Inside the Museum with Deb Townsend
Wednesday 19th September 2012
Widnes RL Museum re-opens this Friday (21 Sept)
Inside the Museum with Deb Townsend
Ahead of its reopening on Friday 21st September, Vikings Media Apprentice Joshua Worrall was invited on a tour of the Widnes RL Museum by curator Deb Townsend. Whilst on site, Josh quizzed Deb about her involvement and detailed below is a diary of his day.
As we entered the museum, I was curious to find out why Deb introduced the concept of a museum. She smiled and responded; "The idea first came about in 2003 after a game when an opposition fan suggested that Widnes had "No history". He wasn't very polite to say the least! What he said made me realise there may be more people that aren't aware of our long and proud history in the game. So, once the dust had settled, a group of us got together to form a heritage group that developed the museum, which is still going strong today."
Currently situated in the East Stand at the Stobart Stadium, the museum is only open on certain days throughout the year. Despite not having a permanent home of its own, Deb was pleased to report that interest levels are high; "We open Friday and Saturday for anybody who wants to drop in, or for schools and other community groups but during the week we only do tours by appointment. In the past we've even opened on Boxing Day for a special visit. We also accommodate Disabled Groups, Community Groups and Past Players Associations, too. So there is a wide range, definitely. Even rival teams have been known to come and look around."
As I explored the depths of the museum, my eyes were drawn to the big television in the middle of the museum, which was showing a recent Stobart Super League fixture featuring the Vikings versus Huddersfield Giants. I wondered how many games they had in their DVD/Video database and Deb filled me in on the details. "We have over 400 games on DVD, and over 1,000 photographs on the computer. Some of the games date back to 1930, so there is something to satisfy all fans, whatever their generation."
I then asked Deb to explain some more background information surrounding the earliest medals in the museum. I wanted to know specifically, who had donated them and in certain cases, such as the 1897 medal I was looking at, how long they had been in players' families. Deb revealed; "Believe it or not, some of them have only been through one generation and one from 1930 has recently been donated by the son of the player. The 1897 medal you mentioned came in inside a small plastic money bag and was donated by his grandson, so it's been passed down and then passed down again. For display purposes we have put the medal in a box and keepsakes such as these are crucial to the success of the museum, as are all the other items. It is also great when the youngsters come in and learn more about the players from past generations. Some of them have even discovered that their grandads or uncles have played for Widnes, and have now seen items to physically prove their success. We try to ensure every ex-Widnes player is represented in some way, even if it's only on our player database."
We then moved onto the wide range of shirts the museum plays host to. I was eager to find out how far back the earliest shirt goes and what condition they typically arrive in. One of the earliest is a 1930 Wembley shirt, a prized possession according to Deb; "Despite having now shrunk in size and appearing a bit dusty, artefacts such as this are ideal for a museum, and we would much prefer them to be in a condition like this, rather than "brand new." We want to see the player's sweat still on the shirt. This proves it is a "genuine" shirt for the visitors. From the same decade, we've also got the England and Lancashire shirts. Every single shirt pre-1984 is from an actual player, but after 1984 when replica shirts became more readily available, we've had many signed replicas donated, too."
From a modern fans perspective, I was hoping to get Deb's views on players from my generation who've donated their own medals, such as Phil Cantillon. Deb was full of praise for both Cantillon and Shane Millard, another player who wore the Vikings number 9 jersey with pride; "Shane popped in before he went back to Australia and left us all his trophies and a shirt from his time here. He loved the club and we loved him!" As for Phil, "He was brilliant; it was fantastic to see him not just once but two or three times. Each time he stopped and talked with our visitors, signing autographs and reliving his experiences with people, it was great! I think it's beneficial for anyone to come down before donating anything to see what the museum does with existing memorabilia and how well we will look after their items."
As far as the location of the museum is concerned, Deb suggests that; "It is a good starting block for us, but we have ambitions of relocating to a more suitable location. As we are all volunteers it's harder to get funding, but I think we've shown a lot of people what we're capable of. Both Nigel Wood and Richard Lewis, the former Executive Chairman of the RFL made positive comments on our museum, and it's nice to have it in the stadium itself, so people who come to the games can have easy access."
Deb also offered a suggestion to those fans who may want to bring non-regular supporters such as grandparents to the museum; "They'd have a wonderful experience. Alongside our museum tours, on occasions we are also able to offer an extended behind the scenes tour package which includes the changing rooms and players gym facilities. Visitors can then make a day of it if they like, which will hopefully encourage them to see what's on offer in great detail and in a best case scenario, get bitten by the bug and come along to our matches and support the Vikings."
In closing, Deb was also keen to highlight the fact that further to the extensive range of display items from years gone by, there are also reminders of the clubs recent past and its exciting future; "We've got things from the Super League announcement day celebration party at the Stobart Stadium in 2011. Personally, I spent a lot of money, as did most people, buying the especially made bottles of champagne and the limited edition ‘green for go' replica shirt amongst other pieces of merchandise. I've donated these items to the museum myself in the belief they are still pieces of history, even though it's recent history, and is still nice to have them in the museum as a reminder of what turned out to be a momentous day for the club. At the end of the day, today is tomorrow's history, so I would still encourage people to donate newer stuff to the museum."
The Widnes RL Museum opens every Friday and Saturday between the hours of 11am and 3pm (last admission is 2pm). Entry costs £1.00 for adults and 50p for concessions.
Should you wish to arrange a visit/tour for another date, or have any other queries, please contact Museum Curator Deb Townsend on: 07968 865596. Alternatively, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org