WHOEVER would have thought a football match between Birmingham City and Manchester United could be so important?

The Birmingham goalkeeper was kept pretty busy that long-ago day in 1969. Watching the game on television was a North Yorkshire vet by the name of Alf Wight.

He was thinking of writing some stories about his experiences, and needed a pen-name. Watching the poor Birmingham goalie at work gave Mr Wight inspiration.

The goalie’s name was Jim Herriot. The rest is history… More than 40 years on, the house in Kirkgate, Thirsk, where Mr Wight practised his trade in the 1940s and 1950s is a museum, The World of James Herriot.

It is visited by thousands of people every year – fans of the James Herriot books and TV series. They come to see the huge, stone-flagged kitchen; Alf Wight’s veterinary surgery; the small, crammed sitting room where he once sat with his wife and hi son Jim; and the pharmacy, crammed with bottles bearing quaint names such as Hoose mixture and Universal Cattle Medicine.

Now, however, there is a fresh reason for visiting the museum. Recently taken over by a private company, it has acquired a large collection of Herriot memorabilia from a collector in Wales. And after a short closure, the museum has just reopened with a room dedicated especially to the collection.

Pride of place goes to the programme from that long-ago football match. But there is a host of other material, too: old photographs; hand-written letters from the vet to his many friends; even a figurine of Mrs Pumphrey and her dog Tricky Woo, favourites from the All Creatures Great And Small TV series. Plus much more.

All were on show for the first time yesterday: and the enduring world-wide popularity of the vet was demonstrated by those who came for the official reopening.

“We even had two vets from Hungary!” said Ian Ashton, the museum’s managing director.

Mr Ashton is confident the new acquisition will continue the revival of the museum’s fortunes since it became a private company.

Last year visitor numbers were up by 10 per cent, he said.

“And this year we are confident we will have something like 26,000 visitors!”