Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

That 2018 bid

Posted by John Beech on December 17, 2009

Announcement of the choice of venues which will comprise the bid for the 2018 World Cup has produced a strong and to some extent predictable reaction.  In a general sense, there were always going to be complaints as not all candidates could be winners, but this certainly doesn’t preclude picking over the choice that was actually made.

Of those chosen, strongest objection seems to be the inclusion of Milton Keynes. Most objection has been on the emotional grounds that Hammam Globetrotters / Franchise United should not be seen to have been given some stamp of approval. Now, I have a lot of sympathy with that reaction, but… at the inevitable risk of upsetting all my friends and readers who are AFC Wimbledon till they die fans… I don’t see emotion or even sensitivity as an essential criterion.  The criteria should be, in order, a) the existence of a suitable stadium, b) geographical spread and c) some sensible legacy where a stadium needs upgrading.

On those rational grounds, I don’t see Milton Keynes as a wise choice. The raising of the capacity of the stadium from 21,500 to 45,000 will result in the addition of a white elephant to the concrete cows, and at just over half an hour from Euston there is very little contribution to geographical spread.

The choice of Nottingham, with an unbuilt 40,000 seater stadium is controversial too.  Certainly a stadium in the East Midlands was desirable, but Pride Park, a modern stadium with 33,500 seats, seems a far more rationale choice simply on the grounds of cost.

As for a stadium in the West Country, an unbuilt stadium with 40,000 seats in Bristol, and Home Park in Plymouth with a more than doubled capacity to 45,000 seem economic folly and self-indulgence to me.

If we rejected these three (with Derby instead of Nottingham), which others might we be looking to? A case could certainly be made for a second venue in the West Midlands – plenty of opportunity for local rivalries to come to the fore though.

Having raised blood pressure with the assertion that I am not anti-Milton Keynes on traditional grounds, just on rational grounds, I step on even thinner ice with my last suggestion. We actually have a city in Britain with three 50,000+ capacity stadiums, the only city like this in Europe, which was never considered, on the grounds of course that it is not in England – I refer of course to Glasgow.

Yes, I am being serious.  Joint-nation bids are all the rage, so why not an Anglo-Scottish bid?  If I’m going to commit heresy, why not go the whole hog – a tri-nations bid, including the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff? Why not stick to stadiums that are already fit for purpose – surely a sensible policy in the current economic climate?

This really brings me back to why emotion should not come into the decision-making process. Well, after one quick rant… which should England, in a democratic United Kingdom, get the lion’s share of supposed economic benefit from London 2012 (ask yourself, what did the Olympics, for the third time in London, ever do for the Shetlands?) and a 2018 World Cup?

My use of ‘supposed’ is indeed unemotional.  There is a vast body of academic research that shows that the economic impact of sports events tourism is not as great as its supporters make out, that the positive impact is essentially local, or at best regional, rather than national, and it works much better for places that are not already major tourist destinations like, erm, England.

In a nutshell, if you want better transport links to East London, build a new tube line – sticking a velodrome at the end doesn’t actually help.  If you want to double the capacity of the MK Dons stadium or the Plymouth Argyle stadium, why not just go ahead and do it?

I won’t insult readers by answering that last question.


6 Responses to “That 2018 bid”

  1. By and large I agree. Why not Wales and Scotland?

  2. If we’re assuming the following criteria are important, in no particular order:

    :: Geographical spread
    :: Transport links
    :: Accommodation availability
    :: Nearby training facilities
    :: Non-prohibitive stadium upgrade/build costs
    :: Stadium legacy

    then one very obvious candidate stands out. St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.

    Already a UEFA 5-star venue, it would need moderate investment to raise the capacity sufficiently. There are a number of potential training facilities nearby – Southampton’s Staplewood training ground in the New Forest already has excellent facilities but will also be undergoing a redevelopment in the not-too-distant future, and Portsmouth’s training ground (rented from Southampton University) at Eastleigh is actually closer to the city than Staplewood.

    Southampton has its own international airport with direct rail, bus and road links into the city (10 minute journey), as well as cruise and ferry terminals at the docks, and Southampton Central rail station is the hub station in the south, serving Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton, Basingstoke, Reading, Birmingham, Manchester and London Waterloo.

    There’s plenty of accommodation with numerous big-name hotels in the city with a number of others due to be built shortly to cater for the booming cruise business.

    Then there’s stadium legacy. In all senses of reality, there’s no way Plymouth can justify a 45,000-seater stadium, likewise Milton Keynes for the reasons you’ve already mentioned. Bristol may be able to – City have demonstrated that they can get big crowds for playoff finals, but whether they’d be able to do it week-in, week-out is unknown.

    Southampton averaged more than 30,000 in the 4 seasons in the Premier League and with crowds around the 20,000 mark in League One and a large catchment area, it’s feasible that average crowds of 35-40,000 in the top flight would be achievable.

    Of course, Southampton would almost certainly have made a bid originally had the club not been in administration when the bids were being accepted. The bid committee refused to entertain a late bid under extenuating circumstances, so now they’re left with a number of mythical stadia and a very north-oriented spread.

    • John Beech said

      I would certainly agree that either Southampton or Portsmouth would have made sense in terms of geographical spread. Mercifully Portsmouth’s original plans to bid with an unbuilt Fratton Park replacement were shelved, and St Mary’s stadium is a fine venue. [Ooh! That hurt me to type as a Pompey fan, but it is the way I see it.]

      Interesting that you added transport links to my brief list. That again works against Plymouth, and for a second West Midlands stadium. It also helps tip the balance slightly more to Derby from Nottingham.

  3. John Beech said

    Already there is serious opposition (1) to Bristol City’s unbuilt £92m stadium.

  4. GazzaLDN said

    Only City in Western Europe?

    Does London not count? Wembley, Twickenham and Arsenal’s Stadium?

    • John Beech said

      Twickenham? Isn’t that where they play with odd-shaped balls and funny pointy goal posts?

      Fair cop, GazzaLDN! I should have said the only city with three Association Football stadiums of that capacity. (Highbury’s capacity, by the way, was under 39,000, so I wouldn’t begrudge Glasgow the bragging rights on this particular one.)

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