By Gabriella Giannachi and Will Barrett (Centre for Intermedia and Creative Technology, University of Exeter), Paul Farley and Martin Weiler (Exeter City Football Club Supporters Trust)
This article traces how researchers from Exeter University, Exeter City Supporters Trust Trustees, Exeter City Football Club Directors, and a number of volunteers transformed a cupboard into a football museum.
In 2013, while researching the development of a platform to create digital trails with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery at Exeter, we entered into a partnership with Exeter City Football Club and the Supporters Trust, initially just to test the platform, and subsequently to catalogue an existing collection of heritage located in a cupboard in the club’s head offices and in a storage space underneath a nearby staircase.
We soon realised that the Trust and Club were keen on digitising some of their collection and, in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Lab at Exeter University, we created the Grecian Archive which uses an Omeka platform hosted by the University to tell the history of the Club and Trust through a series of collections, exhibits, a timeline and an A/Z of former players, managers, and other key figures from the Club’s history.
While we were using the heritage during a series of memory workshops with the Senior Red fans group at the Cub, we realised that the oral histories associated with the heritage were crucial to understand and enhance most of the heritage on display at the Club, and that these histories needed to be collected.
So, we started to document the Senior Reds’ memories systematically through a series of individual and thematic films.
In 2016 we were awarded an HLF grant for ‘The History of St James Park’ project, which aimed to document the heritage associated to The Old Grandstand that was about to be demolished. As part of the project, we recruited a number of volunteers, both students and fans, including a number of Senior Reds, who were trained by South West Heritage Trust, making it possible to catalogue and digitise to museum standards.
As the archive became better known, it started to produce public interest and led to a number of new donations.
A separate award by the Arts and Humanities Research Council made it possible to employ world-leading football photographer and FIFA consultant Peter Robinson who photographed fans across the stadium in 2017. The HLF award allowed us to produce an exhibition of Peter’s high quality images showing the stadium from a slightly different perspective.
To engage a wide range of communities, a number of heritage gathering and celebration events were run, which allowed us to continue to collect memories associated to the heritage.
The HLF award also made it possible to crowdsource a number of images to celebrate the lives of fans and volunteers at the club. Interest in the Peter Robinson exhibition and in the crowdsourcing exercise inspired us to bid for a second HLF project, ‘The City Museum’ (2017-8), aimed at using a stadium-wide approach to the celebration of heritage at St James Park.
This second award allowed us to work towards museum accreditation and export some of the digital exhibits from the Grecian Archive to the prestigious Europeana portal. It also allowed us to celebrate the history of the Club through a series of exhibitions such as the outdoor Fans Through the Ages exhibition, which allows fans and players to identify themselves in the images to their friends and families.
The redevelopment of the Old Grandstand led to a number of historic objects being found and to the inclusion in the new Stagecoach Adam Stansfield Stand of a Hall of Fame exhibition that celebrates key individuals in the history of the Club.
The same stand also showcases a chronology illustrating key moments in the history of the Club through a series of displays that use digitised images from the Grecian Archive to illustrate the story.
And just outside the stand is now the home of the Strikers Mural which was designed by graphic designer and volunteer Ed Barrett and offers photo opportunities on match days to past and current players, fans and mascots.
Finally, a Museum Display Room was created which is used during matchdays by hospitality and forms part of the stadium tours that are attracting the attention of new generations of Grecian fans. It is in this room that a pilot workshop with the Unified Football Supporters’ Organisation was held in 2019 to see whether to roll out a series of national workshops to help other clubs to turn their cupboards into wonderful museums spaces.
This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the HLF and all the volunteers and donors who have helped to make our dream come true.