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Out in the first round

December 3, 2010

I’m not too big to admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude when it comes to England’s failed bid for the World Cup, but that’s not to be anti-English, but rather a reaction to the English media’s habit of over hyping the country to a ridiculous extent whenever they apply for an event or enter a tournament.

In fact, one of the highlight moments of my life was attending 3 World Cup games in Liverpool in 1966 when I lived in England, as I’ve blogged previously. That World Cup was a triumph of organisation and highly successful – in much the same way as the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games were a triumphant ‘friendly games’.

However, Edinburgh found in 1986 that times had changed and their second go at the Games was far less successful. I think that may well have happened in England had they got a second bite of the World Cup cherry. It seems there is indeed a tide in the affairs of men, a propitious moment for events, if you like.

Looking at the footage of the 66 World Cup in England, the differences between now and then are obvious. There was a naivety about football then, and sport in general, I suppose. The fans around me at Goodison Park, were folk who went to games week in week out and appreciated seeing world stars in action. There was little or no corporate involvement and television’s influence was reflective rather than definitive.

The game nowadays in England is different: awash with foreign wealth, with a top league peopled largely by foreign players and managers and a fan base which, though huge, is top heavy with TV watchers rather than committed fans who attend weekly games. Maybe that is not the best starting point for a world cup tournament.
Maybe we need a less ‘developed’ country in terms of football.

Taking the perspective of people from outwith England, or indeed the British Isles, there are other reasons why they may not feel England is the obvious choice for World Cup 18. It is a small and crowded country with limited infrastructure compared to many other countries; the roads are overcrowded, trains and buses not as efficient as in many parts of the world; the connection of fans to the game more tenuous than in the past; the climate unpredictable at best.

Despite the inevitable claims of the bid team, for many around the world England is not the obvious place to site the World Cup, and, if they ever accepted our southern neighbour as ‘the home of football’, it’s doubtful how relevant they feel that piece of history is now. There is evidence too that overseas the English approach is seen as somewhat overbearing: the expectancy that they will win, the referral to their governing body as THE Football Association; the poor grace in reaction to lack of success in the bid: “Maybe we shouldn’t bother”. It sticks in the craw somewhat as well that Panorama’s investigation into the bidding process is blamed in some quarters for the bid’s failure. You would hope that, if there is skullduggery afoot, the FA would want to know of it, rather than ignore it in the hopes of gaining the tournament under those conditions.

I don’t know enough about Russia or Qatar, or indeed FIFA’s machinations, to comment on whether the host choices are good or bad, or how they were arrived at; all I know is that perhaps the English media need a little more perspective in their assessment of what has happened.

In the mid 1950s, the Magical Magyars of Hungary went to Wembley and gave the England team a lesson that pointed out that the winds of change had blown through world football and they could no longer expect to rule the roost unchallenged. The English learned that lesson so well that a decade later they won the World Cup.

Maybe it’s time to learn another lesson and put together a bid that reflects England’s grassroots involvement in the beautiful game, rather than fronting it up with what looked like a front page picture from OK magazine as a reflection of the woeful celebfest that their game has become. Who knows? Maybe lessons will be learned and football really will ‘come home’.

And don’t start me on our game in Scotland!

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