The English team for the bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals were left fearing they had been victims of a fix last night after they earned just two votes from the Fifa executive committee in a crushing defeat to Russia that ended any hope of England hosting their first tournament since 1966.
The Russian 2018 chief executive, Alexei Sorokin, told a member of the English bid team on Wednesday that the Russians believed they already had the necessary votes in the bag. Yesterday, Russia took just two rounds of voting to earn an outright majority, defeating both bids from Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium in the second round.
The chief executive of England's 2018 bid, Andy Anson, offered a brutal summary of the country's position in world football when he admitted, "I don't think people do like us". Intimating that there was also resentment of the success of the Premier League, he added: "You know what, we have got the strongest league in the world and we are proud as hell of it and that is not going to change."
Anson also questioned how England could finish first in Fifa's technical and economic evaluations into the bidding nations and yet attract so few votes from the 22 men on the all-powerful committee. "I honestly felt that we had enough comfort, enough people, to hope that things would go all right and we would go through the first round. We woke up [yesterday] morning thinking this.
"For me the biggest disappointment is that we clearly had the best technical bid and the best economic evaluation. Everyone has told me we had the best presentation. David Dein [the bid's international chairman] and myself, David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William looked people in the eye and asked them for their vote. We were being told 'Yeah'. I am not sure what else you could do."
Anson described the money spent on the technical report as "£3m down the drain" because "the two bids with the worst technical reports won". He added: "I do feel that some people let us down. Yeah, I would be lying if I said they didn't let us down. Clearly people who promised us their vote didn't vote for us."
Beckham, who led England's presentation, along with Prime Minister Cameron and Prince William said that it was one of the worst days in his career. "I just had a feeling when I was sat there, I didn't know the result but I sensed it," he said. "There is a lot of disappointment and emotions running around the bid team.
"When you do work so hard at something and don't get anything it is disappointing and crushing. There is huge disappointment."
The pressure brought to bear on England by the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who accused the English media of "smearing" Fifa in all but name in a statement on Wednesday, was thought to have been decisive. Putin did not even travel to Zurich for the announcement but it is understood that ExCo members feel confident that their affairs will not attract the same level of scrutiny in Russia.
There was another key moment in the Spanish presentation yesterday when the Spanish ExCo member, Angel Maria Villar Llona, ended his speech by claiming that there was a "slander" campaign against Fifa. Another clear reference to investigations by the BBC Panorama programme and The Sunday Times it was thought to represent a call to arms to ExCo members to protect their own.
Two of the ExCo have already been suspended in the light of the Sunday Times' revelations. The award of the 2022 World Cup final to the tiny emirate of Qatar did little to dispel fears that the Fifa voting process was flawed.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was critical of the Fifa process but also said that he believed the investigations into them had affected England's chances. He said: "There was a feeling that all the furore and the whoo-ha in the media had damaged our chances. From the voting process it is very hard to draw any other conclusion and that is very sad. It is bitterly disappointing. I hope they think about the case that we made and will be more receptive in the future."
There is now very little chance of England playing their proposed friendly fixture in Thailand in June after they were clearly abandoned by the Thai ExCo member, Worawi Makudi, who had been courted by the bid. The only ExCo member other than England's Geoff Thompson to vote for the English bid was Junji Ogura, the Japan ExCo member, whose vote effectively cost £15m – the budget for the bid.
Lord Mawhinney, the former chairman of the Football League and a board member of the 2018 bid, said that he thought the Fifa president Sepp Blatter was more interested in taking the World Cup into new territories.
He said: "Mr Blatter said that, 'We're taking the World Cup to two areas of the world where it hasn't been before'. That may be the explanation, or a hint at policy, in which case we will have to think about things."