World Cup set-back is a victory for freedom of speech

Stand by for at least another 20 years of stories of 1966 and all that. NORMAN GILLER reacts to the failure of England’s 2018 World Cup bid, and tips David Beckham for great things

Can you hear it, despite the muffling effect of the snow?

It’s the sound of messengers being shot following England’s failure to land the 2018 World Cup finals.

All guns will be turned on the Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama team, who will stand accused of costing England the chance of hosting the World Cup with their revelations of FIFA-linked fiddles.

Let me take sides. As disappointed as I am that England lost out to Russia, I would much rather live in a land where honest reporting is allowed than where the voices of whistleblowers are suppressed.

It is our duty as journalists to expose corruption and graft wherever it festers, and it would have been a defeat for that most precious of all gifts – freedom of speech – if the Sunday Times and Panorama had given in to pressure to keep quiet.

For my “old git” generation, it means we are unlikely to see England stage the World Cup finals again in our lifetime. We hear today that William Hill, always the home for optimists’ cash, have already installed England as favourites to host the 2030 World Cup…

Oh well, I suppose that gives me another 20 years of being able to bore people with what it was like in the golden era of 1966.

We collected just two votes, and one of those was the FA’s own ExCo member, Geoff Thompson. If it was not so sad, it would be hilarious. I wonder who it was who briefed the Prime Minister and our future King that we had enough support to make their participation worthwhile? They will be sent to Siberia (where they will get an excellent view of the 2018 World Cup).
Good could come out of the debacle. It is long overdue that the way our game is run needs to be exposed as rotten to the core. The Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association need their heads banging together.

What sickens me to the pit of my stomach is that by rights, FIFA should be an English-driven association. England gave the organised game to the world in the 1800s, but surrendered the chance to lead it into the 20th century.

The idea to have an international association was the brainchild of a French journalist who rarely gets the credit he deserves for coming up with the concept that eventually led to the launch of the most compelling of all football competitions – the World Cup.

His name was Robert Guérin, President of the French Football Federation, and a journalist employed by the French daily newspaper Le Matin. Out of respect to the founders of the game, he made two trips to England to invite the Football Association to lead a campaign to bring the footballing countries of the world together.

He was given short shrift by the insular rulers of the Football Association, who made it clear they wanted nothing to do with Johnny Foreigners. So FIFA was formed in Paris in 1904 without England, nor any of the other home countries and it was not until after the Second World War before the home nations deigned to rejoin FIFA, by which time we were all followers rather than leaders.

And that is why we now have to jump through the hoops held by the likes of Septic Blatter [sic].

Looking in my crystal ball (“Now there’s a novelty,” Eric Morecambe, circa 1978) I see “Sir” David Beckham managing the England team when they challenge for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Statesmanlike: David Beckham enhanced his reputation despite England's bid failure

Becks came out of the wreckage of England’s World Cup bid with his reputation stronger, showing that he has quickly matured into a future football statesman on the lines of his boyhood hero, Sir Bobby Charlton.

If David finds the drug of football too strong when he hangs up his golden boots, there is a path for him to follow into coaching and then management. In eight years’ time, he could be the finished article.

I have known of the single-mindedness of Becks longer than most. I lived just a few hundred yards from where he was making his name as a schoolboy footballer, and I followed his career with interest when he went first to Spurs and then signed for his favourite club, Manchester United.

He has always got what he has wanted (including Posh Spice), and I bet he one day makes a success as a manager. It was certainly no fault of his that England’s latest World Cup bid failed.

What surprised and fascinated me more than the Russian triumph as 2018 hosts was the choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup finals.

Now there is rich territory for an investigation by the Sunday Times and Panorama.

I MAKE NO APOLOGY for repeating here a comment I made following the passing this week of former Daily Express sportswriter Chris Hilton.

Christopher was a prolific author of beautifully written and well-researched books, and a sportswriter of the highest quality and standards.

He followed me on to the Express staff back in the Seventies, and so my admiration for his work was from afar. Recently, I was happy to act as go-between with him and a publisher for one of his creative ideas, and he confessed I had been his role model in the way I tunnelled my way out of Fleet Street to freelance. I responded: “Don’t blame me …”

His interests went far beyond the narrow confines of sport, and I highly recommend his story of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which he tells through the eyes of the hundreds of Germans he interviewed from both the East and West.

Whenever you read a Christopher Hilton piece, you knew you were in the safe hands of a writer who knew his subject.

Chris, just 65, passed on in – of all places – Berlin, within just a week of another Fleet Street giant, Ken Montgomery.

It disappoints me greatly that more SJA members do not put themselves out to leave comments eulogising highly respected colleagues like these.

A handful of people, chief among them, hon sec Steven Downes, work exceptionally hard to keep a website like this rolling along and as up to date as possible.

All you wordsmiths out there should make an effort to include some personal input, particularly when marking the passing on of our treasured workmates.

Come on, speak up. This is the land of freedom of speech.

3 thoughts on “World Cup set-back is a victory for freedom of speech

  1. Well said, Norman. The Sunday Times and Panorama made me feel not so apologetic about being a journalist for once.

  2. Nice piece and well said and quite right on the freedom of the press to expose corruption wherever – and whenever…

    Here in Oz there is similar anger and a friend of mine is very close to the Oz bid team.
    He emailed the following, which proves the duplicity, the lies and the corruption…

    ‘We had six votes going in, all shook hands with (Oz president Frank Lowy) FL in the morning. With that we would have survived the first round. Five of them double crossed us including Blatter. Deal was made between Blatter and Bin Hammam. The others were bought for cash. Stinks.’

    FYI: Bin Hamman is the president of Asia – and he is rumoured to be
    standing against Blatter for Fifa presidency next year. BH is from,
    wait for it… Qatar. So Blatter got the vote to swing to Qatar in
    exchange for BH not running against him next year.

  3. Pete, the decision to give Qatar the nod for 2022 ahead of Australia was outrageous. I hope our investigative reporters get their teeth into that one. I am living on your time zone at the moment. Surprised you didn’t mention the Test 🙂 Good on yer, mate. (FYI Julie Welch, commenting above you, is one of our finest sportswriters, who pioneered women taking their rightful place in the press box … she never has need to apologise for her input to journalism; it is always of the highest order).

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