The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum.
The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum.

Rethinking the football museum

A museum should not just be a place to display objects, but a room for discussion and dialogue.

Bente Verseput
Bente Verseput Reinwardt Academy

In late 2021, Football Makes History partnered with the Reinwardt Academy – a school for heritage professionals – to organise an elective course in the academy’s Bachelors programme. In this course, students were asked to explore the world of football heritage and reflect on how it can enable societal change. The article which follows is written by one of the students.

The Football Museum

The football museum. When you hear these words, what is the first thing that pops up into your head? Keep this in mind while you read the article.

When I visited the museum of Ajax Amsterdam last September, I was left with more questions than answers. When I stepped into the museum I stepped into a sleek, glorified version of the history of the football club. I couldn’t match it with the energy I saw on the stands or the everlasting discussions I would see in the media. My colleagues, my relatives, and friends could discuss football forever.

Where was the room to discuss and talk to each other in the museum? Where was the football fan in this museum? I thought to myself, a museum should not just be a place to display objects, but a room for discussion and dialogue.

The visit to the Ajax Museum had planted a seed. This year, I had to write my thesis for my bachelors on cultural heritage. I started writing down ideas and soon realised that I wanted to do something with football museums. Inspired by the ideas of participation pioneer Nina Simon I went looking for the football museum of the supporter. In that search I encountered Eintracht Frankfurt, where I spoke to Frauke König.

Participation, representation and Nina Simon

Nina Simon is a writer, educator, curator and former museum director. She has written two books, The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance. Both works focus on reaching the visitor on his/her terms. Ideas like, “how can we build new doors for new visitors to come to our museum”, are the main focus in these books.

Simon is also part of the initiative OF/BY/FOR/ALL. They describe themselves as:

OF/BY/FOR ALL is a non-profit organisation that provides digital tools to help public institutions matter more to more people. We support a global community of action-oriented teams at libraries, theatres, museums, parks, and cultural centres, all working to become more inclusive, equitable, and relevant to their communities.

If you want to know more about Nina Simon’s work and backstory you can watch one of her informative talks here.

Exploring Football Museums in The Netherlands

For my thesis I started conducting research in The Netherlands. I approached supporters’ unions from football clubs who had museums at/near their stadiums. Some were willing to talk to me, others never replied.

During my research, I had some very meaningful and enlightening conversations with representatives of supporter’s unions. Some were very disappointed in what their museum had to offer, others couldn’t stop talking about how great their museum was. The culture of remembrance is very big in these communities.

Important historical moments of the club’s history play a big part in these museums. Sometimes they are glorified, sometimes they are given a bit more social and/or historical context.

The Roda JC Museum – a museum with a heart

A very special visit to me was the visit to the museum of Roda JC, a second divisionist from Kerkrade, in the south of The Netherlands. Their museum is fully run by two volunteers who have a passion for collecting stuff related to their big love, Roda JC.

What started as a museum dedicated to (Roda JC) football shirts has now turned into a full club museum in a small shopping centre in the middle of Kerkrade. Besides shirts and prizes there also was a small section of the museum dedicated to the recently deceased founder of the supporter’s union, Henk Bakker. In this corner there were some images of him and a beautifully crafted banner with his image and some text that read “The Godfather”. A place of remembrance for someone who was not a player, or someone being directly paid by the football club, is something I had not seen before. This place was truly of supporters, by supporters. Of course, it wasn’t the most professionalised museum, where light measures were monitored and every object was registered in a system, but this museum had a heart. You could feel that heartbeat when you walked around in the museum and talked to the volunteers who were in charge of the museum.

The Case of the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum

What I had seen at Roda JC was great, but I wanted to get to know a more professional football museum that also valued their fans and visitors. The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum had just won a prize, the Julius Hirsch prize. This price is an initiative of the DFB. With this prize, they honour people and organisations who use their social position in a special way to stand up for freedom, tolerance and humanity. The price is named after Julius Hirsch, a Jewish player who played for Karlsruhe FV and was killed in the holocaust. You can read more about the life of Hirsch in our website. Since 2005, the DFB has awarded this prize every year.

The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum received the main award of this year’s Julius Hirsch Prize for its commitment to the culture of remembrance and future work that they do on Monday evenings. If you want to see more of Eintracht Frankfurt receiving the price, you can watch a short video on their website here.

A Creative Football Museum

At the end of December I spoke with Frauke König, education and projects at the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum. At the museum, she creates workshops and offers pedagogical programmes.

The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum was founded in 2007, because of a movement of the fans. In the interview, Frauke tells me: “Supporters wanted a room to meet, for events, but also a room for the big cups the club has won and to see the history of the club. In 2005 our stadium was rebuilt, due to the upcoming world cup in Germany. In the stadium, there were now places where a museum could be organised. There wasn’t such a place before. We got about 400 m2 for the museum to be built in. Not too big, but it was possible to create an exhibition with the cups and the history of the club in there. This was made possible by the supporters, who really wanted this museum and talked to the heads of the club multiple times.”

An Inclusive Football Museum

Another interesting fact that came up in the interview, was the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum as a neutral place. During my time at the Reinwardt Academy, I have learned that a museum is never a neutral place. There is always someone’s perspective that you are seeing through exhibitions at the museum.

Frauke told me the following about the museum as a neutral place:

Even though we are the museum of Eintracht Frankfurt, we can be seen as a neutral place.

Neutral because when supporters are in our museum, they can engage in discussions with us if they don’t agree with something. We are open for everybody, not just the Eintracht Frankfurt supporters. That’s very important to us. We even welcome away supporters on away days. For example, when we play against Mainz. All the Mainz supporters can come to see the exhibition before kick-off and meet with supporters from Eintracht Frankfurt.

An example is our ‘Waldtribüne’, it’s a program that’s placed on a little stage in front of the museum. It takes place on home-days. During this program we have short interviews with away supporters or heads of the away club. For us it’s important to show that we are not only rivals. We like to say that we are friends before and after the kick-off, during the 90 minutes everyone must shout for his own club. This is something that we want to show: “that we are open for everybody.”

Imagine being able not only to connect with fans from your own club, but also fans from your ‘rivals’. An initiative like this opens a whole new perspective on football museums. It’s no secret that some football fans are not only fanatics in the stadium, but also outside of the stadium. Hooliganism and other terms given to violence caused by supporters are no stranger to news headlines. What if a football museum could function as a place to let supporters from rival teams meet in peace? With their Waldtribüne, the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum is accomplishing this.

The Football Museum as Living Heritage

Another ‘issue’ I detected during my research is that, after fans visit the museum, they never return for another visit. Most football museums stay the same for years, only changing when the club wins a new prize or when the museum gets a remodel. At the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum, they have returning visitors. That’s because of a few factor.

The museum is open 2 hours before kick-off, a time when a lot of supporters are around and in the stadium. At the museum they also serve drinks, another reason for supporters to go there. Inside the museum, there is a ‘regulars’’ table. Frauke tells me about this table:

We have a small group, 8 or 10 people, who have been supporters of the club for a long time. They meet at the regular’s table. They have a certain table at the museum where they reside, the 2 hours before the kick-off. They discuss the news about the club, the upcoming match and all sorts of things. They come to every match, they are very important to us.

In a way these regulars could be seen as living heritage of the club. They usually know a lot about the club’s history and have been the biggest supporters for a long time. With a museum as a place for them to meet, they add to the value of that museum. Turning it from a static place into a more dynamic one. Where people can meet and share stories.

A space for life long learning

The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum also organises a lot of educational activities for students of all ages. Frauke works on these projects and does tours for these kids:

For the older students, we offer workshops where we dive into the time of nationalism. We can connect this to the history of the club. A lot of clubs that were founded in the 1900’s, have a history in the time of nationalism. You can reach the students with the topic of football and open the door to talk about nationalism.We have another workshop we call ‘Weltauswahl Eintracht’. We look at team photos with the students. When you look at a team photo, you see players from all over the world. You see a player from Japan, France, South America. All of them have a different background and their own history. This is an example of diversity in society, seen through a football team.

The museum also welcomes students from kindergarten:

The kids want to see the stadium and are sometimes less interested in the museum. What we do to get them interested is, for example, give them an old football boot. If they see and feel how heavy this boot is and we explain that these were the shoes that football players used to play in, they are very impressed. The ball from this time was made of leather and was also very heavy. Leather takes up the water, so it gets heavier. When you are telling this story, you can see their big eyes. They learn that a museum is not only about old and uninteresting stuff.

Besides students, the museum also welcomes older people. Once a month, the museum organises a themed event, sometimes even with guest speakers. Like a former player that is about the age of the visitors. Frauke tells me that the elderly know a lot about this time, so they are very interested.

It is interesting to see how the museum programs not only for supporters, but for all age groups. In this way, they welcome the visitors on their terms with something that they are interested in.

Who is in charge of the Football Museum?

But what would happen if you would give supporters the opportunity to fill an exhibition on their own? A few years ago, the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum did just that. Frauke tells me:

Some years ago, we had a special exhibition that showed only objects from supporters. For example, there was a small teddy bear on display from one of the supporters. It was always in the pocket of his jacket during matches, it was his lucky charm. He gave it to us to put on display during this exhibit. We also had a self-made flag on display.

At the end of the interview, I asked Frauke if there were things missing from the museum, like objects or stories perhaps. She told me that what was missing was for everyone to participate in the museum, for everyone to leave their story.

Even in a football museum as great as The Eintracht Frankfurt Museum, there is still room for more participation and representation of the supporter/visitor.

Looking back and looking forward

The football museum. When I ask you to tell me the first thing that pops up into your head, is it still the same you had in mind when you started reading this article?

At Football Makes History we are convinced that football museums play a crucial role in the social, and cultural fabric of everyday life. We are very curious to learn more about football museums anywhere in the world who succeed in building and connecting heritage communities in inclusive, democratic and engaging ways. Share your story with us!

Heritage studies has not engaged much with the world of football, but some football museums are quickly becoming places for social work and education.

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