John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson look at the bidding process for the 2006 World Cup, and England's chances of staging the competition

Sir Bobby Charlton features prominently in the calendar produced to promote England’s campaign to host the 2006 World Cup, which was recently mailed across the football and media networks of the globe. This slick bit of marketing covers 15 months from January 1999 to March 2000 – the month when FIFA is due to announce the winning bid. Sir Bobby appears in two of the pictures – straddling the nostalgia of a black-and-white image of his youth (in a back street of his home town) and the multicoloured glory of England’s 1966 World Cup victory.

Sir Stanley Matthews and Bobby Moore are also there, as are the Queen (signing a football) and Tony Blair. But it is Charlton who holds the mosaic of football imagery together. An essentially shy and not greatly articulate man, he is the solid centre of England 2006’s triumvirate of ambassadors. Sir Geoff Hurst is a bit of Jack the lad, while smoothie Gary Lineker is a bit too forthright with his mediaspeak (and fairly un­available for the campaign trail). But Sir Bobby, consistent working-class gent – he won’t let us down. Give him the addresses of the 24 members of FIFA’s executive committee (Exco), pack him off round the world with the sports minister and a safe minder or two and the ambassadorial profile of the bid is flawless.

And so Bobby finds himself on the lawns of the British embassy in Paris a couple of days before the World Cup final, in an assorted gathering of diplomats and politicians, FIFA hangers-on, football wheeler-deal­ers and media folk. He speaks fluently and wistfully of mem­­­orable World Cup mo­ments, and is ushered back on stage after omitting to mention the 2006 campaign.

A few months later, Exco member Dr Joseph Mifsud is welcoming Charlton, Hurst and Tony Banks to Malta. Mifsud is new to the job. Despite welcoming England’s delegation, he believes bidders should not impose them­selves upon committee members: “There should be a code of ethics for Exco members,” he says. “Giving the World Cup should be a decision which is for the real good of football, it should be out­side our scope to gain personally from our position.”

Charlton’s presence is intended to reassure Exco members that the bid is wholly respectable. But if England are serious about 2006 (which they are), their tactics will have to be less unambiguously wholesome than Charlton’s image implies. The beanos will roll on. For this is what you have to do to get the World Cup.

Theoretically, the Exco members (plus FIFA president Sepp Blatter) have independent and secret votes. The serious contenders will all be praised equally by FIFA’s technical committees which visit the bidding countries – there was little infrastructure in place in South Korea when its bid was rated equal with Japan’s. So the tried and tested means of going after the finals is to lobby, flatter and indulge the individual voter in a more restrained version of the process which has brought the Olympic movement into such disrepute.

UEFA president Lennart Johansson commented on the 2002 bidding war: “There were no limits. A bottle of whisky, a camera or a computer, everything was permissible,” and added that he had actually returned a computer sent to him. Chuck Blazer, general secretary of Concacaf, observed: “I have to say that the calls from the embassies and the consuls bordered on harassment.”

Despite a general feeling that the Japan/Korea battle went too far for everyone’s comfort, the front-runners for 2006 are not going to look like cheapskates. England’s bid is off the ground with £9 mill­i­on, a third each from the National Lottery, the FA and the Premier League. Help in kind has been forthcoming with secondments on to the bidding team from Whitehall. British Airways, Marks and Spencer, Nationwide and Umbro were the first commercial partners on board, with the Daily Telegraph and Deloitte & Touche joining the bid’s “official supporters”. In Japan and Korea, where they know a lot about such alliances, experienced football bureaucrats are impressed.

Does England want the World Cup finals? Who knows? Nobody has asked us. After Euro 96 the FA was so gung-ho that it ditched a long-standing agreement within UEFA that Germany should have a clear run from Europe. And this coincided nicely with the Labour Party’s development of its 1997 election manifesto. You can easily follow their train of thought. Three years into its first administration, New Labour initiative lands the finals; on the eve of the campaign for their third term in office, England win the World Cup. Who knows what a United Kingdom reshaped by devolution would make of that. But it would be a dream ticket for the floating vote of middle England.

So political support has been increasingly prominent, despite the presence of the volatile Tony Banks. Shortly after the 1997 election, Banks could be heard espousing the merits of the South African bid. But when last month the Financial Times reported that Banks was withdrawing active support for England’s bid, he countered with a reassertion of the prime minister’s 110 per cent support for the bid. Banks insists that the English bid is not lavish in the reciprocal gift stakes. Premier League replica shirts seem to be enough to please on worldwide visits, and though he reckons the South African bid is still the one to beat, he claims England is in there first without its traditional blend of “arrogance and standoffishness”.

Sepp Blatter has visited Downing Street for a longish consultation, following in the footsteps of former president João Havelange. Blair has asked all Exco members to dinner at Downing Street in May 1999. Even if the bid fails, it looks like the closest alliance of the state, finance and civil institutions around English sport for many a long day.

In the football politics arena, goings-on have look­ed pretty murky. The FA reneged on its commitment to support UEFA president Johansson for the FIFA presidency, and its chairman Keith Wiseman struck deals with the Welsh FA in a bid to displace the current Home Countries Exco member, David Will, and get himself elected instead. England’s tactics have created tensions within the four UK football associations

Such strains are likely to increase as decision-time approaches. Cabals within Exco, the whims, schemings and volatility of individuals, the tension between UEFA and FIFA that has been simmering for more than 20 years – these are the some of the imponderables that will influence the outcome. Technically and organisationally, the England bid is ahead at this early stage. And it may well be helped by nervousness about the next World Cup. Korean organisers seem as besotted with the potential co-hosting role of North Korea as with getting down to organisational brass tacks, and sponsors are edgy about the nine-hour time difference with western Europe.

FIFA could not afford a second round of headaches if 2002 turned out badly. So a bit of spin about the danger of the Johannesburg streets and the untrustworthiness of African football administrators and hey presto – the Exco member, urged on by wife or partner, may well vote for five weeks in Knightsbridge, and plush seats at the new Wembley.

From WSC 143 January 1999. What was happening this month

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