"Any fan entering this incredible place - situated at Deepdale, home of Preston North End - will be in heaven"

Any fan entering this incredible place - situated at Deepdale, home of Preston North End - will be in heaven. It may be set to change in the future following a partnership deal with Manchester City Council, which will see a museum open in the neighbouring city, but right now there's an awful lot to see in Preston. There's the actual ball from the 1966 World Cup Final. There's Maradona's actual shirt from the Hand of God game, George Best's actual European Footballer of the Year trophy... the oldest ever FA Cup... the oldest kit, and pretty much anything else you could possibly imagine. Opened in 2001 at a cost of £15m, this place is Disney World, Graceland and the British Museum rolled into one for lovers of the beautiful game.

Like the game itself, the museum is made up of two halves. On the ground floor, the First Half Gallery traces the history of world football through old photographs, works of art and objects. Taking in the game's origins (did you know the Japanese played a form of the sport, called Kemari, more than 2,000 years ago?), we learn how the English Football Association codified the rules, thus 'inventing' football, and then exported it around the globe.

There's the fascinating story of the first black player in the English league (Arthur Wharton, who turned out for Preston during the 1880s), the women's team that attracted a 53,000 crowd in 1921, and the man who, in 1961, helped the players of today command their huge salaries. 'The great thing about the museum is that different people get different things out of it,' says Collections Officer Peter Holme. 'Big football fans seem impressed by the main gallery with all the history. It's very well designed and you feel like you're going back in time. But people who aren't so fanatical still find something to enjoy - the artwork, ceramics, cartoons, old photographs...'

Everywhere you look there are priceless artefacts. The museum holds the finest and most significant collection of FIFA memorabilia in the world. Remember Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, who played the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck? His neck brace is on display. There's the shirt of Arnold Kirke Smith, who played in the first ever international game for England against Scotland in 1872. Sweet memories of David Beckham scoring against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup? Here's the ball he did it with.

Moving up to the Second Half gallery upstairs, visitors enter a hands-on (and feet-on), interactive otherworld. You can become a guest panellist on Match of the Day with Gary Lineker, thanks to a clever TV exhibit. You can edit together your favourite clips of European football and share it on screen. Or you can take penalties against a computerised goalkeeper in the fun Goalstriker.

'We also do a lot of education work,' says Peter, 'with video links to schools all over the country. We cover all elements of football - ladies, lower leagues, amateur. We try to give an unbiased view of the whole game.'

The technology may be cutting edge, but the venue really smacks of history, too. They've been kicking a ball around here since 1878: Deepdale is the oldest league ground
in the world, and the North West is Britain's true football hotbed. Teams from this region have won the league 54 times: the rest of the country has managed just
56 put together.

There are currently eight sides in the Premiership from within the borders of old Lancashire (including Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United), and Preston's name deserves to rank alongside them: North End won the inaugural Football League title in 1889. No wonder there's a gallery dedicated to them with a viewing platform into the historic ground.

Oh, and we've left the best bit until last: it's free to get in. If you're a fan, a pilgrimage here is a must.

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nationalfootballmuseum.co.uk 01772 908442

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