There was at least one English winner in Zurich yesterday. An unknown from the rougher streets of Manchester took his place on stage to wow the judges and proved the star turn of the entire show... No this was not the Swiss edition of The X Factor but it is fair to assume Simon Cowell would have been mightily impressed with the flawless, pitch-perfect performance of Eddie Afekafe. The 26-year-old was the England bid's secret weapon and, although he could not penetrate Fifa's invisible wall, he allowed the losers to walk out of that auditorium with their heads held that bit higher.
It was supposed to be all about David Cameron, Prince William and the most powerful man in Britain, David Beckham. But Manchester City's social inclusion manager upstaged these so-called "Three Lions" by opening the 30-minute pitch with a speech that gave his country's bid the legacy dynamic it had supposedly been lacking. Afekafe painted his picture of redemption.
His message was simple: "Football changed my life. Give us the World Cup and it will change millions more." Afekafe then went on to tell his inspirational tear-jerker, which many erroneously believed would also be a vote-winner.
For four years he was out of work and all but out of hope as friends joined gangs and other friends enrolled in prisons. Then he visited the Moss Side Job Centre, found out about a Prince's Trust initiative and the dream was set in motion.
The trust was to back him in an FA coaching scheme and, when qualifying for his level two coaching badge, he undertook work experience at Eastlands, assisting with the club's Kickz project, a nationwide initiative to involve youngsters from disadvantaged communities in sport.
City were impressed, employing Afekafe first as a play and adventure co-ordinator and then promoting him to one of the most important roles in their community programme. The success story has not ended there, however. Afekafe was co-opted on to England's 2018 bidding team and earlier this month was named as the Prince's Trust's young ambassador of the year.
It was in these latter roles where Afekafe learnt the art of public speaking. Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, heard one of his addresses and Afekafe also spoke at the House of Lords about the trust's work. Indeed, the cynics will say it is no surprise how nerveless he appeared in Switzerland. After all, Afekafe was well used to speaking in front of stubborn old men who never were going to listen.
Reaction to Russia's success and England's failure
'You have entrusted us with the Fifa World Cup for 2018 and I can promise that you will never regret it'. Igor Shuvalov, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister
'For 2018 and 2022 we go to new lands, because the Fifa World Cup has never been in eastern Europe or the Middle East. So, I'm a happy president when we speak of the development of football.' Sepp Blatter, Fifa president
'It was always going to be difficult and it wasn't made any easier by certain elements. Before it comes back to Europe it will probably be 2030'. England 2018 bid international president David Dein
'Having scored as highly as we did technically, I think there were other forces at play. I'm not sure what they are yet, but the politics of it all seems to have strangled the English bid'. Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn
'[Russia's presentation] showed a great concentration of Olympic Games and World Championships having been in a few trusted and tried areas. I think that worked quite strongly for them today'. England 2018 bid member Lord Coe
'Russia is a political choice, Qatar an economic one. We could say that the biggest loser here is sport in the allocation of the World Cups'. Belgium assistant coach Marc Wilmots
'Wow, Russia will host the world cup 2018.... so gutted. What more could we have done? What did we do wrong?' England captain Rio Ferdinand on TwitterReuse content