Behind the Scenes at the Football Museum

Meeting the Gub

You might think that there is no link here, but life is strange and I got to meet the Govanhill Gub (and his dad). I was going on my merry way, doing a bit of the old curating, when someone pointed out that I was the subject of a post on Follow Follow. You young pups who think made-up nonsense only started on social media in recent years - you don’t know you’re born.

It seems that I had been running round the Museum wearing my ‘Celtic 6 Rangers 2’ t-shirt (‘The Cry was No Defenders’). Some people do like jumping to conclusions. With a name like Gerard O’Brien, you don’t need to make too wild a guess, as to my footballing allegiances. I could only be more of an emerald stereotype, if I changed my name to Balaclava Armalite O’Fenian.

The allegation had supposedly come from a piece in Follow Follow. I laughed - for a little bit. It had the potential for getting dangerous. The object of their anger was actually in a case about modern fans - with other memorabilia - like a t-shirt ‘The Future’s Bright - the Future’s Orange’ and a ‘Tartan Army’ shirt.

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The idea that the Director of a national museum would take something out of a case and dance around, wearing it, was clearly not beyond the fevered imagination of some people. An immediate sacking would have been called for - due to gross indiscipline. As a trained curator, people used laugh when I took out my white gloves, to handle some family heirloom that had been pawed for a century. Jeezo - I start hyperventilating when I see an old shirt pressed into a picture frame. A few complaints about me, came in - all from Cumbernauld. I don’t know either...

Still - this small outbreak of mentalness had to be nipped in the bud. I found out Mark Dingwall’s email address. Via Mark, I got the Gub into the Museum, for a chat. His dad came along, too. He was one of the Rangers fans, who was old enough to remember when Rangers called Celtic ‘huns’. He was quite put out, that the boot was then on the other foot. It’s a funny old game, Tim.

The Gub wrote a piece in the FF magazine. It was quite even handed, whilst explaining that he and I would disagree on most topics. That is fine. In real life, he was not all like the person who could call me a reptile. Hey - we all have times when we use hyperbole. I tell kids that if they don’t do my homework, I’ll have them tied to a lamp post in George Square, so that totey weans can poke them with sticks and make unkind remarks about their hairstyles. That has no effect, either.

At least I was able to right a wrong. My antagonists were known and I could talk it out. It transpired that my antagonists were actually not really different from me. Sound and fury... When the Gub met me, he will have been smart enough to realise that I was just a guy who loved football as much as he did. I just worshipped, at a different shrine. I realise that this could be false memory syndrome, but I am sure the Gub wrote a warning piece in FF about the unknown origin of Murray’s money. The idea that Rangers’ seeming financial dominance over Celtic might not be a good thing. Mid 1990s?

I realise that problem solving with social media is no longer possible, in the same way. It is why I studiously stick to 19
th century football, on my Twitter account. I suppose you can get raging about my comments on the offside law or Charles Alcock (Liar Extraordinaire). If so, you have problems, that no meeting with me, will ever amend.

NB: I have misplaced the two relevant copies of FF. If anyone can help me out with an image, for my archives, I would be much obliged.

Jim Farry 1st Meeting

My first meeting with Jim Farry, was in the company of Ernie Walker. One was outgoing Secretary of the SFA. One was incoming. The stability of the job meant that I was chatting to only the fourth and fifth holders of the post, since JK McDowall, in 1882. He is the man I regard as the first ‘professional’ secretary.

This would be in the summer of 1990. I had come up to Scotland, again, to discuss the work I had been doing. Ernie was still in the Secretary’s chair, but he was moving on to FIFA. He was leaving Jim Farry with the task of steering football through, what would be, a challenging decade. Jim had been the League’s youngest secretary. The SFL operated out of offices, round the corner from Blythswood Square.

I recall my first meeting with Jim Farry as SFA Secretary, in 1992. I told him how I would approach the issues of a) finding a site for the Museum; b) finding the money for a Museum; c) finding the content; d) working out how to build the idea of a proper national football museum. He listened intently and basically allowed me to get on with it.

In this respect, I felt like a chaplain in the army. I was in the SFA camp - but not part of it. I took my instructions from a higher power. The SFA staff were keen to help me, but I had no rank within their organisation. A unique situation for a unique project.

Coming from teaching, it was also disconcerting to find that someone assumed you were competent - and proceeded from there. As a teacher, I was used to people assuming I was responsible for everything from the hole in the ozone layer to the disappearance of dogs’ white jobbies.

Jim Farry’s name normally proves very strong emotions: mostly of a negative nature. He appears generally in sentences including the word ‘Cadete’. If he did knowingly hold up Cadete’s registration, then he did not tell me.

I would sometimes call in, to see him, at the end of the day. Sat at his impressive double-sided desk, we would talk about footballing issues. The room was extremely large and had a big bay window, which looked to the south. It allowed him to walk and talk. High in his stone redoubt, Jim Farry governed Scottish Football in a personal manner. If anything, he was equally sceptical of all clubs and their attempts to influence the way football ran.

Farry tried to be even handed, even though his initial decisions might not have seemed that way. Football people knew that a decision might not play out for decades. This was a fact which was both useful and terrible.

His way of talking, in interviews, was deliberately long-winded and byzantine. This was purely to make everyone think he was a windbag who knew nothing. And do not go for the ‘humble secretary’ gambit, either. He was sharp and on the ball at all times.

The SFA was a strange beast. Its way of working had been laid down in the decade after 1873 - a time when everyone played the game, for the game’s sake. 1893 and Scottish Professionalism smashed that culture into pieces - yet the SFA continued on its increasingly archaic way.

How did the SFA continue? Through the big character of the Secretary, who increasingly ran the game in an authoritarian manner. Understandable. As clubs became professional and latterly, limited companies, they operated to the rules of capitalism. Their shareholders were king. Imagine trying to run a membership organisation, where any decision had to be scrutinised to see if it benefitted [fill in name of evil club down the road, run by scoundrels, who existed only to cheat you out of what was rightfully yours].

Jim Farry had one particular way of working. If an opinionated, free-thinking, club representative; somehow managed to make it onto a committee, he used his trump card. As Secretary, he would schedule meetings at different times, in the knowledge that said member would have to send his apologies, at least once. Then, when said member brought up an issue at the following meeting, the bold Jim could say that it had been debated in detail and, by implication, the annoying rep. was not sufficiently informed to comment.

One time, when we were having an evening chat, he got animated on the subject of the ‘big’ clubs wanting to break away, to form a Premier League. As I walked out the door, he said that he would put Stenhousemuir into the European Cup. Many people did not realise that the entrants were recommended by the national association. Everyone knew that an SPL would harm many clubs - and so it proved.

The strong secretary was a good answer to a bad problem. A problem, which should have been solved, in the 1900s. The situation continued until the Cadete issue gave certain people the chance to remove Jim Farry and replace the all-powerful secretary with a method of governance, which gave clubs the power they craved.

I respected Jim Farry and he, me. We had similar outlooks on football. The Cadete incident is proof that clever people sometimes do inexplicable things, that even they might have struggled to explain.


My desire to build a football museum goes back a long way. I remember discussing my ideas in 1986, when I made a small film for the BBC on their policy regarding racist chanting heard during Match of the Day. I will write the occasional blog, detailing things I remember in the setting ups and running of the Museum. The Scottish Football Association Museum Trust, to give it its Sunday best name.

The Feasibility Study

In 1986, I was doing my Museum Studies postgraduate diploma at Manchester University. This led me to another museum foundational character. I met and befriended Julian Spalding. At the time, he was Director of Manchester Museums. He eventually became Director of Glasgow Museums. When Glasgow City Council and the SFA, under Ernie Walker, considered the issue of a Museum, they came to him for advice. Julian pointed them in my direction.

I was a museum curator and football fan. I had been a recent Chairperson of the Greater Manchester Branch of the Football Supporters’ Association and I was President of the Association of Sports Historians. The right person, with the right credentials, in a Museum area, which did not - yet - exist.
There had been places which were football museums. It is not a protected term. Hang a picture in your house and call yourself a museum. Who cares? I did. If this museum was going to become a reality, it would be run by museum professionals, to museum standards.

In 1990, I came up to Scotland, to prepare a feasibility study. Manchester United had a museum, (run by Mark Wylie: a Saint Johnstone fan). Apart from that, it was thin gruel. I did the rounds of football clubs, getting their support. I was teamed up with John Sunderland, who had designed the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. This was a ‘Heritage’ experience and it was extremely successful.

John’s job was to come up with the design idea, based on my knowledge. I sat in his house for two days. I talked into his tape recorder, about how the Museum should look. When I saw the visuals for the final study, the Museum had turned into a soccerfootyfestathon. I must have been rubbish at explaining myself...

John and I were coming at it from two different ends of the telescope. He wanted something like Jorvik. I wanted something to preserve and protect the football heritage of Scotland.

BTW, in writing this, I checked that Mark Wylie was still at Manchester United and so he is. I also noted that the Museum is now part of a whole package. Entry starts at £25 for an adult. Kinnell, ref!
The Feasibility Study was published in late 1990 and a committee was formed involving the City, the SFA, Glasgow Development Agency, Tourism, Strathclyde European Partnership and God knows who else. It became an end in itself. Meetings about meetings to push forward the agenda for the meetings.
I watched, from my Midlands fastness of Nottingham and waited. In the end, Julian Spalding got tired of it and short-circuited the whole thing. He did a deal with the SFA and the City. They ponied up the cash for my wages and a desk in an office at the Museum of Transport, Kelvin Hall.

January 1
st 1992, I left Nottingham for my new life and we were off and running.

A final thank you: I moved to Nottingham in ’88. Supply teaching was in its infancy. I could not get a museum job. I was so poor, all I could afford was to go to see the Nottingham Forest ‘A’ team. They played at lunchtime. I watched, along with the Notts council staff on their lunch. For the princely sum of free entry, I watched Brian Clough’s young team weave elegant patterns on the pitch at the City Ground. Beautiful football, from an English Scotch Professor.