooms, under soil heating, in stadium catering. The prices have indeed gone up. When I was a lad it cost about 5p to stand up and go to a match, even though by this time of the season the pitches were mudheaps or frozen. I remember being passed over the haeds of spectators squeezed tightly together, along with othe late coming kids to the safety of the sandy surround to the green pitch, which became 3-4 deep with children.
The National Football Museum. www.nationalfootballmuseum.com has lots of exhibits with descriptions of fans and players experiences of yesterday and the present, and includes THE FIFA COLLECTION collected as a labour of love by former journalist Harry Langton over the years. There are lots of black and white videos. My favourite is the one of Stan Matthews taking the Bolton Wanderers defence apart at the 1953 F.A. Cup Final where Blackpool came from behind to win 4-3 with a hat trick by Stan Mortensen and the winner by Bill Perry, a colored South African born player. He died recently and there is a small dedication to him in the museum entrance. Its fascinating to see some of the heavy woollen jerseys and long shorts and heavy studded boots(like I wore as a youngster), and of course the un waterproofed leather balls that were very painfull to head when soaked with mud and water. There is a section on women's football, since Preston was the home of Dick,Kerr's Ladies, named after a local armament factory that attracted huge crowds at home and abroad until The Football Association banned them from their stadiums.
Also in town is The University of Central Lancashire, which offers courses in football. www.uclan.ac.uk/sport and is home of The International Football Institute. Deepdale is a short walk from the barracks at Fulwood, where I trained as a boy soldier and home of some half decent pubs. We chose SUMNER'S on Watling Street Road run by sisters Joanne and Emma Bridge, who get much of their food nearby Honeywell Farms. We chose Steak & Ale Pie, Fish & Chips, Chicken Tikka Massala washed down with Kopperberg Paar Cider(my choice) Boddingtons, and Guinness. It was rebuilt in 1985 but prior to that opened in 1848 and was the home of the Rev. George Smith who was at the Battle of Rourke's Drift in South Africa, 1n 1879, made famous by the movie ZULU. Across the road is another football fans favourite, THE GARRISON. Both have photos, posters, plaques etc.of military history, and are popular with soldiers as well.