Inside England's 2018 campaign – how the votes are won

Despite savage criticism in Britain, and consequent radical restructuring of the team, the home bid is still winning support around the world
Click to follow
The Independent Football

A fortnight ago a delegation from England's 2018 World Cup bid team, led by Lord Triesman, was in Paraguay to visit Dr Nicolas Leoz, the president of the Conmebol federation. Dr Leoz is one of 24 men who will vote on the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The party – comprising Triesman, the bid's chief executive, Andy Anson, and the UK's ambassador to Argentina, Shan Morgan – first showed a film tailored for a South American audience. "Football is not a part of life, it is life itself, it's in our blood," says the intro, followed by messages from South American players who ply their trade in England.

A subsequent glowing report about the meeting on Conmebol's official website spoke of England's "impeccable candidacy", then went on to add that the England bid team "made a significant contribution" to the South American Football Museum in Asuncion, one of Dr Leoz's pet projects. The gift was a picture of Gordon Banks' "save of the century" from Pele at the 1970 World Cup.

The picture was personally dedicated to Dr Leoz, signed by Banks, and came with a video message from the goalkeeper, talking Dr Leoz through the save. He lapped it up, and when Anson also handed him a football shirt signed by every Premier League referee for his teenage son – an aspiring ref – Dr Leoz immediately phoned his lad to tell him. That night, Dr Leoz's wife told him he'd better think about voting for England.

As it happens, not even the most optimistic England 2018 worker believes Dr Leoz will cast a first-preference vote for any bidder but the Spain and Portugal combined bid. Conmebol's three votes will initially go Iberia's way. But if the Spain-Portugal bid later falls out of contention while England's does not, there is the hope that maybe Dr Leoz will consider England as his back-up.

Bidding for any World Cup, whatever one feels about pandering to an elite electorate, is all about such detail and personal connections, about what X can do for Y. That is the nature of realpolitik. All bidders will do it.

Many casual observers may have assumed the bid was in trouble as it become mired in parochial backbiting, fuelled by damaging factional briefings. Last week's slimming down of the main board from 13 to seven, with those ousted placated with an advisory position on a think-tank panel headed by Karren Brady, capped a couple of choppy weeks.

Criticism from Jack Warner, the president of Concacaf, "ambush" marketing by the Australian bid at the "Leaders in Football" conference at Stamford Bridge and a row over £230 Mulberry handbags given as a gift to the wives of the Fifa executive committee members generated bad headlines. Yet the bid's core work with the 24 ExCo voters has been ongoing – and unaffected. Anson has personally met every voter already, at least once and mostly on their own turf. Triesman, the chairman of the Football Association, will also have done so soon.

"We're now in a second phase of going back to present our bid formally," Anson tells The Independent during a brief respite in his globe- trotting this week. "We've started with the presidents of the individual confederations. We've met with Michel Platini recently, we've met with other Uefa members who are on the ExCo, we're going round each of the federations, and the presentations are being very well received.

"We're trying to personalise everything we do to the individuals," he adds. "It's emotional stuff. Having assets like Gordon Banks working on our behalf is absolutely priceless."

The strength of those assets was also illustrated when Sir Bobby Charlton accompanied Anson on trips to see Dr Chung Mong-joon of South Korea and Junji Ogura of Japan. "Sir Bobby is clearly someone they hold in the highest regard."

Anson says: "It's a privilege to travel with him. His contribution is very understated. He doesn't want a title, doesn't want to be on any boards and or committees but he's helping us wherever he can. We've gone to meet ExCo members and he couldn't have had a bigger impact."

Manchester United's chief executive, David Gill, now on the bid's advisory board, will travel later this month to Kuala Lumpur on bid business to offer advice to the Asian Confederation on what English football can do to help.

David Dein, former Arsenal and FA vice-chairman whose ambassadorial role will be confirmed in the coming days, is another well-connected figure. The Independent can reveal he spent much of last week in Africa with ExCo members. The Premier League's chairman, Sir Dave Richards, went on a recent trip to Cameroon with Anson to spend several days with Issa Hayatou, the head of the Confederation of African Football and the game's most powerful figure on that continent.

The former FA chairman and ExCo insider, Geoff Thompson, belatedly on the 2018 board, is someone Anson wanted involved from the start and is, Anson says, "vital to England's chances.

"We cannot afford to be complacent," Anson says. "We're going to have to see each of those ExCo members on a pretty regular basis and make sure we're working with them to help them achieve their bigger ambitions."

Paul Elliott, the former Aston Villa, Celtic and Chelsea player, was awarded an MBE for his work with young players and on anti-racism, and is a 2018 board member with a diversity, inclusivity and legacy remit. "England has no divine right to host this tournament, we'll have to earn it," he says. "But you can see that English football already has genuine diversity, from the Premier League downwards, and already reaches out around the world.

"What can't be underestimated is the global legacy an England World Cup can have, in Africa and other poorer regions. We've been in these places for the last six or seven years anyway, investing in coaching and infrastructure. The legacy can only enable us to do that even more."

Inner circle: Key figures in England's team

Lord Triesman (Chairman) Divisive figurehead of the bid who, many believe should be replaced by a 'football person.'

Andy Anson (CEO England 2018) New appointment. Will lead marketing and commercial aspects of the bid.

Lord Mawhinney Football League chairman who is also vice-chairman of the subsidiary company created to back the bid for the FA.

Geoff Thompson OBE Brought in to help improve relations with the Fifa decision-making committee, of which he is a part.

Sir Dave Richards Originally rejected an informal approach to be part of the team but came on board as part of the recent reshuffle. The Premier League chairman will lead the process of fostering support for the bid abroad.

Lord Sebastian Coe Adds bid experience after heading the successful 2012 Olympics campaign.

Paul Elliott Former Chelsea defender heads an 11-strong inclusivity advisory group that will help combat race and other social issues in football ahead of the bid.