England's dreaming

The race to host the World Cup in 2006 is on and England have made the first move but hooliganism and politics could well kill off the bid. Peter Hayes looks behind the scenes at Lancaster Gate's manoeuvring.

If the Football Association doesn't fulfill its dream of hosting the 2006 World Cup it might still be able to claim a small place in the Guinness Book of Records for producing the world's smallest pair of real football boots.

Their first print advertisement –previewed in the FA Cup Final programme – shows a baby in football boots lying on the cross of Saint George. The headline reads: “The birthplace of football. Nowhere better for 2006.” The copy goes on: “The game was born in England. The world's fans want to visit England. The world's best footballers play in England. The finest stadiums are in England. The most famous stadium in the world is Wembley, England. The World Cup 2006 should be playing in……?”

However, it is questionable whether any of the actual decisions makers – the 24-man FIFA Executive Committee – will even see this advertising, no matter ponder the blank space. As campaign director, Alec McGivan carefully explains, most of the early publicity is concerned with creating the “right atmosphere” for the England bid.

FIFA's men-in-grey-suits remains – as they have always been – a collection of mainly white, well educated, slightly aloof, late middle-aged men, most of whom even professional football writers wouldn't be able to name unaided.

Nevertheless, these are the men (no other sex is conceivable in FIFA circles) that will meet in Zurich on a yet-to-be-set June 2000 day to hand out either ecstasy or agony to England's high price marketing campaign.

The deadline for “submissions of interest” doesn't close until December 1998, but it looks certain to be a race between England, Germany and South Africa – with possible late entries from Brazil or Argentina. The official FA press documentation reads: “Apart from England, countries named as bidding or potentially bidding for the event are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Morocco, Peru/Ecuador and South Africa.”

In the 18 months previous to this June 2000 meeting the “FIFA Executive” will have suffered the slings-and-arrows of jet-lag, rich food and overpriced alcohol as they crisscross the world checking out the “credentials” of each would-be World Cup host.

In FIFA's own words the “representatives (will) travel to the competing countries to check that they meet the requirements in the document (sic), and have the finances to deliver on any capital projects, like new stadia.”

As the only “new stadia” needed for the England bid will be the rebuilt Wembley they should pass the paragraph of the “document” with flying colours. In total 10 venues will be required with a minimum of 40,000 capacity and one “main stadium” for the opening game and final capable of holding 80,000.

Unlike the situation that developed before the farcical – and eventually aborted – 1986 World Cup in Colombia, the hosts are going to have to produce proof that they have the finances and means of staging the tournament before being awarded the bid.

England have been taking a sniff at most major football championships since the early Eighties. The FA made half-hearted bids for the 1988 European Championships and the 1990 World Cup, but the government was lukewarm and the stadia was not up to standard. Our much publicised “hooligan problem” provided handy nails for the coffin lid.

A bid for the 1998 World Cup was dropped when the Executive Committee decided – in the words of the FA's official press literature – to concentrate “on an application to host the European Championship Finals in 1996.” In truth, this was a backroom deal to allow France the World Cup that it had long been promised. As in many backroom deals different people heard different things. Lennart Johansson, President of Uefa, thought he heard England dropped its interest in the 2006 World Cup.

In detached fairness, the deal with the French was natural justice: France did host the Finals as far back as 1938 but in modern times bids seemed to get stuck on technalities such as poor communications or fall foul of tougher rules on stadia. Interestingly, the 1938 World Cup created diplomatic bad blood between France and Argentina – the alternative bidder for that tournament. Significantly, this was the first time sport created such a situation.

According to official documentation the English FA first discussed the possibility of hosting the World Cup 2006 in November 1998, but the FA Executive Committee decided to wait until Euro '96 had proved a success to lay its cards on the table. The FA officially made its bid public in July 1996 delivering the necessary paperwork to FIFA in Zurich later that same year.

So far both England and Germany have hired lobbying and promotion firms to support their bid. For the English bid Saatchi and Saatchi UK joint managing director Adam Crozier has been hired to direct communications. An office has already been set up inside FA Headquarters in Lancaster Gate.

This now has a permanent staff of 15, which is divided fairly equally between those dealing with press, media and publicity and those dealing with the “technical and legal” side of the bid.

Other possible bidders – as outlined above - have not been moved on from the talking stage. Perhaps they underestimate the value of a modern publicity campaign or the full requirements of the bid.

The FA have even been looking to sponsors to off-set the costs of the “England 2006” campaign. So far they have signed-up Nationwide, Littlewoods, Marks & Spencer, Umbro and British Airways. However they are looking for at least five more to raise another £1 million. This will be added to an existing £9 million pot make up of equal £3 million donations from the National Lottery's Sport Fund, the Premier League and the Football Association.

“We may spend less than that, but the full amount will be available to the campaign,” says Jo Gibbons, Press and Information Officer, from her Lancaster Gate office.

Part of the fund will be used to take the campaign on-the-road to trade fairs and diplomatic get-togethers. South Korea and Saudi Arabia have already been visited with promotional material translated in to local languages.

The four main headline plus points of the England bid are these: England is the home of football and has a unique ground atmosphere: Venues like Wembley, Old Trafford and Anfield are famous all over the world. England is football's spiritual home. England's track record in hosting Euro '96. England is known for its tourism, communications and transport system.

Against England is the fact that is has held a World Cup as recently as 1966. There also may be a sentimental vote to take the world cup to Africa for the very first time. And finally, England entered the bidding race after Germany, who had gained a powerful ally in Lennart Johansson, President of Uefa.

But above and beyond all these points, hosting the World Cup is a popular method of pushing through dramatic improvements in football facilities. This has been the situation in France but is definitely not the case here.

Estimates about revenues to be gained from hosting the tournament vary wildly, but during the four weeks of Euro '96 another 250,000 extra tourists were attracted to England spending an estimated £125 millions. A World Cup would easily double that.

Germany has appointed Michael Rohler of the company DMB&B to head their promotional campaign. The thrust of their early campaign will be to show Germany as a modern, lively and multiracial country – not exclusively white like their national football team.

Like many alternative bidders, Germany's number one problem is stadia. While plans to re-build the Berlin Olympic stadium as the “Wembley of German Football” seem to have substance, the World Cup will require capital projects involving local councils and possibly even central government – most Bundesliga grounds are actually owned by the local councils.

The attitude of these people, much more than those within the football circles, will say a lot about the strength and weaknesses of the German counter-bid.

One of the major questions about the England campaign is why spend so much time and money promoting the general public, when the final vote is in the hands of the “gnomes of Zurich”?

Adam Crozier thinks he has the answer: “The decision may be taken by only 24 people, but they have to justify their decisions. They don't live in a vacuum and we must create the right atmosphere around them.”

The “2006 Campaign” has already put together a web-site ( www.fa2006.org ) which spells out the FA's case in detail. The FA has also been appointing “good will ambassadors” and has so far recruited the Prime Minister Tony Blair, BA chief executive Sir Colin Marshall, Sports Minister Tony Banks and Sir Bobby Charlton.

One of the most informed voices discussing the bid is Glen Kirton. Kirton was Tournament Director for Euro '96 in England having clocked up a total of 27 years with the FA at Lancaster Gate. Today is he “Head of Football” at the sports sponsorship agency ISL (who already part-own the 2006 TV rights).

He agrees with the Crozier line about power and influence not being confined to FIFA's four walls. “The local FAs have a huge influence on where the finals go. Sponsors and TV companies also have some say in the process. They want to see the competition go to a developed country because they are easier to work with, but they are not decisive in the process,” says Kirin. “There is a lot of pressure to move the finals around now and I suspect that it would do out of Europe again this time,” he adds.

So much for the rich, the powerful and the influential: but is there anything the fans can do the help?

“Yes” says Jo Gibbons from her campaign office.

“The fans should promote the England football wherever they can, because the strongest part of our bid is the popularity of English football. In France very English fan should be an ambassador for the bid.”

On that criteria, England's dream will remain just that.

(C) Peter Hayes 2003

Last updated 7.3.2007