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2018: A Space Oddity

1 August 09 words: Al Needham

"Nottingham 2018 risks benefiting everyone for a month at the long-term expense of the very people who actually go to watch football in Notts"

So is Nottingham a worthy applicant for World Cup venue status? Of course it is. Cobblers to Preston; Nottingham is the genuine home of professional football. We have the oldest professional club and the oldest local derby. Compare our contribution to football history to other cities that have thrown their hat in the ring (Leicester? Derby? Hull? Milton Keynes?), and we stand head and shoulders over nearly all of ‘em.

So should we be bidding for World Cup venue status? Don’t be sucky - of course we should. Ever since I saw Johan Cruyff turning a Swedish defender’s knickers inside out on a black-and white telly in Hyson Green in 1974, I have been gagging to see the World Cup – the greatest event ever created by humanity - in my city before I snuff it. Imagine; Nottingham having the same exotic ring to kids in Peru and Bulgaria as Guadalajara, Gelsenkirchen and Rosario had for me in the 70s. The word ‘Nottingham’ occupying a blank space in a Panini sticker book. The entire world watching a game of football in our back yard.

Add to that the estimated £40million windfall that will descend upon the city, the excuse for another regeneration bonanza, the opportunity to put Leicester and Derby firmly back in their box once and for all, and the usual No Surrender-chanters of the Shire being massively outweighed by supporters from other countries out for a seriously good time, and it’s a no-brainer that having the World Cup in Nottingham would be one of the most exciting, amazing and downright proper few weeks in the city’s history.

But stop waving your Robin Hood posters around for one second; there is going to be an exceptionally high price to pay for all of this. The last time England hosted a World Cup, the eight venues chosen didn’t have to do a thing to their stadia. In Euro 96, the only thing that was required of Nottingham was the building of a new stand at the City Ground. This time around, FIFA are going to want a stadium big enough to host a group stage match. Pride Park in Derby and the Walkers Stadium are big and modern enough to fit the bill, with a tweak here and there; the City Ground and Meadow Lane, on the other hand, aren’t.

And therein lies the problem.

We’ve been here before, of course; ever since the early 90s - when Brian Clough himself mooted the idea - the spectre of a Forest/County groundshare has loomed large. Forest can’t expand the City Ground – the Council own a strip of land that backs onto the Trent, as well as the freehold. Notts could expand Meadow Lane, in theory - but, bar the usual platitudes about  building the stadium up to in order to accommodate County’s forthcoming Champions League run, they don’t feature in the plans for Nottingham 2018.

Both grounds are perfectly adequate for their purposes. Forest couldn’t pack out the City Ground on a regular basis even when they were champions of Europe, and County would have to quadruple their average attendance before worrying about expansion. When you throw in Trent Bridge, Nottingham has one of the biggest concentrations of sports venues in the country - all a stone’s throw away from a railway station, something that other cities would kill for.

The way things stand at the moment, all that infrastructure, all that convenience – all that heritage, damn it - would be ripped up for a new stadium in Gamston that both clubs would struggle to fill on a regular basis. Go and ask the average Forest or Notts fan how they feel about that. Then ask them to stop swearing so much and shouting so loud. When you consider that this stadium could be hosting as little as two games at England ’18, there’s a distinct risk that the Gamston Enormobowl could prove to be a very costly pasty-faced pachyderm.

The solution is obvious; the new owners of Notts County put their money where their mouth is and agree to finally drag Meadow Lane into the 21st Century, with provisions to temporarily expand the stadium further for 2018. It’ll fit perfectly into the city’s admirable plan to make us a Green, sustainable World Cup venue, give the Maggies a real boost over Forest, save the city millions of pounds, and not shag everything over.

Otherwise, Nottingham 2018 risks benefitting everyone for a month at the long-term expense of the very people who actually go to watch football in Notts.

We have a favour to ask…

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