Fifteen stadia in 12 cities have now been selected by the England 2018 committee as the news was broadcast live to the waiting media at Wembley Stadium on December 16. Lord Mawhinney, the Football League chairman and Chairman of the Applicant Host City Selection Panel, made the announcement after congratulating the enthusiasm of all participating host cities who have been bidding for their place to stage the tournament since May.
The event was a culmination of seven months hard work for the bidding cities with a mix of some of the country’s most famous footballing centres as well as some of the more unknown locations in national and international football. Two official FA and England 2018 visits to the bidding cities as well as the detailed bid books emphasising transport infrastructure, Fan Fest site plans and accommodation made up the host cities’ bids. And after each had been heavily scrutinised by a select panel consisting of Lord Mawhinney, Andy Anson the England 2018 CEO and Simon Johnson the England 2018 COO, in three days worth of intensive presentations and question and answer sessions, the England 2018 committee had made their decision.
All in all, England have selected what Mawhinney describes as a mix of “the famous, the excellent and tomorrow” in Stadia and cities alike. The news was not without its fair share of upsets however. Some of countries most historical and heavily supported club stadiums did not make the final selection. Those who did make the grade include, Villa Park in Birmingham, the new Ashton Vale site stadium in Bristol, Elland Road in Leeds, Anfield or the new Anfield in Liverpool, London’s Wembley Stadium, Emirates Stadium and either the new White Hart Lane or the Olympic Stadiums, Manchester’s City of Manchester Stadium and Old Trafford, Milton Keynes’ Stadium:mk, St James Park in Newcastle, Nottingham’s new Nottingham Forrest stadium, Home Park in Plymouth, Hillsbourgh in Sheffield and Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
Derby, Hull and Leicester failed to impress the England 2018 panel however. Portsmouth were the fourth city to miss out on the chance to host world cup football when on November 25, the city council decided to pull out of the bidding race as they refused to provide the necessary financial guarantees. England’s selection has come as somewhat of a shock to many, not notably to those whose bids proved unsuccessful. But it is with great credit to England’s smaller, less glorified cities that they have been selected to represent the national bid to FIFA in May. Bristol, Milton Keynes and Plymouth are among the most unlikely of venues to host World Cup matches and just the suggestion before the bidding process began would have been deemed as somewhat laughable by many sporting commentators. However, their inclusion not only illustrates the strength of the bids but shows just how well they are regarded as sites for the future of English football.
Milton Keynes has only existed as a city since in the 1960s and their stadium, home of MK Dons was only founded in 2004 by chairman Pete Winkleman. As ambitious a bid to Milton Keynes was that of Bristol and Plymouth, who fly the flag for football in the South West. Bristol’s proposed new 44 000 seater stadium and the redevelopment of Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park emphasises a region whose football credentials have been relatively unsung but have none-the-less shown very clearly that they are prepared to host the tournament and can accommodate huge numbers of traveling fans. Although some of England’s smaller host cities now find themselves as potential hosts for the 2018 World Cup, before the announcement there was much uncertainty surrounding even the most likely of candidates. Namely, Liverpool stuck out as a possible casualty of the selection as Liverpool FC do not have the money to build a new stadium and Everton have failed to gain planning permission for a new ground in the Kirby district of the city which in FIFA’s eyes is potentially a city of high risk.
However, surely a footballing centre such as Liverpool could never have been overlooked. A city that boasts two Premier League clubs, one of which over the past 30 years has become the most decorated club in English and European football. Equally, it was very hard for the England 2018 committee to ignore Manchester’s two clubs and their magnificent stadia in the same vein as London would never have been overlooked. Old Trafford and the City of Manchester stadium hold over 75 000 and 47 000 respectively and with a shared Fan Fest site between the two makes this city, London’s double in the north. Much like in Euro 96, there are some very familiar faces amongst the qualified host cities for England’s bid. Although in recent years stadiums such as Elland Road, Hillsbourgh and even St James Park have been hosts to games outside of the Premier League, their history and the city’s bids have convinced the England 2018 team that they still have what it takes to be part of a national bid. Nottingham’s demise as an English footballing centre has also not been enough to pursued the national bid away from the city’s potential as a host city.
It now appears that England and its selection of host cities has established a much stronger bid than it had done previously when it bid for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. FIFA had regarded England’s bid weaker than that of Germany’s and South Africa’s, but after the announcement of the host cities last month, Andy Andson stated that: “so many changes have happened since then, and our stadia have moved on to a whole new level – the country now boasts of some of the best stadia in the world”.