Three days from now we’ll know whether England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup has been successful. Let’s hope that our campaign team have done all the right deals and agreed to play the right amount of prestige friendlies to win the day. If we do get the nod, though, let’s forget any pretence that the FA have succeeded because England have the best stadia, the best infrastructure and the most passionate fans. I reckon we do have all of those things (give or take the M25) but the whole bidding process seems questionable and has little to do with which nation is capable of staging the best football tournament.
By the time 2018 comes round, it will be 52 years since England last hosted a World Cup. And the main reason I hope we get it again, is that it will be the only chance we’ll ever have of winning it again in my lifetime. It’s no coincidence that England’s only major trophy was earned on home soil, or that our only other excellent tournament performance, possibly even better than ‘66, came at Euro 96. Home advantage makes a massive difference.
In 1966, we were helped by playing every match at Wembley, a stadium we all knew so well. But the main reason home advantage is so crucial is the refereeing. Had England played Argentina in Buenos Aires in the 1966 quarter-final, I certainly don’t think their skipper, Antonio Rattin, would have been sent off. And if the final had been in Germany, does anyone really believe Geoff Hurst’s second goal would have been given?
Maybe I’m just a natural sceptic. I mean, I didn’t even believe the story that Pickles the dog found the Jules Rimet Trophy when it was stolen before the 1966 tournament. They reckon he discovered it hidden in some bushes, but when I take my dog for a walk, he never goes into bushes even for the call of nature. Pickles, for me, was a fraud. He’d taken a bung of a few dog biscuits and provided an alibi, when the whole situation seemed thoroughly fishy. Yet it’s all part of the 1966 folklore which is still with us today.
That was the first commercial World Cup. The previous one, in 1962, was a complete shambles in Chile. With the World Cup Willy mascot, and matches televised live, the modern tournament was born in England – just as the game itself was born here a century earlier. The tournament is so much bigger now and next week’s announcement will have an even more major impact if it goes our way.
After another bleak night at Wembley against France on Wednesday, it would give our national team the shot in the arm it is crying out for and something to aspire to. The one thing a 2018 World Cup would not have is the mystique of 1966. North Korea, in particular, were cherished by English fans – complete unknowns and rank outsiders, they beat Italy and were 3-0 up against Portugal in the quarter-final before they blew it. But we were so in the dark about them that some of us simply couldn’t believe that there was such a thing as a 6ft Korean bloke. We assumed they would all be 5ft at the most.
I’d love to see the magic of the World Cup return to England, even though the tournament has grown too large for its own good, with 32 teams in the finals. And yet you only have to watch the voting in the Eurovision Song Contest every year to realise that we are not a popular nation. I’ll be accused of being unpatriotic for saying it, but I’ll be tuning in to the 2018 decision with blind hope rather than expectation.