The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

A Celtic World Cup bid?

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I know I drew up a satirical Welsh bid for the 2018/22 World Cups, but the reality is it could be done – Wales could host the World Cup. It would probably be largely impossible to solely host it, because the cost would be enormous, the country is physically too small and it would leave loads of white elephant stadiums dotted around the place. But the principality, which last qualified for a World Cup back in 1958, could easily co-host the tournament. England is probably out of the question, as as the 2018/22 bid shows, they are not willing to give games to Scotland or Wales. But the Welsh could team up with one or more of its fellow Celtic countries for a bid.

To start with, let’s look at what Wales has. Being more serious than last time, the country does have a number of modern stadiums. The intimidating Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, is the jewel in the crown and would probably host the Final of any tournament Wales are involved with, due to its capacity of 74,500. This doesn’t quite reach the 80,000 mark but it can be easily expanded to do so, as the North Stand, nicknamed “Glanmor’s Gap”, is smaller than the rest due to the presence of Cardiff Arms Park rugby ground next door. With plans in the works for that ground’s tenants, Cardiff RFC, to move out, this stand will be redeveloping, allowing a further expansion of the capacity by 8,000 to roughly 82,000.

The Cardiff City Stadium is another modern developing, opening in 2009 as the new home for Cardiff City and the Cardiff Blues rugby team. The capacity is just under 27,000, but being a modern stadium, it probably wouldn’t take a great deal of work to expand it to reach 40,000. The same goes for Swansea City’s modern stadium, known as the Liberty Stadium for sponsorship reasons – this has a capacity of just over 20,000 and so would need doubling in size.

But after this, it gets a bit thin on the ground. The only other football stadium with a capacity of over 15,000 is the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, home of Blue Square Premier side Wrexham FC and the Crusaders rugby league side. A stadium of this size would be a white elephant, and a pretty large burden on the football team given that they’ve been in financial trouble for a number of years already. But on the other hand, a stadium in Wrexham would give North Wales a venue. A possibility would thus be to build a brand new stadium in or around Wrexham which could then be used by various sporting events after, perhaps to attract international events or hold regular national team matches (after all, the FAW want to share matches around at the moment) – an athletics track would thus probably be needed. It may also include temporary seating to increase it to 40,000 just for the World Cup – a 30,000 capacity stadium could then perhaps be used by the Crusaders, if only occasionally.

Another potential venue could be the Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli. This is another modern stadium but it is even smaller than the Liberty Stadium with a capacity of just under 15,000. Expansion probably could be made, which would probably be more of a benefit to the Llanelli Scarlets than a burden, and again temporary seating would probably be used to reach the limit. This would effectively be West Wales’ representative

The only other large settlement in Wales is Newport, which has 2 small grounds – Rodney Parade, soon to be expanded into a 15,000 capacity stadium for the Newport-Gwent Dragons, and the optimistically-named Newport Stadium, a 4,700 capacity ground with just 2 stands and an athletics track on the outskirts of the city that is the home of non-league side Newport County FC. A plan here could be to take advantage of the latter’s location and rebuild it into a large stadium, with the Rodney Parade development also going ahead. I would suggest Newport Stadium to be in a similar mould to the Wrexham suggestion, playing host to major Newport-Gwent Dragons fixtures where extra capacity is needed, with Newport County moving into Rodney Parade (although I don’t know how happy they would be with that).

Beyond these 6 locations, any other stadium developments would be pretty much unfeasible, as it would go beyond the “big” rugby and football clubs of Wales. It would be a nice idea to have a stadium in the valleys but it would require massive infrastructure investment, a totally new stadium, and no occupants after unless a multi-billionaire decides to suddenly invest in a team like Merthyr Tydfil in order to take it to the Premiership. So any Welsh co-hosting bid would provide a maximum of 6 stadiums.

So who would co-host with Wales? Scotland would be one candidate. There had been negotiations about a potential joint bid for Euro 2016 between the two but they decided against it. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond commented that he would rather see a solo Scottish bid. But it’s hard to see what shape that would take place, especially for the World Cup, as they’d soon hit the same problems as Wales – beyond stadiums in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and maybe Dundee, any new stadia after that would be white elephants, as teams like Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Kilmarnock, Dunfermline Athletic and Motherwell would not benefit.

Glasgow would probably provide 2 stadiums out of its 3. Hampden Park, the Scottish national football stadium, would definitely be one, and the other would probably be Celtic Park,not only the largest stadium in the city but the largest stadium in Scotland. You could also argue the inclusion of Ibrox, only just smaller than Hampden and already a UEFA Elite Stadium, but 3 stadiums would be a lot for what is a relatively small city – 3 is what London is putting forward for its 2018/22 bid. Edinburgh would probably also nominate 2. Murrayfield is the largest stadium in the city, and so despite its rugby heritage, it would probably be included as it is the largest stadium in the city by far. The other would have to be a redeveloped ground, presumably from Hearts’ Tynecastle, Hibernian’s Easter Road or the Meadowbank Stadium. Tynecastle is probably the best candidate, with plans to expand already on the table.

Elsewhere, Aberdeen have plans for a new stadium to replace Pittodrie. This would be another likely addition to the bid, perhaps also with temporary seating to round it up. The other candidate I mentioned earlier is Dundee, which has 2 club sides in the top 2 divisions. The 2 current grounds, Tannadice Park and Dens Park, are opposite each other. Back when Scotland bidded for Euro 2008 with the Republic of Ireland, a new stadium at Caird Park was proposed, but the bid lost. The teams were also opposed to ground-sharing at the time, but they later said were willing to share when Scotland were preparing in case they had to step into the breach for Euro 2012. Again, a brand new stadium with temporary seating added would probably be the way to go.

So a Wales/Scotlad World Cup bid is possible with the 6 stadiums each:

Cardiff – Millennium Stadium (expansion – 82,000)
Edinburgh – Murrayfield Stadium (renovation – 65-70,000)
Glasgow – Celtic Park (renovation – 60,000)
Glasgow – Hampden Park (52,000)
Aberdeen – “Alex Ferguson Stadium” (new stadium – 35,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Cardiff – Cardiff City Stadium (expansion – 35,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Dundee – “Caird Park Stadium” (new stadium – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Edinburgh – Tynecastle Stadium (expansion – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Llanelli – Parc y Scarlets (expansion – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Newport – Newport Stadium (redevelopment – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Swansea – Liberty Stadium* (expansion – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Wrexham – “Clwyd Community Stadium” (new stadium – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)

Opening Ceremony/Game – Millennium Stadium
Final – Millennium Stadium
3rd Place Play-Off – Hampden Park
Semi-Finals – Murrayfield and Celtic Park
Quarter-Finals – Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield, Celtic Park, Hampden Park
* – known as the Morfa Stadium due to sponsorship

The teams’ training camps could be spread throughout Scotland, Wales and also England.

But you could even further than this. As mentioned earlier, Scotland entered a joint bid with the Republic of Ireland for Euro 2008, so what is stopping the Irish being included? And how about Northern Ireland as well? There are potential logistical problems, something that has put FIFA off joint bids after the 2002 World Cup, but not as great as South Korea and Japan – the Irish Sea isn’t that big, and Scotland and Wales are connected by land, even if that means going through England. There is also the factor that none of these countries could host the tournament on their own, something which FIFA has said would mean a joint bid could be acceptable.

So what Irish stadiums could be used? Well, there are plenty of large stadiums in the Republic of Ireland – only a lot are used for Gaelic football and there are few all-seaters. But there is a selection to choose from:

Dublin – Croke Park (75,000)
The largest stadium in Ireland is primarily used for Gaelic football but is currently the home of the Irish rugby team and the Republic of Ireland football team. A natural candidate and potential semi-final venue

Cork – Pairc Ui Chaoimh (expansion – 60,000)
A redevelopment of Cork’s largest stadium is planned which could potentially make it the second biggest stadium in the country. It is already the fourth-largest Gaelic Games stadium, located in the Republic’s second-largest city

Thurles – Semple Stadium (expansion – 55-60,000)
The second largest stadium in Ireland, this Gaelic sports stadium in County Tipperary already has a capacity of 53,500, with plans for a modernisation to create a 55,000+ all-seater stadium. This could easily be borrowed for the World Cup

Dublin – Aviva Stadium (50,000)
Lansdowne Road is in the middle of a massive redevelopment not unlike that done in Cardiff in the 1990s. Insurance firm Aviva have already picked up the naming rights on the new stadium, which will open next year and host the 2011 UEFA Europa League Final

Limerick – Gaelic Grounds (renovation – 50,000)
A stadium for the south-west – already with a capacity of just under 50,000, a bit of modernisation would add another venue to the list, and in the third-largest city in the Republic too

Belfast – Windsor Park (expansion – 35,000 + 5-10,000 temp.)
The home of Linfield and the Northern Irish team is relatively small with a capacity of just 20,332, but there is scope to expand

Lisburn – “George Best Stadium” (new stadium – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Although the idea for a brand new national stadium on the site of the old Maze prison has proved unpopular among fans, this would be an additional stadium in addition to an expanded Windsor Park. And given that they named the airport after Northern Ireland’s greatest player, what about a new stadium?

The fact that most are primarily Gaelic Games stadiums is a drawback – the use of Croke Park for football and rugby was particularly controversial. However, this is the same situation Australia are in with rugby and Aussie rules football teams complaining about their stadiums being borrowed during their season. I cannot see it being a major issue if push came to shove. Also, it would be the first World Cup to be held by 4 countries, which may perhaps cause headaches for FIFA regarding automatic qualification, but that’s their problem to solve.

So here’s a potential Celtic World Cup bid line-up of 15 stadiums – 8 for Wales/Scotland and 7 for Ireland:

Cardiff – Millennium Stadium (expansion – 82,000)
Edinburgh – Murrayfield Stadium (renovation – approx. 65-70,000)
Glasgow – Celtic Park (renovation – 60,000)
Glasgow – Hampden Park (52,000)
Aberdeen – “Alex Ferguson Stadium” (new stadium – 35,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Cardiff – Cardiff City Stadium (expansion – 35,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Llanelli – Parc y Scarlets (expansion – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)
Swansea – Liberty Stadium* (expansion – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)

Dublin – Croke Park (75,000)
Cork – Pairc Ui Chaoimh (expansion – 60,000)
Thurles – Semple Stadium (expansion – 55-60,000)
Dublin – Aviva Stadium** (50,000)
Limerick – Gaelic Grounds (renovation – 50,000)
Belfast – Windsor Park (expansion – 35,000 + 5-10,000 temp.)
Lisburn – “George Best Stadium” (new stadium – 30,000 + 10,000 temp.)

Opening ceremony/match – Millennium Stadium
Final – Millennium Stadium
3rd Place Play-Off – Pairc Ui Chaoimh
Semi-Finals – Murrayfield, Croke Park
Quarter-Finals – Millennium Stadium, Celtic Park, Croke Park, Pairc Ui Chaoimh
2nd Round – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff City Stadium, Murrayfield, Hampden Park, Windsor Park, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Gaelic Grounds, Aviva Stadium

* – known as the Morfa Stadium due to sponsorship
** – known as the Lansdowne Road Stadium due to sponsorship

The draw for the tournament would essentially be divided in half – there would be a Scottish/Welsh half and an Irish half, which would all come together for the Final and the 3rd Place Play-Off, with one going to each. Croke Park taking preference over the Aviva/Lansdowne is down to size, as stadiums holding later round matches have to have a capacity of at least 60,000.

To me, that would be an impressive bid – an array of large, modern, capable stadia in 4 countries that are passionate about football and sport in general and have World Cup pedigree. The average capacity of the stadiums would be over 53,000, only just behind the English bid for 2018/22. It would be interesting to see how it would fair in a bidding process.


Written by James Bennett

January 16, 2010 at 03:23

3 Responses

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  1. Thats a very interesting idea, well researched on the stadia and it would be huge in terms of the economies and general feel good factor for the nations involved. However i can see a few reasons it wouldnt succeed.

    i.) There are 4 nations involved here, do FIFA just hand out 4 automatic places for the tournament and make each a top seed, which is current practice. Currently the highest ranked nation of the 4 is Scotland at 41 and Ireland at 44(how is that even possible based on the last qualifying campaigns) Nothern Ireland come in at 50 and Wales languish at 76.

    ii.) The past world cups to be held in Europe are in this order :- Germany, France, Italy, Spain, West Germany, England, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Italy. Mostly economic and/or footballing powerhouses. What are the chances of a quadruple bid breaking into that elite group? Looking at the past hosts you cant look past England not hosting it again. FIFA promotes fair play but rarely seems to adhere to it.

    Its more than likely if it were to ever happen it would be for a lesser event such as the European Championships. Isnt there a 4-nations mini tournament planned in the near term anyway with the 4 aforementioned countries taking part

    joe s

    April 25, 2010 at 19:28

  2. Yes, I believe one is planned. First one is next year in Dublin

    On point ii, yes, I can see them breaking in, because combined, they are a major force in European football. Maybe not necessarily in club football, but the sport is still very big in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have qualified for a few tournaments. In addition to this, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations hold seats on the IFAB which decides the laws of the game. So they are still very important footballing nations

    James Bennett

    April 26, 2010 at 08:40

  3. This is a very good idea but Fifa would probably allow only two countries to make a joint bid as they wont hand out free entry to teams that don’t usually qualify. Also Glasgow is the third biggest city in the UK after Birmingham and is a football daft city! You could never use Parkhead without somehow using Ibrox as there would be some sort of riot!

    Scottish Lionheart

    August 23, 2010 at 14:49

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