Cry God for Dave, William and Saint Becks!
With a day to go before England discovers whether or not it will be hosting a major tournament in 2018, my fellow Unfortunate Stanley and myself took time out to consider the pros and cons of the World Cup bid over the transatlantic airwaves. Here is the result of our ruminations in the style of a less than Socratic dialogue:
Lanterne Rouge: So Stanley, tomorrow sees the occasion of the big decision. Despite the patriotic hullaballoo, I should confess to having reservations about England’s involvement in the whole process but, I should say first of all, that I am probably marginally in favour of the country staging the event. Euro 96 was, when it all comes down to it, a lot of fun and, failing this time would prolong the chances of a tournament coming to England until a relatively late stage in my life – and even then, there’ll be no guarantee of a successful bid in 2026 or after – one would expect China and others to make strong cases for hosting rights then. How do you feel, as a Londoner in particular?
Stanley: Except for all of the venues being north of the river, I’m looking forward to the prospect of attending a World Cup match in my home city. And I feel that a successful bid would be good for the country as a whole. I’m especially enthused by the geography of the bid, as London is too often the focus of sporting and economic activity in England. Bringing competitive international football out of the capital is something I’ve long favoured. (Which is why, among other reasons, I opposed the rebuilding of Wembley.) Football is popular all over England, so the danger of bequeathing ghost stadia in the manner of Leipzig or Cape Town is slight. Despite the sneers of armchair followers, the inclusion of several Football League grounds among the potential hosts is to be commended, and the secondary benefits accrued by other clubs providing training facilities to the competing squads shouldn’t be overlooked either. I may be getting my hopes up too far, but it might also give my generation some iconic moments to match those slightly worn images of 1966.
Lanterne Rouge: That’s true about London but Euro 96 rather undercooked London’s involvement. Only Wembley was used and given the number of nationals from competing countries who reside in the capital, it was a missed opportunity – I have memories of pathetic crowds at St. James’s Park during that tournament. I am with you on Wembley though – it’s just another stadium and the old ground had character.
It’s wonderful to see Bristol City and Plymouth included in the bid from the point of view of this website – although our fellow blogger Lloyd feels that the Devonshire club’s involvement may benefit only a cabal of businessmen, it’s become acutely important in the past few days with the club struggling financially. The bid committee showed remarkable foresight choosing these westerly clubs. If only they had not wantonly blotted their copybook by selecting the MK Dons’ Winkledome – I don’t like bandying around the word “disgrace”, but this is an apt case.
Stanley: Yes, the inclusion of Milton Keynes is impossible to defend, and understandably has prevented some from supporting the bid. There’s still a chance that McStadium will be cut from the final selection, should England be chosen. Although, the cynic in me would say that the right-thinking FIFA exec is as rare as an outstanding England performance. Aside from that one stain on the bid book, Home Park and a possible (but, at the moment, not probable) Bristolian venue would provide a fantastic backdrop for the tournament, and a boost for football in a region widely regarded – erroneously in my opinion – as egg-chasing territory. I admit that attendances for some provincial Euro 96 games were below par, and I’d hope that those venues aren’t fobbed off with Togo Vs New Zealand (as an example of an attractive fixture). Not least because a decent game would entice first-timers and casuals through the turnstiles on a more regular basis.
Lanterne Rouge: Yes – one of the obscurest World Cup venues of all time was Seogwipo in Korea but Brazil played there so the bid committee should make sure the top matches are spread out. As for other areas of controversy, I must admit to being a little unconcerned by the corruption probes. The whole process is rotten to the core of course, but stepping aside will be a spiteful piece of nasal self-harm.
Where I do have issues, it’s with the egregious bid team of Beckham, Prince William and David Cameron. I also thought the committee’s branding of the Panorama programmes as “unpatriotic” and the Prime Ministers’ use of the word “frustrating” were deeply worrisome. We pride ourselves on living in a supposedly free country and the BBC had every right to run those programmes. Personally, the allegations against Issa Hayatou and others are less bothersome than Stadium MK for me. I remain astonished at the lack of popular opposition to this.
One other slightly romantic aspect that leaves me sad about the bid is the fact that England can’t really consider themselves to have joined of elite football nations until they win a World Cup away from home – staging the competition will obviously do nothing to rectify this. Who would be yours second choice among the other bidders?
Stanley: I have to admit the bidding `team’ leaves me cold. I may be leaving myself open to accusations of class warfare, but I can’t see that a former member of the Bullingdon Club is an appropriate cheerleader for English football. I’d rather the careerist politicians kept their noses out, but it might help that Blatter and his cronies are flattered by the attention. Monday night’s Panorama wasn’t exactly shocking (at least, it just built on a mountain of other reports on shameless money-grabbing by FIFA). It would be a shame if it did affect the decision, but, even as a supporter of the bid, I’d take a free press over the FIFA jamboree. MK is a different point. Without wanting to rake up old ground, the messageboards and blogs might be alight with fury over McDons’ existence but most supporters couldn’t care less about the politics. Just as in any other area of life, the majority pay no mind to moral dilemmas unless they are affected directly.
If we can’t have it, I’d like to see the Netherlands and Belgium get it, if only because of Russia’s stubborn refusal to accept that it has a problem with racism and the fact that we would probably have to pay for Spain and Portugal’s tournament in any case. I agree it would be great to see England win a World Cup abroad, but that’s hardly likely, is it? The responsibility of hosting just might be a kick up the backside for those in charge of our game, and give a bit more impetus to the Burton centre of excellence project and to efforts by clubs like Watford to improve standards in youth development. Our age-group sides might then produce more Geoff Hursts than Darren Caskeys.