Once in a lifetime?

The question posed by myself and my contemporaries after watching a ropey performance by an England football team used to be whether we thought they could win the World Cup again in our lifetime.
Now it’s whether we think England can host the World Cup again in our lifetime.
The prospects are not good.
When we hosted and won the World Cup the combination of my being seven and living abroad with no telly meant all the excitement passed me by. Returning to the UK in 1967 it would still be a couple of years before I got the chance to watch a film of England’s triumph.
They showed it one evening at the local miners’ welfare club. Maybe the bingo caller was badly? Seats were arranged theatre-style and the action was projected onto a big screen – no, silly, one of those that you roll out after fixing the tripod – in flickering black and white.
If things don’t go England’s way this week then the World Cup won’t be coming back here until 2026 at the earliest, which suggests that far from football coming home it can’t even remember where it parked the car.
Ignoring the European Championships – our players normally do so why shouldn’t we join them? – that will make it 60 years since England welcomed the world. Germany hosted in 1974 and 2006. Mexico in 1970 and 1986. Spain, hosts in 1982, are fancied by many to have a better chance than England of hosting in 2018.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that however bad we are at playing the game, we’re even worse at playing the politics. Although to be fair when Robert Green threw the ball into the goal against the Yanks last summer there wasn’t the merest hint of interference from the Sunday Times or Panorama.
If England’s bid fails the media will be the scapegoats. If FIFA don’t blame the journalists directly then someone within FIFA or FA ranks will leak the rumours that Panorama’s expose was the latest England penalty that flew wide of the mark.
A counter-argument is that we shouldn’t be too upset if England is once again overlooked by an organisation that has the nerve to call itself a “governing body” when all the evidence points to a murky pool of corruption, the den of the slippery “Blatter the octopus,” who has tentacles reaching into every football federation and who always knows precisely what will happen next.
Another is that England’s players were embarrassing enough in South Africa earlier this year; why on earth would we strive for the chance to let them dump on our own doorstep?
One suspects the real reasons for a failed bid would be the arrogance around the English game, and more than a little jealousy from outside.
There are three major powers within world football – FIFA have the edge over UEFA, but both of them are frustrated by the English Premier League, an organisation increasingly viewed as a law unto itself and one which treats international football as an inconvenience at best, a threat to revenue at worst.
Club banners at an England match demonstrate how supporters generally lose interest in the national side the higher they climb up the league table – plenty from the Hereford Uniteds, Accrington Stanleys and Northampton Towns of the world, none from Man United or City, Chelsea or Arsenal.
One reason is that fans of the bigger teams really don’t want to see their star players risking injury by turning out for an irrelevance and thereby threatening the club’s chances of securing the glory that comes with third or fourth place in the table. Another may be the cosmopolitan nature of top level football in England; with a dozen different nationalities cheering on a team, and almost as many among the ownership, why should anyone expect sympathy for England?
All of which leads to some good reasons why the World Cup should come to England, and the sooner the better.
The one most likely to sway FIFA is obviously money. With bums on seats in state-of-the-art stadia that are easily accessible to real fans, corporate cash cows and rights-buying media there’s no reason why Blatter and his boys shouldn’t celebrate the mother of all World Cup bonanzas. A down side might be that even FIFA’s most creative committee men might find it difficult to divert the takings into their own pet projects.
Less important to FIFA but becoming vital to England is development of the game. Whether we really haven’t got the players or whether they just aren’t being released in a fit state by their clubs, it’s a fact that the England side now is as poor as it’s been for a while. Fans within a few feet of Fabio Capello must be tempted to reach for the phrase books to see if the Italian’s latest outburst translates as: “Do I not like that!”
There’s just a chance, however slim, that by granting us the World Cup FIFA could help England revive interest in the game, attract and develop the stars of the future and prevent the slide to third-world football status.
And mention of rejuvenation leads to a third reason. England gave the beautiful game to the world, delivered a successful World Cup in 1966 and then paved the way for FIFA’s gorging by leading the commercial expansion of football.
Now England is better placed than any nation to set about restoring the game’s shabby reputation, to save football before football eats itself.
Is it too late for England’s 2018 bid team to revamp the presentation planned for this Wednesday? To add a few lines about how they would use the World Cup to give football back to the fans?
To propose a legacy that encourages people to play the game fairly instead of simulating injury and swearing at officials?
To advocate a system whereby the millions of pounds that floods into football is used not to further inflate superstar salaries and fund committee-man pay days but to develop players and officials of the future, provide more and better facilities for playing and watching the game at all levels and ensure ticket prices are affordable?
Somehow I can’t see it. Not in my lifetime.

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2 Comments

Filed under By Phil Ascough, Football, Media, Uncategorized, World Cup

2 responses to “Once in a lifetime?

  1. David Burnby

    Well yes, but can you imagine how painful it will be if England crash out of the tournament following a nil-nil draw against Moldivia at Old Trafford? At least when we got humiliated this time, it was on the other side of the world so we could just have a quick moan and then watch the decent sides. Couldn’t face Germany beating Brazil at Wembley – I’d have to go to South Africa for the remaining two weeks of the competition and avoid televisions!

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