Football’s Coming Home

Football’s Coming Home

44 years ago, England played host to the world’s biggest sporting tournament for the world’s most popular sport and emerged victorious. In 2018 England hope to repeat the trick, and just like in 1966 the bid will be backed by the area of Britain many feel is the spiritual home of football – where the game truly matters – the North East.

“We’ve got modern football stadia, great facilities and infrastructure, wonderful countryside and, just as importantly, passionate and welcoming people.”

The North East – a hotbed of footballing passion. The World Cup – a glorious celebration of the beautiful game. Combine the two and it seems a perfect match, but does the region have what it takes to help make the 2018 World Cup bid a successful one?

“As a native of the region, I’d throw that question back at you and say ‘why not?’.”George Caulkin, the North East football writer for The Times, clearly believes that the World Cup bid is an ideal stage for the North East to finally showcase what it has to offer. “We’ve got modern football stadia, great facilities and infrastructure, wonderful countryside and, just as importantly, passionate and welcoming people.”

One of those modern football stadiums Caulkin mentions is the Stadium of Light, home to the sole remaining Premier League representative from the North East. Looming above the skyline it’s visible from much of the city, with a complicated roof structure taking inspiration from the industrial past. As you get nearer you have to cross the vast steel bridge which proudly illustrates the city’s history.

Inside the stadium and it is a far cry from the past, a modern stadium capable of seating up to 49,000 passionate and vocal Sunderland fans on a Saturday afternoon. As a regular Mackem match-goer explains: “It’s a great arena to watch a game from, and perfect for a major tournament. It certainly wouldn’t look out of place on the world stage. The Stadium of Light doesn’t get the credit it deserves from other fans, but the bid has finally given it recognition.”

Sunderland welcomed, among others, former World Cup winners Italy and held a quarter-final at their previous home Roker Park during the tournament in 1966, yet for many Sunderland wasn’t an obvious choice as a host in 2018.
The Black Cats’ chairman Niall Quinn spoke after the host cities were decided, telling Sky that “various things have happened in this city, in this region: the shipbuilding stopped, the coal mines closed and it’s been a struggle ever since to regenerate and reinvent itself, but this is a huge help.”

“When Sunderland announced their intention to bid for host city status there was a local feeling of ‘yeah, nice idea, but you’ve got no chance’ – being accepted is a valediction,” said Caulkin. It’s a city with high aspirations but low reputation – many here believe a successful World Cup could be the catalyst for fixing the latter and achieving the former.

Further north sits a far better known footballing city. Despite Newcastle United’s relegation from the Premier League, it remains a famous city with a heritage for the beautiful game, even if St James’ Park was not one of the stadiums involved (Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park had that pleasure) in England’s World Cup winning campaign all those years ago.

Jumping into view in the heart of the city, two imposing stands soaring above as you climb the stairs, Newcastle’s stadium is a sight many football fans can instantly recognise. It is every bit as intimidating inside with its steep sides and colossal roof only adding to the sense of theatre.

“It’s perfect for the World Cup,” stated an avid Newcastle United fan. “It’s already being used as a stadium for the Olympics and then the Rugby World Cup in 2015 – it’s in a great city full of great people who deserve to be part of something like this. It would be so important, not just for Newcastle but the surrounding area too.”

So two fantastic stadiums in two very different cities that share a very real passion that’s possibly unrivalled by the rest of Britain. But how much work is there to be done before a global tournament could be hosted? George Caulkin answers: “Improvements or changes would have to be made in the run up to any tournament because there are certain criteria that have adhered to, from fan parks to media access, but no large-scale construction would be necessary. Sunderland’s bid has also been pan-North East, involving other clubs and councils in the region. Middlesbrough’s palatial training complex, for example, would be available.”

In just over 250 days, both of these proud cities will know if they will be helping England welcome the world in eight years time. And if the bid is successful, Newcastle and Sunderland will deserve every second they get in the spotlight.

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