Manchester to Milton Keynes – World Cup team selects cities

Bristol and Plymouth also surprise inclusions as Mawhinney names shortlist
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The Independent Football

For once this season, it was good news for the city of Liverpool and even better news for the footballing outposts of Bristol and Plymouth as all three were announced yesterday as 2018 World Cup candidate cities.

The remaining successful venues are London, Manchester, Sunderland, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Milton Keynes, while Derby, Hull and Leicester were the three unfortunates that failed to make the cut.

After the months of upheaval and mishaps among the England 2018 bid team, the announcement came five months ahead of the Fifa deadline for final bid submissions and is a statement of intent by a selection panel led by the outgoing Football League chairman, Lord Mawhinney. "I have no doubt this process has strengthened our bid considerably," he said. "The choices we made represented our best judgement of the strongest possible combination to give England's bid the strongest attraction."

Lord Mawhinney acknowledged Liverpool Football Club's "iconic" status within the game as he confirmed that, whatever Liverpool's onfield travails, either the current, or rebuilt, Anfield would be included in England's bid book. If the bid is successful, the club will emulate city rivals Everton, who played host to Pele's Brazil and Eusebio's Portugal during the 1966 World Cup. Despite Liverpool's bid being hampered by the financial uncertainty surrounding their new £350m stadium, it would have been a surprise if the home ground of the five-times winners of the European Cup had not been included.

What will surprise football traditionalists is the inclusion of Milton Keynes, a town classified as a city solely for bidding purposes, and home to professional football for just five years. Yesterday, Lord Mawhinney was effusive in his praise for the MK Dons chairman, Pete Winkelman. The former music mogul has raised £20m to fund the redevelopment of stadium:mk up to a 44,000 capacity.

Other non-Premier League stadiums selected are Bristol City's yet-to-be-built Ashton Vale and Plymouth's soon-to-be-redeveloped Home Park, both from the South-west. Sheffield's Hillsborough, Nottingham Forest's proposed new stadium, a redeveloped Elland Road and Newcastle's St James' Park complete the non-Premier League sweep.

"We always made it clear we aspired to having a wider geographical spread," Lord Mawhinney said. "We have some world-famous stadia and the world would not understand if we didn't put them in the bid, [but] we felt we should have a sprinkling of tomorrow as well."

Ashton Vale is tomorrow's sprinkle but the world would not forgive the omission of Manchester's Old Trafford. After previously making do with World Cup qualifiers, it may now have a chance to stage the real thing. The blue half of Manchester will also be celebrating thanks to the inclusion of the Eastlands. Villa Park, the Midlands home of Aston Villa, and Sunderland's Stadium of Light are the other current Premier League venues.

With a Fifa maximum of three venues per city, what is not yet clear is the identity of London's third and final venue. Wembley will host the final and Arsenal's Emirates stadium will have a major part to play. However, a choice remains between Tottenham's yet-to-be-approved 56,000-seater ground and the 2012 Olympic Stadium, whose post-Games legacy has yet to be decided.

The next stage in the bid process is the final submission of each country's bid book by 14 May 2010. An inspection of the candidate cities follows late next year, before the Fifa executive committee makes its final decision on the hosts in December 2010. And, at last, England's bid team appears prepared.

350 million

Proposed cost in pounds of Liverpool's new stadium. Current home Anfield will feature if the new venue is not finished.