The beauty of the Fans Museum: “One of a kind”

Written by on 6th May 2022

“The Fans Museum really is a hub for the community,” says Andy Parkin, the facilities manager for the organisation.

He added: “From Nick Sharkey’s match ball to the Darren Bent beach ball,” there’s something there for everyone to “reminisce” about.

Comparing it to the great teams across the world, Michael Ganley, the founder and director of the Fans Museum said: “It’s one of a kind. Barcelona and Manchester United have awards galore, but they haven’t created what I have in Sunderland.”

While the Fans Museum may not hold the most illustrious silverware, it does showcase some unforgettable memorabilia from not only the Sunderland team but also from great sides to have played at the Stadium of Light.

Shirts worn by legends, such as Ronaldo, can be seen hanging on the wall. There is also a dedicated section for the national team – displaying retro strips and photos of notorious England moments.

Proud over what he’s built, Michael revealed the away fans in particular, “are always blown away, and are in disbelief when they see items from their club’s history on display.”

With the museum’s revenue determined by customer footfall, it’s good for the business when away fans “go back home and share their experience with family and other fans of that club,” Michael said.

However, while for most museums, the items on display may be the biggest part of the organisation, for Michael and Andy, the Fans Museum’s outreach work is also of incredible importance.

They travel across different regions to help schools, hospitals and people in care, and they bring some of their memorabilia with them to impress the locals.

Andy said: “We recently supported a children’s cancer charity in North Yorkshire. It was great to be back out there in the community and see so many families trying on the famous shirts from the collection. That’s what we’ve missed.

“Before lockdown, we would often be on the road to support a local charity with our memorabilia.”

Setting up the organisation nine years ago, Michael’s vision, as he expressed solemnly, is always “to do what we can to support others.”

The Covid pandemic sunk the UK economy into one of the worse recessions ever recorded. Unfortunately, the Fans Museum fell victim to that.

Speaking about lockdown, Michael despondently said: “All aspects of income was lost. We’ve tried to be self-sustaining from day one, but we rely on our home match experience to support our financial commitments.”

Even if the Fans Museum could have remained open during the lockdown, football fans were unable to attend games until restrictions were eased.

Despite this, Michael still ran the outreach part of the museum, saying: “It didn’t deter me from keeping the purpose of why I created the museum.”

Although Andy admitted “lockdown was a struggle,” because of the “uncertainty”, he shared Michael’s mentality, saying: “One thing that was certain, the museum wasn’t going to be stopped; from helping others.”

Fans museum doing charity work during Covid credit: Fans Museum

Remembering the work they done, Michael said: “We arranged a 15 week delivery of hot food to those in isolation and care. We also delivered school meals and art packs.”

With no revenue being generated, Michael revealed that their “outreach work was self-financed” – at least initially. But, they got “a small grant” towards the end of lockdown, which was “appreciated”.

Now that restrictions have been lifted, it’s business as usual again. On the reopening of the Fans Museum, Michael said: “We are gradually getting bigger day to day footfall.

“We’re open five to six days a week. It will come back eventually. As for our matchday experience, that is growing amazingly.”

Michael is incredibly proud of the “amazing matchday experience” they provide for all the fans who visit.

Looking around the museum on a matchday, Andy sees people from all over the region and even; further afield coming together to watch a football game.

“As a football fan, it makes me happy”, he said. “Some people don’t even go to the game, they visit the museum on a match day just to take in the atmosphere.”

Away fans enjoying the Fans Museum Credit: Fans Museum

With Sunderland chasing Championship promotion, every match is more important than the last. The tension amongst the fans is palpable.

Andy said: “There’s a buzz around the area at the moment. Hopefully, the team can get a promotion this year.”

Michael, a Sunderland fan who has been there for the highs and lows, is still dreaming of a return to topflight football someday, saying: “It would be magnificent if the club can gain promotions. Our fans deserve Premier League football.”

Michael understands that if Sunderland could play against larger clubs, then the museum would benefit financially, because more fans would want to watch, and they would attract bigger away fanbases.

Once these larger supporter groups see the Fans Museum’s work, Michael said: “It would raise awareness of what we do, nationally.”

Thinking for the long term, he disclosed that raising awareness for the Fans museum is what his “intentions are”.

Whether Sunderland manage to achieve promotion or not, the Fans Museum next to the ground is truly “one of a kind”.

Through the pandemic, it still operated where it could. Even if they had to “self-finance” their charity work, nothing was going to stop them from helping people in need, and cheering them up in what was the loneliest time this generation has ever seen.

While the Fans museum may not house the most incredible medals and trophies, they house some unforgettable memorabilia.

The establishment deserves to be recognised and celebrated from football fans everywhere.

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