Load of old balls? No, football's crown jewels

I try to visit the National Football Museum in Preston most years, as it's so amazing, wonderful, marvellous and also depressing, because I think why do I bother, they have all the best stuff, how can I ever compete?

This twin reaction happened to me again this time - but the depressing bit was caused by some tragic news that has had little coverage in the national press, which I suppose is even more depressing.

The nice bit concerns the first World Cup Final, held in Uruguay in 1930, between the host country and Argentina. There was a lot of arguing before the game, surprising that, because each country wanted to play with their own ball, like kids in a playground. A compromise was reached whereby the Argentine ball was used in the first half and the Uruguayan ball in the second. Argentina were ahead with their ball at half-time, 2-1, but Uruguay went on to win 4-2 with their ball. Which proves, er, I dunno, but I bet Fergie, if he had been managing the losing side, would have been convinced the ref was a homer and the ball had a 12th man hidden inside.

For some years, the museum has had the Argentine ball on show, just one of its 2,000 historic objects (plus another 30,000 items behind the scenes). On my recent visit I found it now has the other ball as well, the Uruguayan one, loaned by a well-known wealthy collector. Oh joy, back together, after all these years. Footer fans can now ogle both balls.

Having studied them, I can see they are quite different. Both leather, but the panels in each are slightly different shapes. One ball looks a bit bigger and is missing a lace and is slightly more orangy - though not as orange as the 1966 World Cup Final ball, also in the museum. I was at the final in 1966, and in my mind's eye the ball was white. I must be thinking back in black and white.

Just a load of old balls, you might say, but I found it fascinating, and went to congratulate the museum's director, Kevin Moore, who has been in charge of the museum since it opened in 2001. Then, shock horror, he revealed it was closing. It has been attracting 100,000 visitors a year to Preston, not exactly known as a tourist trap, but it has had to face people, especially of a southern media inclination, being snobbish about poor old Preston - who would want to go there, where is it anyway?

The museum has been free since 2003, like all our national museums, and so it has had to rely on funding, plus its own enterprises. Alas, the main lump of money is being withdrawn. It's been coming from the Football Foundation, from its stadiums budget, and now it says it needs the money for that instead. So, at the end of this year, the National Football Museum at Preston, situated in purpose-built premises at Deepdale (the home of Preston North End), will close and all those treasures will be put into storage. I came away with tears in these tired old eyes.

However, here's a news flash. Manchester City Council has offered the museum a home in the Urbis building in the city centre, plus funding. It should open there in another year - and confidently expects it could attract 350,000-400,000 visitors a year. Pies all round.

Hunter Davies's latest book is "Confessions of a Collector" (Quercus, £20)

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains