From Highfield Road to Wembley Way:
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Coventry City's FA Cup win
Description of project
This temporary exhibition (6 April to 1 July 2012) celebrated the 25th anniversary of Coventry City’s famous victory in the FA Cup final of 1987, when they defeated Tottenham Hotspur. Using photography, film and fan memorabilia, the exhibition guided the visitor through a brief history of the club, each game of the 1986-87 cup run, the memorable final and the return of the conquering heroes. Visitors to the exhibition could re-live the excitement of the Cup win and record their own memories of the occasion on a specially created Memories Wall. The exhibition also included newly commissioned work by photographer Paul Smith, who photographed the 1987 team today, and sound artist Duncan Whitley, who created a sound installation of the Coventry City crowd which visitors experienced as they entered the exhibition through a recreated players’ tunnel. The Herbert’s in-house Media team produced a documentary film to chart the impact and excitement generated by the Cup win. This one hour film tells its story through oral history recollections from the players, the team manager John Sillett, fans and football experts. The interviews are intercut with images from fans and the press, match footage, home movies and television news reports.
Overall objective of project
The objective was to create a high quality and engaging exhibition which would tell the story of this important event in Coventry’s recent history and celebrate how a football team could unite a whole city. It was important to reflect what this event meant to the city and the sense of pride it generated in the community, even amongst non-football fans. The active participation of the fans in telling the story was central to this aim.
Strategy for implementation
Throughout the project we worked very closely in partnership with Coventry City Football Club which provided marketing support and loaned objects for display. We also worked closely with the Club historian, Jim Brown, and Lionel Bird of the Supporters’ Club, both of whom provided advice and loaned objects. The Club’s Former Players’ Association were also vital in providing contacts with players and management from the 1987 team, a number of whom took part in the documentary film and also loaned items for display.
The key to the exhibition was public engagement. A public appeal for objects, images and stories was an integral part of the exhibition and the documentary film. This began several months before the exhibition opened and people continued to offer objects after its opening. The response was excellent and the stories, objects and photos offered provided vital content for the exhibition. Visitors to the exhibition were encouraged to add their memories and photos to a Memory Wall in the exhibition which was incredibly successful.
Photography: Paul Smith
Fan Memories Commemorative Book (Front and Back)
Table Football Artwork
There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the exhibition from visitors. Almost 21,500 people visited, making it one of the most popular exhibitions the Herbert has ever staged. The launch event attracted over 800 people, including people who had contributed to the development of the exhibition and a number of former players and the atmosphere on the night was lively and enthusiastic. We were able to bring together a really strong set of objects for display, which aroused a lot of interest and comment from visitors. These included personal items belonging to players, such as shirts worn during the final and winners’ medals; a full scale replica of the FA Cup; the ball used in the final and many items loaned by fans, including banners, programmes, scarves and souvenirs of the occasion. The exhibition included a number of interactive exhibits, ranging from touchscreens with quizzes and oral history listening posts, to a bar football table and a dressing up corner for families. Visitors could watch a re-run of the 1987 final on a 1980s television set in a recreation of a 1980s sitting room and the documentary film was shown on a large screen.
The exhibition successfully drew in our target audiences of Coventry City fans, inter-generational families and visitors with an interest in football from the region and beyond. We discovered that many people in Coventry have strong memories of where they were on the day of the FA Cup final, which meant that the exhibition attracted significant numbers of local audiences, including many non-football fans. The positive feedback showed that many visitors also had a strong emotional reaction to the exhibition and that it created a real sense of pride in the city. One of the most significant outcomes was that the exhibition clearly appealed to audiences not normally attracted to art galleries and museums, and there was higher than usual proportion of male visitors.
A programme of 11 events supported the exhibition including talks, a film series, a live poetry and music performance and workshops. In partnership with Coventry University the Herbert ran a series of talks under the banner Coventry Sporting Conversations, involving the Club’s Chief Executive and Development Director, players from the 1987 FA Cup winning team and the Club’s official historian, who presented the final talk. Each talk was also podcasted. We also ran an active schools programme for the exhibition aimed to tie in with our existing City of Change Active Learning Session which looks at life in Coventry since 1948. 120 Pupils came on visits and 1800 pupils took part in a series of assemblies about remembering and celebrating the FA Cup win, linked to work on the theme of Pride in our City.
Creativity and originality
Although exhibitions about football clubs have been done before, the focus on one specific event that meant so much to an entire city and the high level of community participation made this project unique. From the beginning the fans’ perspective was central to the exhibition, through the contribution of photographs, stories and memorabilia. One of the keys to the success of the exhibition was that the Memory Wall was continually updated by visitors who were actively encouraged to share their own experiences, often prompted by what other visitors had written, and thus became part of the exhibition itself. The level of visitor participation and engagement, both with the displays and each other, was remarkable, triggering memories and emotional responses. There was a real buzz in the gallery throughout the exhibition, which clearly struck a chord with audiences, especially those who experienced the events of 1987 first hand. We are currently in the process of transcribing the memories collected with the aim of producing a published record to create a permanent legacy.
The inclusion of the work of two artists was another unique aspect of the exhibition. Paul Smith’s photographs created a powerful response from visitors and were a striking feature of the display, while Duncan Whitley’s sound installation created a real sense of atmosphere in the space. From the outset the design and layout were the key for the audience to engage with the exhibition. Blind Mice Design created a visual journey, following the club and their fans through the stages of the FA Cup. To tie all of the elements of the exhibition together, the strong visual theme of a football sticker album was used. The highly creative use of large scale photographs, of the players, games and importantly the fans, and the bold use of colour and graphics created an accessible and engaging experience.