It was political arrogance nd clumsiness, not hooliganism, that cost England the chance to stage the 2006 World Cup, says Alan Tomlinson

Brussels is an engaging mix of the old and the new. At one end of Boulevard Adolphe Max, itself littered with seedy sex shops and chambres privées, lies Place de la Bourse, one of the gathering points in the city, and a focus for the riot police when fans were getting out of hand. At the other end is a concrete wasteland of ugly buildings, among which lies the Sheraton, a shrine to the glamour and opulence of postwar reconstruction.

The hotel was the base for the England 2006 team, on the trail of those FIFA folk with a vote for the World Cup. A mournfully resigned Tony Banks, assigned to the World Cup bid by the government, would soon be conceding that the arrest of 800 or so England fans just prior to the game with Germany “hasn’t done us any good at all”. Things were “looking bleak indeed, with last week’s images”, he concluded.

England 2006 boss Alec McGivan was claiming that things were still looking good before the Charleroi problems, that England might even have got to a sec­ond round of bidding but for the disaster of the fan trouble. It would be important, McGivan insisted, for FIFA to hear re­assurances from the home secretary and the prime minister on tougher measures to deal with the hooligans. Tony Blair, however, has usually spotted the winners and losers in his career, and he wasn’t about to back the wrong horse. The Eng­land bid was dead long before Charleroi.

The World Cup used to be granted to a host nation in the public forum of the FIFA Congress. England got the 1966 World Cup – pipping Germany in what was essentially a two-horse race – when former FA secretary Sir Stanley Rous held the reins of power at FIFA, even though it was one of his FA colleagues, little known Grimsby fish trader Arthur Drewry, who was then FIFA⇣president.

Rous was ousted by the Brazilian João Havelange in 1974, and FIFA’s labyrinthine committee structure expanded. World Cups were soon in the gift of the inner sanctum of the FIFA executive committee. Dr Henry Kissinger fumed at the incestuousness and naked hypocrisy of the bidding sham when pitching for the US to step in and host the 1986 tournament, Colombia having pulled out. Havelange and his chums gave Dr Kissinger’s diplomatic skills the thumbs down, plumping instead for a few lucrative deals flowing from Mexico’s bid.

Since then, bidding for World Cups has been a dirty business. Havelange gate­crashed Tony Blair’s diary in the spring of 1998, and emerged from Downing Street declaring, via the voice of FIFA media boss Keith Cooper, that it was his personal wish that “the FIFA executive committee will decide in two years’ time that the World Cup of 2006 will indeed take place here”. Labour said in its 1997 manifesto: “We will provide full backing to the bid to host the 2006 World Cup in England.” Afternoon tea for a controversial Brazilian was a novel point of departure for New Labour’s vaunted ethical foreign policy.

Dr Jo Mifsud of Malta was elected to the FIFA executive committee on the eve of the 1998 World Cup. He told me then: “There should be a code of ethics for executive committee mem­bers. Giv­ing the World Cup should be a decision that is for the real good of football – it should be outside our scope to gain personally from our position.” Nobly said, doctor. But Dr Mifsud didn’t turn down an invitation to speak with Tony Banks later in the year, and visit London. And Malta did get a home fixture with England on the eve of Euro 2000.

But even with the might of foreign office support, England 2006 was a lost cause. From the start it lacked support within UEFA, because the FA⇣was per­ceived to have done the dirty on a deal that England would leave Ger­many with a clear run for 2006 in exchange for their backing for Euro 96. Lacking absentee frontman Gary Lin­eker – on a hefty retainer, but usually too media-busy to turn up for duty – the bidding team of seconded foreign office veterans, promotional and political operators such as McGivan, and faithful figureheads such as Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst dashed around the world smiling at FIFA folk, to no avail.

England’s bid showed all the symptoms of an empire on the wane. Like Keegan’s team at Euro 2000, it was all puff and bluster up front, clumsy and self-deluding at its core, and not up to it at the back. The hooligans will be a smokescreen used to cover up the real causes for defeat. The blend of neo-imperial and New Labour arrogance in the bid infuriated men such as Chuck Blazer of Con­cacaf, and ob­servers such as Champ­ions League mas­ter­mind Jürgen Lenz, who saw it as aggressive and alienating.

Was it all worth it? Ask again in 2004, when African representatives on FIFA’s executive ­com­mit­tee may well repay a 2000 debt by helping Ger­many win the right to stage the 2010 World Cup.

From WSC 162 August 2000. What was happening this month

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