As a host of dignitaries from varying fields, such as David Beckham and Gordon Brown, posed on the hallowed turf of London’s Wembley Stadium to mark the launch of England’s World Cup 2018 bid on May 18th, a combination of optimism and caution was visible amid the smiles and the suits.
Flanked by international colleague Wayne Rooney, Beckham spoke about the passion for football in England—from grass-roots level right through to the Premier League. By 2018, fifty years will have passed since the World Cup came to these shores—but the consensus is confidence as England’s party launched their bid to bring the greatest show on earth back to its homeland.
As the jewel in the crown of the entire bid, Wembley was an ideal venue for a launch party attended by past and present England players, alongside schoolchildren sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the bid’s slogan—“England United, the world invited”.
“I know this country, with its first-class stadiums and tremendous passion for football, would host an incredible tournament,” Prime Minister Brown said.
“It's fitting that we are launching the bid in England, the home of football, and at Wembley—the greatest stadium in the world.”
Indeed, of the other countries bidding for the 2018 tournament (including the USA, Mexico, and Russia), it is difficult to recall a stadium which strikes such a balance of modern facilities, rich history and sheer amazement as the ‘New’ Wembley. Completed two years ago at a cost of around £1billion, the ground is the second largest in Europe and the largest with every seat undercover.
A retractable roof protects the sometimes-vulnerable playing surface from the London elements, and spectator comfort is at a paramount inside the awe-inspiring venue—with more toilets than any other venue in the world, and amounts of legroom unprecedented at football grounds.
However, FIFA regulations for host bids require a minimum of ten stadiums of required standard, not just one. So how do England’s other stadia compare to Wembley, and will they be enough to bring the World Cup to these shores in nine years time?
The second biggest ground in England’s remit is Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. At the moment, the ‘"Theatre of Dreams" holds just over 76,000, but the club insist that renovation plans are afoot which could increase the ground’s capacity to more than 95,000.
Old Trafford, one of two grounds in England awarded Uefa’s five-star rating along with Wembley, also has excellent transport links thanks to a railway station next to the stadium, and is also serviced by Manchester’s excellent Metrolink network.
Liverpool’s proposed New Anfield stadium will also be considered in any England bid, providing it is constructed in time. The projected development, nearby to Liverpool’s existing Anfield home in Stanley Park, was scheduled to open in 2006 but was put on hold due to financial problems—a delay which, according to a club spokesman, could “progress the proposals for the stadium to increase its capacity to 73,000 seats.”
Building work on Aston Villa’s Villa Park to expand it to 51,000 seats and the construction of a 55,000-seater ‘City of Birmingham’ stadium for Villa’s rivals Birmingham could see World Cup football hosted in the Midlands.
Fifa rules, however, state that only one city can have two host venues for a World Cup tournament, which will almost certainly be London if England’s bid is successful. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, another recently-constructed stadium which holds 60,000 people, would be a shoo-in to host games later in the tournament,
One of Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park (current capacity 52,387) and Sunderland’s Stadium of Light (49,000) will almost certainly come under consideration, especially with the former’s status as a host of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Further afield, representatives from cities such as Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol have been asked to submit applications for consideration. Such decisions will, however, rely on development—another Fifa directive requires a minimum 40,000 capacity, with Elland Road (39,401) and Sheffield’s Hillsborough (39,814) falling agonisingly short of the minimum required.
Yorkshire’s most serious contender to hold a World Cup game, meanwhile, appears to be Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United, which currently holds around 33,000 seats. Planning permission for a new Kop has been submitted, however, which will increase the capacity by a further 3,000, and possible redevelopment of the club’s South stand has also been discussed to further boost the capacity above the required level.
Sepp Blatter, president of the game’s world governing body Fifa, threw his weight behind an England bid when asked about their chances, saying: “I would say yes, they should bid—it is the homeland of football.”
With Spain & Portugal rumoured to be England’s main European rival for the honour, Fifa’s 24-man executive committee will announce the winning bid in December next year—when, after a prolonged global sabbatical, football could finally be coming home.