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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Which 16 English stadiums could host World Cup 2018 and will Merseyside miss out?

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It does seem a bit presumptuous to invite cities (and Milton Keynes) to bid for the right to be part of the attempt by the FA to get England chosen as the 2018 World Cup host nation. But given the success of the London Olympic bid there is some optimism that England could get this twice in a lifetime opportunity (let's hope that we can host the tournament in 2018 and then sometime somewhat earlier than 2070!). But which grounds will get the nod?

If the format of the tournament continues as thirty-two teams in eight initial groups then as the FA today announced that there would be 16 stadiums it seems likely that eight pairs of stadiums will be picked that are reasonably geographically close for each group. The latter rounds will probably be London based, with the possible exception of the odd game in the bigger provincial stadiums - Old Trafford, St James' Park and so on.

The FA's criteria include:

"Successful cities will show they have the infrastructure necessary to meet or exceed FIFA’s requirements. This includes stadiums, training venues, base camps and Fan Parks. They will have excellent accommodation and transport services, and robust plans for safety, security and sustainability. Successful cities will have strong public backing for their bid, plus the support of local and regional media."

There are 21 stadiums in contention for games now that Portsmouth has pulled out, so five are going to be disappointed:

Liverpool x 2 (Everton* and Liverpool's* new grounds)
London x 4 (Emirates, Olympic Stadium*, Wembley and Tottenham's new stadium*)
Manchester x 2 (Old Trafford and Eastlands)
Milton Keynes
Sheffield x 2 (Bramall Land and Hillsborough)

There is a measure of uncertainty over some of the stadiums as Nottingham, Bristol, both Merseyside clubs, Tottenham and the London Olympic stadium will all require building before the event - these stadia are at various stages of development.

Who will be chosen?

Plymouth's Home Park should be a big winner as the only bidder on the south coast and it would make sense if it were paired with Bristol or Villa Park for one group. Without Plymouth or Bristol there would not be a single game south or west (or east for that matter) of London.

London seems sure to get a bigger quota than elsewhere with its four proposed stadia all likely to be picked. Although the Tottenham stadium and the new Olympic stadium have not been built, plans are so well advanced that they would make an obvious pairing - as would the Emirates and Wembley.

St James' Park/Stadium of Light are a shoo-in for one group to be based in the north east.

Old Trafford and Eastlands in Manchester are also certainties as two of the biggest grounds in the country.

Villa Park is another certain winner as the only ground from the west Midlands paired with either the Walkers Stadium (Leicester) or Stadium MK (Milton Keynes). Although if Plymouth or Bristol were rejected then they could come into contention for the region.

Which probably leaves two stadium pairings from the four remaining likely sets of stadiums: Derby/Nottingham, Leeds/Hull, Sheffield or Merseyside.

Ordinarily Merseyside would be an obvious pick; but there are currently severe problems over proposing them. The doubt over the Merseyside bid is that it is based on Everton and Liverpool having new stadiums - which unlike the Tottenham and Olympic stadiums are not actively being developed. With the rejection of the Kirkby proposal for Everton's ground and the clear lack of funding from the Liverpool owners for their Stanley Park development there is a possibility that one or both clubs will not have a new stadium in 2018.

That said it would be ludicrous for the FA to abandon Merseyside almost a decade before the stadiums would be needed; so I reckon that a compromise will be reached with a deadline set of, say, 2015 for building work to start on new stadiums before a contingency plan would be needed.

The final group would probably be made up from the four Yorkshire stadiums, with tradition suggesting that Elland Road and Hillsborough would get the nod over the KC Stadium or Bramall Lane - even if the KC stadium is probably the best of the four.

Leaving Pride Park (Derby) and Nottingham as the probable contingency pairing if the new Merseyside stadiums don't get built. If only one Merseyside stadium gets built then perhaps it would share a group with one Manchester stadium and the other paired with a stadium from Yorkshire or the east Midlands.

* Which stadiums do you think should get the nod for England's World Cup bid for 2018?

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Antony Melvin



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