Total Football, Total Museums

I need little encouragement to try and draw parallels between football and museums. The sad death of Johan Cruyff last week, caused me to reflect on the wonderful Dutch team of the 1970s. With Cruyff as captain and under the guidance of manager Rinus Michels, the Netherlands espoused Total Football, a fluid dynamic system which produced some of football’s most sublime moments.

In Total Football no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role; anyone can successfully play as an attacker, a midfielder and defender. Tactical success depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer and the ability to switch positions depending on the on-field situation. Players are required to be comfortable in multiple positions. This relies on high levels of technical skill and physical demands on players.

(Read David Winner’s Brilliant Orange for a full exploration of the relationship between the genius of Dutch football, art, environment and concepts of space)

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So can we create a Total Museum, where every team member is comfortable in multiple roles? A team in which curators can be entrepreneurial and fund-raise, in which business managers could deliver learning sessions, in which conservators can work on the front line and in which the director could serve in the café.

The public must also be part of the Total Museum.

Amongst the original principles of the Happy Museum project is the notion that resilient communities and organisations are ones which learn together. The active citizens of the future will be those who are adaptive, empathetic systems thinkers – precisely the qualities which the experience of informal, non-judgemental and fun museum learning can stimulate.

Moreover (as noted in previous blogs) the most relevant institutions of the future will be those which are open, democratic and which derive authority from the participation of citizens. A Total Museum won’t just rely on the staff being able to do each other’s tasks but will be a genuine network eschewing hierarchies. It will at once enable creativity and collectivism.

So I’m looking forward to the transcendent museum moments to compare with the Cruyff turn, Arie Haan’s 40 yard belter against Italy in 1978 and the first four minutes of the 1974 world cup final when their German opponents first touch was to pick the ball out of their own net.

Post Script

There was a lovely exhibition in Amsterdam Museum in 2012 Johan & Ik a collection of photos and stories of people who had met the great man.

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7 Responses to Total Football, Total Museums

  1. Jack Kirby says:

    Arguably small independent museums already work at least to a degree in roughly the way outlined: with very few paid staff, everybody has to cover multiple competencies. I’m in favour of less rigidity in roles and people being able to cover some elements of colleagues’ positions where necessary: I’ve personally been proud to help our visitor giving team occasionally, and got satisfaction from reconnecting with visitors as a result. And yet… Specialists bring particular aptitude, and attitude, to their roles. I’d certainly never have the patience nor manual dexterity to do what our brilliant conservators do so carefully, even if I could learn the knowledge and skills. I’ve had to unwind cross-functional working that really wasn’t efficient or effective, because the underlying enthusiasm for the secondary tasks wasn’t there in otherwise great people, and it was detracting from developing and exercising their core professional competencies. I’d completely argue for matrix working and flexibility, but also for people developing and being recognised for their specialism. If you can make both work in the Total Museum, I’ll be the first to applaud.

    • tonybutler1 says:

      There are of course only 11 players in a football team

    • tonybutler1 says:

      Of course Jack, and if you extend the Total Football analogy some of the premise comes unstuck. The 1970s Dutch team was full of individuals, who negotiated individually with sponsors etc. Cruyff removed the third stripe from the Adidas sponsored Dutch kit because he had a deal with Puma. The team voted for its captain, but began to fall apart when Cruyff was elected! They lost two world cup finals (one to a well drilled German team and the other by the narrowest of margins to a passionate Argentinian side).

      But for a time it bought wonderful synchronicity to the game and lost beautifully!

  2. Sally says:

    Fascinating idea Tony! This was something I discussed in my previous role at NFM when developing a family fun interactive on the history of tactics (yes it was challenging!) Watching visitors interact with Cruyff’s story, I was often amazed that such a simple idea as you discuss here seemed alien to most people (for players on the pitch) and to some team members (such an unwelcome prospect in the workplace).

    I agree with Jack’s point in that to some extent this already exists in an informal way in some museums and I do have personal experience of this. I would also mirror the concerns that where not appropriated in the right context, it can also cause fractions within the team and mess with peoples self confidence both personally and professionally. An example of this could be where this stems from a place of ‘box ticking’ or ‘doing it for show’ which is never healthy and at best; a risky strategy in terms of Human Relations.

    I feel very fortunate that my career path has taken me on a journey through so many paid and voluntary roles across many levels. Some of the time it was very difficult to stay motivated, especially when career progression can be often down to being in the right place at the right time. Often looking up the ladder longingly meant ignoring the importance of the role I was in to the greater team. However looking back, I really feel that a path such as this has been so useful in developing my skills, having given me a real appreciation of the actual skills necessary to complete so many jobs.

    Where this hasn’t been a reality or in my case, where it was many moons ago, I feel a Total Football type approach, whether on a long term or occasional basis, could really help us all develop an appreciation of each others roles. Not just for thinking about the organisations sustainability and forward planning but also how we interact with each other as team members on a daily basis.

    I think if that if everyone felt they had the confidence and the necessary skills to be able to train each other or at least have a real input into the skills swapping process over a period of time first, before any actual swapping of roles took place, this could iron out a lot of the concerns against this idea. How this would work would need looking at on a case by case basis however it is something I would very much like to make happen someday.

    I would welcome a return back to my sector roots so to speak by returning for a time as a cleaner, Museums Assistant or educational facilitator for example and as a consequence I would advocate to anyone the benefits of rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in when/if an opportunity like this arises.

  3. Jack Kirby says:

    I would have liked to use a football analogy in my response but my football knowledge is too limited (even after a visit to the National Football Museum last weekend).

  4. Samuel Walton says:

    Hi Tony

    Having read your latest articles on the situations currently facing museums we feel like your professional opinion may be of great help. I am student at Sheffield Hallam University in my final year studying history, and currently undertaking a project as part of a team (only the two of us not eleven unfortunately), looking into the funding and division of museums between the north and south of England. Would it be possible to contact us on my email just with any views you might have on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Sam and Craig


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