David Beckham. Prince William. ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron. We fielded our brightest and best, possibly the three smartest guys in England, and almost certainly the nicest. Becks: celeb footballer, top knickers model and one helluva nice guy. Wills: future King, firstborn of the people’s princess, soon to be dashing groom and one helluva nice guy. And you simply do not get nicer than hug-a-hoodie Cameron, the more popular half of the Nick and Dave double act that runs the country, even if his cutbacks mean the Commission for Reviewing the Adequacy of Pedestrian crossings is never going to engage me for that study they were talking about. It could have been really influential in bringing back more Belisha Beacons to our towns. But I digress. On Thursday night, I was left asking myself where Becks, Wills and Cammie could possibly have gone wrong. England’s 2018 World Cup bid had not just been rejected, it had been ejected in the first round of voting. I was so depressed that I just sat in the dark, constantly flicking between the news channels to find the latest tittle-tattle about what went awry with our bid. The remote control was in my right hand, and in my left I held a long tall smoothie glass, containing equal parts Haagen Dazs, Corona Beer and Tanqueray Gin, with a Cadbury’s Flake stuck in the top. But it was to no avail – nothing would cheer me up. No matter which news channel I watched, there was no rational explanation for why England failed to secure the World Cup. I was bitter about Blatter and put out by Putin. Then my favourite clone, MaV-Eric, came home…
MaV-Eric: [Switching the light on] Hey… are you still up?
Eric: Can’t sleep. There may not be a World Cup in England during the lifetime of me and Dave Cameron.
MaV-Eric: Don’t talk like that. England are favourites to get the 2030 World Cup.
Eric: But Uruguay will be the sentimental choice for 2030. It’ll be the centenary of the first World Cup, which was held in Uruguay.
MaV-Eric: We can’t fail in 2030. Word is that the marketing firm where I work, Perkins and Parker will get the contract for promoting England’s bid for 2030.
Eric: Is that why you are so late?
MaV-Eric: Yeah, we put in a late shift, coming up with some real rad ideas for how to kick our football credibility up a couple of notches.
Eric: Kick-up England’s football credibility? We invented the game. We’ve got the richest domestic league in the world. We actually play football in our country, which is more than can be said for some of the nations that were bidding. Think about it – the English Premier League is shown on the telly in Qatar. Do you ever think they’ll show a Qatar league game on the box in England? We had the best technical bid. We had the best commercial bid. We had the biggest superstar in world football and we gave a great presentation. What more do we have to do…?
MaV-Eric: I can tell you what more England can do – and I’ll tell you by repeating the dialogue we had down the office, word for word.
Eric: Very well, so long as you don’t intend to nest that dialogue within this dialogue. That would be really confusing if anyone wanted to read it later.
MaV-Eric: What do you mean? Are you taking minutes?
Eric: No. I’m recording this conversation and I’ll write up the transcript tomorrow morning.
MaV-Eric: Ah… that explains it. I wondered how you always managed to blog everything we say verbatim. At this point, you should write that you shut up and listened to me relate the story of what happened at Perkins and Parker today.
Eric: Okay, I will.
At this time I shut up and settled back into my armchair, as MaV-Eric recounted the events at Perkins and Parker that day…
[Claire Perkins, indomitable chieftainess of Perkins and Parker strides into their conference room. Her top creative team has been waiting patiently for her. She smiles thinly.]
Perkins: Great news, losers. It’s time for us to be winners. Why? Because England’s a bunch of losers. And we’re going to turn them into winners, turning ourselves into winners in the process. Do you understand?
Fattish black bloke wearing a khaki cardigan near the front: Losers turn into winners by turning losers into winners. Makes sense to me.
Perkins: That’s right. I want ideas tonight for how England will win the bidding process to host the 2030 World Cup, so I can go pitch the ideas first thing tomorrow.
Mousy woman: We can emphasize England’s sporting and footballing history, talk about our great stadiums, point out we have huge experience of running massive international events, modern travel infrastructure and a thriving tourist industry…
Perkins: Wrong, Wrong, WRONG!!! Can anyone do better?
Tall Nerd: We could offer a great deal that gives FIFA a lot of profit from the tournament, we could treat the FIFA delegates to luxury all-expenses-paid stays in the finest London hotels, with meals at the best London restaurants, and we could point out how much work we do promoting the game around the world…
Perkins: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong AGAIN!!! That’s what the bid team did before, and they only got two votes out of twenty-two. And one of them was from the Brit on the committee.
Fattish Bloke: Sepp Blatter said he saw more pretty girls when he visited the other bidding countries. Perhaps we should focus on that as an area for improvement.
Perkins: That idea can’t work for us. Pretty girls work well on FIFA execs, but with players like Rooney and Terry, having pretty girls hanging around will cause more trouble than they are worth. We need to think about legacy. It’s all about leg-acy. That’s why they call it foot-ball. We have to start thinking outside the box. [Points at MaV-Eric] MaV-Eric, you’re good at that. What suggestions do you have? Let’s hear them!
MaV-Eric: Floating football pitches. Sailing stadiums.
Perkins: Excuse me?
MaV-Eric: Let’s take advantage of our great naval tradition. Instead of playing the games in our existing world-class stadiums, the games are played in massive new football stadiums that float on water. Some can be situated in big rivers like the Mersey and the Thames. Others will be anchored off the coast. Then, when we’re finished with them, we can sail them around the world, bringing football to any country with a harbour. Best of all, we promise to create thousands of jobs in the old shipbuilding industry.
Perkins: That’s novel. But won’t it ruin the game if the stadium is bobbing up and down?
MaV-Eric: We’ll promise to invent a totally new technology to solve the problem. Call it a wave-powered ultrasound suspension that keeps the pitch perfectly aligned. We say it will be rock solid that you won’t even be able to sense the slightest wobble using a spirit level, even in the roughest of seas. It won’t matter that it doesn’t exist and won’t work – the FIFA execs are politicians, not scientists.
Perkins: You’re right. In the last World Cup they selected a football so round that nobody could kick it straight. If that’s science, then I’m a Dutchman, and I’m no Dutchman, I’m an Englishwoman. But won’t water-borne stadiums make it hard to host any games in cities inland?
MaV-Eric: Yeah, that’s a tough one. But we could argue we’re bringing football to new places. Places where they rarely get to see football games. Oil rigs, for example. And to fishermen. And the Isle of Man.
MaV-Eric: [Excited] Hey! I’ve got it. Instead of just having stadiums that float on water, we’ll also have some that float in the air. Build massive helium balloons and play the games half a mile above ground. That way, we can simply fly the pitch to wherever we like. Best of all, we’ll get great camera shots of beautiful English countryside and of fans waving from below – all far enough way that the audience cannot see how ugly British people are.
Perkins: That idea could be absurdly expensive, but to win this bid, the more absurdly expensive the idea, the better our chances. But I want to be able to show we’ll leave an even more inventive legacy than that.
MaV-Eric: How about this – instead of a ball that nobody can kick straight, we have moving goalposts.
Tall Nerd: How would that improve the game?
MaV-Eric: It’ll be like a handicap. When one team goes ahead, their goalposts move wider apart, making it easier for the other side to come back and equalize. But if the game goes into extra time, then both goals steadily get wider and wider until somebody scores a golden goal and wins the game.
Perkins: That certainly changes the game itself, but as well as widening the goals, we need more impact on the issues in our wider society. We need to be seen to solve problems and make the world a better place.
MaV-Eric: We could do that by having ten times as many games in the tournament. That way, more people will get to see a game.
Perkins: By your standards, MaV-Eric, that is a disappointing suggestion. If ordinary people get to see games, then what would corporate sponsors be paying for? The whole point of the World Cup is to give VIPs and people who don’t care about the sport an opportunity to brag that they saw games that ordinary football fans can only dream of seeing. And to give them hospitality areas so they can socialize and network without being troubled by watching the game itself.
MaV-Eric: That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. Why not go the other way, then, and have lots of games but in ultra-small stadiums? Or better still, we can still use really big stadiums, but we halve the number of seats. We replace those uncomfortable little fold-up chairs they normally have with those big reclining ones they have in cinemas, with the big cup holder and separate armrests so nobody has to share.
Perkins: Interesting, but comfy chairs is not such an innovative idea.
MaV-Eric: Then how about night games with a twist? Instead of regular spotlights, the players play under UV spotlights. That way we can paint the ball and all the players’ kit in those really funky neon colours. We could even give them facepaint. Paint them so they look like it’s warpaint. It’ll look like a cross between Tron and Avatar, but with a ball.
Perkins: Yes… good. But it’s still very much the same format of having an audience just sit there and watch the game. We need to leave a legacy that changes the way people think about spectating.
MaV-Eric: True. Then how about some audience participation?
Perkins: What do you mean? Do you mean something like singing? Mexican waves? Vuvuzelas?
MaV-Eric: No, I mean that fans get to text in and decide who will be substituted. We could do it like this… Instead of the players going back to the dressing room at half time and getting a team talk from the coach, they stay out on the pitch. Ant and Dec will chair proceedings. A panel consisting of Simon Cowell, Karen Brady and Terry Venables reviews how well each player performed. The panel gives some marks out of ten, and then these are combined with the SMS votes sent in by people sitting in the stadium and watching on TV. Put them all together and the least popular player is subbed off for the second half.
Perkins: How does that solve the problems of society?
MaV-Eric: It doesn’t. But halfway through the tournament we add Cheryl Cole and Gordon Ramsey to the panel – I think he was a goalie, wasn’t he? – and with her looking good and him swearing at everyone, the people in the audience will forget all their problems. Plus it will be enjoyable to see Ramsey and Cowell tearing a strip out of a lot of preening multimillionaires.
Perkins: I like that. But we need something more to make it look like we’re tackling poverty.
MaV-Eric: Football’s full of people paid millions to kick a ball or paid millions in kickbacks. It’ll be tough to make it seem like they really care about poverty.
Perkins: You’re right, of course, but we need to spin it somehow.
MaV-Eric: Okay, I think I have something that might work. Sometimes children suffer from poverty, right? And there’s no worse poverty than a kid not having any toys to play with. So let’s make some stadiums out of Lego. Lego’s Danish, right, so we do a joint bid with the Danes. They give us the bricks, we provide the funky cool eccentric designers that Britain is famous for. James May built a house from Lego, so I don’t see why we couldn’t build a whole stadium from Lego. And when we’re finished, we take it to bits and give all the Lego to poor children in Africa because maybe they don’t even know if it’s Christmastime or not.
Perkins: Great idea. That would be a legacy we could really be proud of, and I can’t see how FIFA could dare refuse to back a bid that promises to give Lego to deprived children… better still, we give the Lego to deprived orphans. Then we could build some orphanages from the Lego at the same time.
As it happened, I finally fell asleep, whilst MaV-Eric continued to rave on and on about a different kind of legacy for the World Cup 2030. I have to admit his ideas were certainly different from the norm. But forgive me if I suffer a little nostalgia for a golden era I am not old enough to remember. In 1966, there were some people on the pitch because they thought it was all over. 1966 was the kind of World Cup that England should still be good at delivering: bad refereeing decisions and plenty of pitch invasions by ill-disciplined fans. I know Sepp Blatter is a traditionalist. He will be keen to retain the half of that legacy which involves not being able to tell when the ball crosses the line, even if he hates to see ordinary fans excited about a great game of football…