London Places: The British Museum – The Exhibit That Never Was

Soul City Wanderer reveals the story of one of the greatest museum exhibits to never see the light of day: a football shirt.

In 2010, the British Museum in conjunction with BBC Radio 4, launched a joint project entitled A History of the World in 100 Objects. The radio series was written and presented by British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

In actual fact, the original project comprised 99 objects. MacGregor wanted to leave the last spot blank in order for it to be decided by a public vote.

There were five items that made it to the shortlist. One of them, and one of MacGregor’s favourites, was the football shirt of the Chelsea player Didier Drogba, which he wore when the club won the Premier League title that year.

Unfortunately, the public got the completely wrong end of the stick, and MacGregor was inundated with complaints from furious fans of other football teams who thought that their favourite player should have been nominated for this ‘honour’. The media, too, was none too impressed. In the end, the 100th object selected was a solar-powered lamp.

Didier Drogba’s Chelsea shirt was a lost opportunity for a great museum exhibit. Think about it (which the public voters obviously didn’t): here was an item of clothing created for the most popular pastime in the world. It was made in China, by a German-owned company, and sponsored by a Korean electronics firm. It was worn by a man from the Ivory Coast in Africa, who grew up in France, and was now living in London. He was playing for a club who had just been crowned champions of England, which was managed by an Italian, administered by an American and owned by a Russian.

And, it was modern. It was ‘now’. Was there ever an exhibit that could have encompassed a ‘world object’ to such a degree?

Follow Soul City Wanderer on Twitter@soulcitywander

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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