Football Association technical teams continued their first round of inspections of prospective host cities for the 2018 World Cup Finals, visiting Nottingham in the English midlands.

The delegation was given a first glimpse of designs for Nottingham Forest’s proposed new stadium, which forms the centerpiece of the city’s bid.  The 50,000-seater stadium, designed by Benoy architects, will be located in the Holme Pierrepont area of the city.

The assessment team was told about the green credentials of Nottingham’s bid, with a vast fan-zone extending along the River Trent and through the city’s parks.

“Nottingham has come together behind this bid,” said bid coordinator, Hugh White. “You can see the scale of our ambition and together we can achieve it.”  

Yesterday the inspection team visited Leicester, where they were shown the Walkers Stadium, and also taken around Loughborough University and Welford Road rugby stadium – both of which are slated in the city’s bid as training venues.

An FA spokesman said: “We have been impressed with the quality of the outline submissions from all applicant host cities. We are currently engaged in the first of two rounds of the inspection process and these first-stage visits have been structured to achieve familiarity with the cities’ intentions in the early stages of their submission.”

London

London’s Wembley Stadium has a capacity of 90,000.

What it offers: In the 90,000-seater new Wembley and the 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, London boasts two of the world’s finest examples of new stadium design. Also included in its bid are designs for a revamped White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, and the Olympic Stadium in Stratford – although big question marks hang over the likelihood of its use. Rugby’s 82,000 capacity Twickenham remains a maybe for the final bid, while there are at least a further ten stadia with capacities ranging from 10,000-40,000 that could be used for training camps. Allied to this is all the transport infrastructure, hotels, conferencing facilities, parks and everything else you would expect from a world class city.

What they say: “London is committed to providing the most compelling, imaginative and technically superior application. It will provide the ultimate experience for all members of the FIFA football family if we were to host the World Cup in 2018.” Simon Greenberg, “London United” bid chief.

What we say: Few cities in the world can lay claim to such a range of outstanding stadia as London. The four stadia included in London’s bid left out Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge (on account of being too small – even though only slight modifications would bring it up to scratch), Twickenham, and a succession of fine and atmospheric grounds, such Fulham’s Craven Cottage. The main question is over the use of the Olympic Stadium, with London 2012 organizers seemingly open to its use, while Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell, is vehemently opposed.

Verdict: Just how many of its stadia will host World Cup matches remains the key question. 5/5

Manchester

The contemporary Manchester Stadium has a capacity of 48,000.


What it offers: A revitalized northern city, Manchester’s two principal football teams — City and United — each possess world class stadia. Built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and owned by the municipality, the 48,000 capacity City of Manchester Stadium is a state-of-the-art modern arena; while the much-extended Old Trafford is a 75,000 behemoth. EPL teams Bolton, Wigan, Blackburn and Burnley lie within close proximity to the city, as do a plethora of smaller clubs, providing extensive options for training venues. Much sporting infrastructure remains from the Commonwealth Games and the city will be a key training base ahead of the 2012 Olympics. Urban regeneration has brought it extensive hotel and conferencing facilities. It also boasts a major international airport and a new high-speed train link to London – now just 2 hours away.

What they say: “Manchester lives and breathes football and the city’s name is known all over the world for its links to top class football. The city has also proved itself as a venue for world class sporting events, the home of first rate facilities for a wide range of sports, and as a base for Olympic and Paralympic stars as well as big names in football.” Councilor Mike Amesbury, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Arts and Culture.

What we say: In an era dominated by Manchester United, the city’s name has become synonymous with football. However the standards set on the pitch by United have been matched off the pitch by a metropolis undergoing a renaissance in every way. Not only does it posses the international transport connections and infrastructure to support a major influx of football fans, it has the experience to put on a great show. Expect both of its main stadiums to feature heavily in England’s final bid.

Verdict: Could host a World Cup tomorrow 5/5

Milton Keynes

MK Dons has a capacity of 22,000 which can be extended to 45,000.

What it offers: A much misunderstood 1960s centrally planned “new town” 50 miles north of London, Milton Keynes has always been something of a national laughing stock, derided for its infamous concrete cows. It is, nevertheless, a prosperous place and much money and effort have been put towards altering perceptions of it. In 2003, professional football controversially came to the town when entrepreneur, Pete Winkleman, bought Wimbledon’s “franchise” and relocated them 60 miles north of their south London home, renaming them MK Dons. The 22,000 capacity stadium opened in 2007 and is designed to be easily extended to 45,000 with the addition of an additional tier.

What they say: “By 2018, Milton Keynes will probably be one of the top 12 cities in the country in terms of population and economic clout, we’ve got a brilliant track record for delivery — stadium:mk is one of the best stadiums in the country — so the FA will understand that if we go for it, we’ll be able to make it real. I would doubt that many cities would be able to put together as formidable a team as we will.” Pete Winkleman, MK Dons Chairman

What we say: While there exists the financial and political backing to make stadium:mk into a World Cup stadium, it seems unlikely that the FA will overlook established cities in favor of this little loved and rather soulless “new town”.

Verdict: High ambitions are likely to be unrealized 2/5

Newcastle-Gateshead

The modern St. James Park stadium in the heart of the city of Newcastle.

What it offers: A vibrant, football-crazy city in the north east of England, no football fans have been more loyal nor more let down than those of its sole club, Newcastle United. Perpetual mismanagement has left the club relegated and in financial disarray, but in the 52,000 capacity St James’ Park it possesses a state-of-the-art facility right in the heart of the city. Bid officials have been careful to add neighboring Gateshead, a less prosperous conurbation on the opposite bank of the River Tyne, and to cite the economic benefits of hosting World Cup games.

What they say: “Leading out England during the 1998 World Cup Finals in France was a great honor for me. To play in the biggest tournament of all is a dream for every footballer and to see St. James’ Park named as a World Cup venue for 2018 would be fantastic and fitting for such a great stadium. Fans coming to Newcastle for World Cup matches would be guaranteed the warmest of welcomes and be able to experience the passion we have for football here in the North East.” Alan Shearer, Newcastle and England legend.

What we say: An outstanding candidate for World Cup football, Newcastle possesses not just the stadium, but the enthusiasm and political support to earn host city status.

Verdict:
It would be travesty if it were overlooked 4/5

Nottingham

Nottingham town square and City Council building. Plans for a new stadium are just underway.

What it offers: It seems incredible now, but in the late-1970s Nottingham Forest — ruled by the iron first of its iconoclastic manager, Brian Clough — dominated European football. In 1978 they won the old First Division title, and in 1979 and 1980 lifted the European Cup. But despite these successes and the fact that its second club Notts County is the oldest professional team in the world, the city has never been considered one of English football’s great hotbeds. Forest have been in sharp decline since Clough’s retirement in 1993, but despite this plans were announced for a new 50,000 seat stadium in 2007. Who will pay for it, how it will be filled or even where it will be located remain to be seen.

What they say: ”The chance to be a part of it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We have got a great offer but we need the support of Nottingham people to make our bid unique and successful.” Hugh White, Nottingham host city bid coordinator.

What we say: A low-key campaign for host city status has seemingly been waged to prevent serious questions being asked about the new stadium. A location has still to even be agreed upon, and how financially troubled Forest will pay for it, never mind fill it with spectators, is clouded in mystery. A somewhat forgettable city, notorious as Britain’s “gun crime capital”, there are better places within the East Midlands to host World Cup matches.

Verdict: A second-rate bid is symptomatic of Nottingham’s decline as a football power 1/5

Portsmouth

Fratton Park is a throwback stadium that might be the alternative if a new stadium is not built.

What it offers: A naval city on the south coast, after winning back-to-back League Championships in 1948 and 1949, Portsmouth FC spent most of the remainder of the century in football’s doldrums. Ambitious new owners kick-started a renaissance at the start of this decade, with promotion to the EPL coming in 2003 and the FA Cup secured in 2008. Its stadium Fratton Park — an insanitary, dilapidated dump with uncovered seating at one end — remains a throwback to English football’s dark days, however. Designs for a futuristic 36,000 harborside stadium, designed by Olympic Stadium architects, Herzog & de Meuron, are on the table; capacity will be extended to accommodate FIFA’s requirements if the bid is successful. Nevertheless big questions remain about the new stadium’s financing and viability.

What they say: “The football World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world and represents a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Portsmouth. Portsmouth’s bid for host city status is proof of the city’s aspirations to establish itself as a truly international city.” David Williams, Portsmouth City Council Chief Executive.

What we say:
Portsmouth’s stunning £600million proposed harborside development, with the stadium its centerpiece, could be one of the most iconic parts of England’s World Cup bid. But grave doubts remain about who will pay for it, with Portsmouth heavily in debt and currently embroiled in a damaging takeover battle. In March this year the possibility of redeveloping Fratton Park in partnership with a supermarket was broached – a more cost effective but less ambitious alternative that would surely put paid to World Cup ambitions.

Verdict: Much depends on Portsmouth FC’s current ownership saga. If new owners can show deep pockets it’s in with a chance. 3/5

Sheffield

Bramall Lane has a capacity of 32,700 with plans to increase it to 44,000.

What it offers: A down-at-heel Yorkshire city whose fortunes were made in its steel mills, Sheffield boasts two big but underperforming football teams – United and Wednesday. Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane currently seats 32,700 but plans have been unveiled to increase this to 37,000 and 44,000 if the World Cup bid is successful. Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough is still synonymous with Britain’s worst football disaster, which killed 96 spectators before an FA Cup semi final in1989. Although it hosted major matches until a decade ago and still seats nearly 40,000 it would need a major overhaul to bring it up to scratch. Neighboring towns, such as Barnsley and Doncaster, are viable training camps. Sheffield is also home to major conferencing facilities, the Don Valley Athletics Stadium, and hosts the annual World Snooker Championships.

What they say: “This is a huge opportunity for Sheffield, and we are very keen to be a host city, given Sheffield’s proud football heritage. There is strong support from many people within the city, we have a bid team in place and we are excited about the prospect of working closely with the FA over the coming months.” Councilor Paul Scriven, Leader, Sheffield City Council

What we say: Although both Sheffield clubs possess ambitious chairmen, the teams remain mired in mediocrity and as a consequence the stadium facilities they possess are stuck in a time warp. Hillsborough possesses more than an image problem, it is outdated and increasingly worn – and yet no plans exist for its redevelopment. Sheffield’s chances thus centre on Bramall Lane and bid officials’ ability to convince inspectors of its redevelopment plans.

Verdict:
Sheffield needs to make the leap into the twenty-first century to stand a chance 2/5

Sunderland

The Stadium of Light meets most FIFA criteria and has a capacity of 49,000 and may be raised to 60,000.

What it offers: A post-industrial city in the economically deprived north east, Sunderland is hoping to use World Cup football as a driving force for economic regeneration and to change outside perceptions of it. To this end, the city has formed partnerships with neighboring councils, arguing that a successful bid would benefit the whole region. With the 49,000 capacity Stadium of Light already in place, only a few modifications would be necessary to meet FIFA’s criteria. Sunderland AFC chairman, Niall Quinn – usually a man of his word – has promised to raise capacity to 60,000 if the bid is successful.

What they say: “Sunderland has so much to offer as a host city in England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup, and the international recognition that such an honor brings, would provide huge long-term benefits not just to our city but across the North East. We have some of the best facilities in the country, and our people are renowned for their hospitality and of course their passion for sport, and football in particular…We are perfectly placed in the North East to be a host city, so we really need the people of Sunderland and the wider region to get behind the bid and show The FA just how much we really want to bring the World Cup here.” Councilor Paul Watson, Leader, Sunderland City Council.

What we say: Having waged an impressive PR offensive, the ambition and local will is plain for all to see. Yet while Sunderland has the stadium, the city lacks the infrastructure and convenient location – there is no airport, and road and rail links are poor – of other bid cities. If the FA were faced with a straight choice between Newcastle and Sunderland as its north east host city, one suspects it would chose the former. Hopefully for Sunderland it won’t come for that, for it is a genuine footballing hotbed and generally well set up for the World Cup.

Verdict: If it is seen as complimenting Newcastle rather than as a north east alternative it stands a great chance 3/5

Written by James Corbett

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