I am opening myself up for some serious abuse with my headline. Not necessarily from fans and football commentators but from those random visitors who still visit this blog daily, looking for the “glory hole in Zurich” or “big jugs”. I kid you not. Tags work very well with search engines and have made CMF an almost overnight celebrity with her “jugtastic” picture (check for yourself by searching on Google for “Big Jugs” then images and low and behold on the bottom of page 2 is CMF smiling away with her two big jugs of beer in Munich’s Hofbrauhaus.
So anyway, sorry to disappoint all you mac wearers out there. This post is not about ladies of the night, nor establishments where they reside. This is about our good old Football Association, and their never ending quest to secure the 2018 World Cup. Since announcing that they would bid for the 2018 (and the back up 2022), the FA, Labour government and every Tom, Dick and Harry in the public face has tried to say what a festival of football it would be if we won the bid. Gordon Brown even said “Football would have truly come home” – quite inspirational and original. What’s next Gordon? I know what about D’ream’s “Things can only get better” as your election anthem next year???
I am not going into the why and wherefores of the current football administration in this country. Ask 100 followers of the national team if they think that the FA do a good job and have the best interests of the fans at heart and you would be hard pressed to find more than 10. The poor PR they got in Germany 2006 was all too obvious, and testament to the corporate baggage the organisation now carries. The term “Football Family” has now been added to Wives And Girlfriends as terms to describe those individuals who never have to worry about a seat at an international, whilst thousands of true fans spend ridiculous sums of money to follow the team.
In November 2007, defeat on a farce of a pitch at Wembley (due to said FA allowing American Football to be played on the surface for astronomical sums of money I would guess) to Croatia meant England would not be playing in Euro2008. After a qualifying campaign that had seen the fans follow the team to Barcelona (for the game versus Andorra), Zagreb, Tallinn, Moscow and Tel Aviv. Five new venues for the fans to go to. With the exception of Barcelona all venues were hardly easy to reach. Tallinn had just two flights (i.e 300 seats) a day from UK. Moscow ran out of hotel rooms and then hiked the price of a visa to astronomical levels. And Tel Aviv was a 5 hour flight away – hardly easy to do a day trip to, but some of us paid well over £350 for such a privilege. After the McClown disaster the FA failed once to publically thank the fans or apologise for some of the gutless performances. A friendly in Paris in March 2008 was attended by a huge away following and it was here that rumours started to circulate that we would be playing a friendly in Trinidad and Tobago at the end of the season.
The end of the season. Premier League manages have been complaining for season for the need to give their best players a rest, so after a long a gruelling campaign the last thing they would have wanted was for their England Internationals to be shipped thousands of miles across the Atlantic for a meaningless friendly, played on a dodgy pitch in conditions that were hardly conducive to the recovery of their stars. The like loyals fans, their opinion counted for nothing.
So why Trinidad & Tobago in the first place? Perhaps a reward for the fans to go somewhere that could be combined with a holiday? At over £1,000 for a few days it could hardly be seen as a bargain, or a trip that many would make (in the end around 300 made the trip). With the World Cup two years away fans were obviously trying to obtain as many caps as they could (caps were essentially points given to fans for games they can prove they attend. 1 for a home game and 2 for an away one) to be secure in successfully applying for tickets for South Africa. But at what cost? Another £1,000 on the back of £500 (minimum ) in Tel Aviv plus another £1,500 minimum for the other games adds up to a fair chunk of cash for most. Some took it as a chance to go on a family holiday, using the half term break to head for the Caribbean paradise. Well not quite!. Saying Trinidad has a crime problem is a bit of an understatement. Violent crimes have been on the rise over the past decade, and murder has increased five fold in the last nine years (source: TTcrime.com) to 550 reported cases in 2008, from a population of 1.2m. Human rights have also been under the microscope in the past. Hardly the island paradise the brochures would have you believe.
So why play there at all? Well, in the world of influence in football, the island of Trinidad plays a massive part. One of their executive members of the football board is none other that Jack Warner. Warner not only owns Trinidad’s best known football club, Joe Public FC and is not only a member of the parliament on the island but more importantly is the Vice-President of FIFA. And being so influential in footballing terms, the controversy is never far behind. After Trinidad & Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup Finals, Warner, through one of his associated companies, announced that only packages booked through them would be entitled to a ticket. It was later proved that this was in breach of FIFA regulations, and despite Warner holding such a senior position he was not held totally accountable despite the levying of a $1m fine (of with only a fraction has ever been paid (source: Daily Mail’s Andrew Jennings). With Warner controlling a sixth of the voting power for the Presidency of FIFA it is hardly surprising that Blatter forgot to send the reminder letters on this one (for more details of this story, click here). There was also controversy concerning the bonus payments due to the squad in Germany.
But the proof of the changing face of Warner was seen in August 2007. In an interview with the BBC (here) Warner responded to England’s formal bid for the 2018 event by saying he wanted to stage the event himself within CONCAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean). He went on to attack English football and the FA:-
“Nobody in Europe likes England. England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football. If the World Cup were to go to Europe (in 2018) I’m quite sure with the English luck as it is they won’t get it. It will be Italy, Spain or even France who will get the World Cup if it goes to Europe”
Well thanks Jack. Ignoring the fact of the FA work in the region which had seen the FA set up football workshops for coaches and young players alike, including three on the island of Trinidad itself. So what a Valentine’s Day treat the FA had when a card with a lovely heart on the front arrived at Soho Square with a Trinidad stamp on it (not really) with an invitation to come and play in a game to mark the centenary of the T & T football association. With Warner controlling 3 of the 24 votes that would be made for the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 the FA agree, subject to Warner apologising. We can only assume this was done under his breath as it has never been stated publically, but Capello (reluctantly) took a squad out there in late May 2008 for the game. Of course it was sold out, with locals being charged ridiculous prices for the match (and guess where all of that cash went???). The “England” team on that day included such stars as Dean Ashton, uncapped and unheard of Peterborough United keeper Joe Lewis, David Wheater and Stephen Warnock – all players who have not appeared in a squad since. Granted senior players like Beckham, Gerrard and Ferdinand played but the game was meaningless, placed at a pace as if it was an end of season friendly in high humidity – oh it was! The FA were quick to say it was nothing to do with votes, or cash but a chance to say thank you to an important member of the Commonwealth.
Fast forward 18 months and England have just qualified with ease for South Africa. Eight wins out of eight in qualifying had put them in the finals. The fans had followed the team loyally into the unknown once again. Barcelona (Andorra) and Zagreb were old hat to us know, but Minsk and Almaty were challenges, and expensive ones at that. Kazakhstan is a 8 hour flight from London, five time zones away and in the foothills of the Himalayas but almost a year to the day that the fans arrived in Trinidad, they were filling the bars of Almaty, prepared to spend well over a thousand pounds following England. Whilst the vast majority had enough caps for any venue in 2010, the issue is that at the end of each “campaign”, in this case 30th July 2010, all caps from games attended in the previous period are wiped off. So in this case the trips to Tel Aviv, Zagreb and Barcelona (1st time), Moscow and Tallinn would disappear. And so with the next qualifying tournament due to start in September 2010 and a real possibility of venues such as Tallinn where England were given less than 1,000 tickets, fans still needed to spend and attend as many games as they could.
The FA announced an August friendly away in Amsterdam – an easy 2 caps for anyone who wanted to attend, followed by a home friendly with Slovenia which served no purpose to anyone so early on in the new season. Ukraine away was more problematic as the logical (and easy to get to) destination of Kiev was not possible due to the renovation work being carried out to the Olympic Stadium (which was a real shame as it is the only stadium in the top 50 biggest list in Europe I have not been to). Eventually the Ukranian’s announced it would be in Dnipropetrovsk, or Dnipro for short, Ukraine’s third largest city and home to the Dnipro Arena, a smart modern 31,000 stadium. But again, getting there was a massive issue. Few airlines flew direct to Dnipro and so fans would have to rely on charter travel or face gruelling 20 hour + train journeys from Kiev. Our official travel partner wanted to charge £569 per person for this one. Again, astonishing considering the economy we are in at the moment.
A few days after the game was announced, rumours began to circulate that England would also travel to Qatar to play Brazil in November. As long as the team got the one point needed from the final three games we would not need a playoff and so the weekend reserved for one of these games in November was “free”. Not shy at trying to fill the Premier League players calendars with as much football as possible (before blaming tiredness I am sure as a reason why we will fail next summer in South Africa) they looked around for a game. Brazil, with their global deal with Nike, had been hostage to fortune for years, being hawked around the world to play in strange games, such as playing Wales at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane a few years ago, and Italy at the Emirates as recently as February this year. Part of their deal with Nike meant that they had to be open to these games, but with most of their squad based in Europe it was never a major issue. Somehow the idea of a game in Qatar came up.
On the 10th July Qatar Football Association secretary, Saud Al Mohannadi, announced England would play Brazil in Doha, with the game being arranged by Al-Jazeera TV channel. The FA of course said absolutely nothing. All of the main media outlets picked up on the story, asking the same questions but nobody would say anything. Eventually, nearly ten weeks later the officially announced the game in Qatar, saying this was part of our “contractual obligation” with the Brazilian FA after they played at Wembley in May 2007.
So why Qatar? Well it’s hot that is for sure but the original reason of “acclimatization” hardly washes. The temperatures and altitude are nothing like winter in South Africa, and with eight months to the tournament it was also very premature. It’s somewhere where England have never played, granted. But the fact overlooked by most casual observers is that it is home to Mohammed Bin Hammam, President of the AFC Confederation and strongly tipped to be the man to take over Blatter’s crown. He also controls the whole confederations votes for the World Cup , another four votes. With Warner’s three votes in theory secured, and with four more here plus the fact England has one vote on the committee as it is (Geoff Thompson), that mean that the FA only had to get five more to secure the games. Obviously there was some “you scratch my back” tactics here as well. Qatar themselves had put in a bid to host toe 2022 competition and this too would be decided in December 2010 and so they wanted the support of the biggest nations in football (two of which are Brazil and England). Simple really. They are also keen to showcase their infrastructure. Doha is a city similar to Dubai with thousands of dollars of investment pouring in every hour, and swish buildings going up on a monthly basis. The city hosted the 2006 Asian Games, and will also host the 2011 AFC Cup. The main stadium, and one that would host this absurd game is the Khalifa International Stadium, a 50,000 modern stadium with an arch not too dissimilar to Wembley’s.
So in summary, we are planning on playing one of the world’s best team which is a good idea. But why Doha? Why not Wembley? Because it is all about the votes. It is all about hosting the 2018 World Cup. And what will be the overwhelming reason for this? It certainly will not be inclusion. Ticket prices will undoubtably be the most expensive on average in all of the World Cup Finals. And where will this cash flow to afterwards? I doubt that grass roots football will see any improvement – in fact since we hosted the very successful 1996 European Championships, the facilities available to grassroots football have diminished across England, with land being sold off by local authorities for housing and retail development.
The definition of a whore is someone who is willing to sell themselves for money or favours irrespective of location (sort of). How is the stance of playing in the likes of Doha and Trinidad & Tobago in return for securing World Cup votes any different ? Between now and 2010 there are friendly windows in February, March, May and August 2010. So where could they play? Well a look at the Executive committee structure may give you a clue. This committee of twenty four (General Secretary does not carry a vote of the group) is split as follows:-
- AFC (Asian Confederation) – 4 members (South Korea, Qatar, Japan, Thailand)
- CAF (Confederation of African Football) – 4 members (Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon)
- CONCACAF(North, Central America and Caribbean) – 3 members ( T & T, Guatemala and USA)
- CONMEBOL (South America) – 3 members (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil)
- OFC (Oceania) – 1 member (The hotbed of football that is Tahiti)
- UEFA (Europe) – 9 members (England, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Cyprus, Russia, Turkey and Blatter’s Swiss vote)
So have a guess? My opinion is England v Australia in Tahiti, and England v Egypt in Cairo? Answers on a postcard please.