The Bids aren’t Alright

Patrick McKemey
5 min readNov 26, 2022

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As queasy Qatar World Cup fever hits like buyer’s remorse for an overpriced Bud Zero, it might be time to step into a parallel universe of half a dozen cursed bids that never materialised.

Sepp Blatter with World Cup, envelope.

Germany 42

Adolf Hitler first had a crack at the 1938 World Cup, but Germany was deemed ‘too political’ a choice, demonstrated by the 1936 Berlin games protests and the England team being forced to perform an infamous Nazi salute before a friendly. FIFA was still flirting between Brazil and Germany to host the 1942 tournament when war was problematically declared in 1939.

Whilst Germany instead played out a host of friendlies against neutral or occupied countries, the Nazi team had a patchy record in tournaments, winning just one game at the 1936 Olympics and 1938 World Cup combined. After a 2–1 friendly defeat to Switzerland on Hitler’s birthday, the final insult was a 2–3 loss to Sweden in front of 98,000 of their own fans, and the national side was soon dissolved in a bid to save morale. Joseph Goebbels complained that it was foolish to host football games when they were quite simply getting beat a lot.

Eurovision ‘69

Swinging London was denied the chance to host back-to-back Eurovisions when Cliff Richard’s 1968 favourite ‘Congratulations’ was beaten by Spain’s ‘La La La’ — but only after General Franco allegedly bribed judges to ensure victory. Seen as a serious vehicle to glitterwash the Francoist regime, it meant the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Madrid, with dictator-partial Salvador Dali designing inappropriately surreal publicity material.

El Generalísimo supposedly sent corrupt television executives to buy votes, and their entry from singer Massiel duly beat the UK by one solitary point — the decisive German vote won allegedly on the condition that Spain would adopt their lavish PAL colour television system. A stolen victory or not, Eurovision ’69 ended in a disastrous four-way tie that made the contest look amateurish and undermined Franco’s painstaking PR blitzkrieg.

The second-placed United Kingdom most recently stepped in after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine denied Kyiv the opportunity to host in 2023. Liverpool eventually won out, but — whilst other cities spent in excess of £30,000 without even making the shortlist — Bristol made an admirably cheap bid of around £70, overheads split between £50 production costs for an unwatched promotional video and just over twenty quid travel expenses.

Colombia 86

See you in Colombia read the banner in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu after the 1982 World Cup Final, but the South Americans remain the only nation that has had to cancel the World Cup. Whilst Colombia had been awarded the tournament as far back as 1974, with just four years to go most preparation had been left spectacularly not done.

FIFA had a series of requirements; 12 stadiums with a gradient of capacities, new transport, press centres, as well as ‘extravagant’ accommodation for representatives of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. A minor inconvenience was that in the mid-1980s, Colombia was in the middle of multi-fronted guerilla war, a recession and had drug cartels laundering money and rigging results in every echelon of their football organisations.

President Betancur, preoccupied with peace negotiations between several guerilla armies, was unable to provide the substantial infrastructure commitments across Colombia’s already mountainous terrain. In 1982 he delivered a television message saying the World Cup was off — his country had more important things to do than supplying a fleet of limousine vehicles to FIFA officials — and 1970 hosts Mexico gamefully stepped in.

1992 Birmingham Olympics

A lot went right for eventual winners Barcelona, who hosted the first Olympics for years without political boycotts. A post-Apartheid South Africa fielded a racially mixed team, and the fall of the Berlin Wall meant many new eastern Europe countries joined. But somewhere in an alternate dimension, the NBA’s Dream Team comes to Birmingham in a jamboree of End of History optimism.

Despite rampant sneering led by a Spitting Image bit that mocked West Midlands bus services, Birmingham put together a relatively strong technical bid, based on its compact site focused around the NEC with sound transport and telecommunications sells. But the UK offer was harmed by a near total absence of government support; Maggie Thatcher literally phoned in a video message for presentation day, whilst the Spanish and French premieres put in considerably more welly.

Manchester suffered the same fate bidding for 1996 and 2000 despite supportive efforts from Mr Motivator and Sir Alex Ferguson, and thus a ‘world-beating’ victory speech for John Major went unopened. Much of Manchester’s Eastlands regeneration was eventually realised by Abu Dhabi petrocash, whereas A-list athletics of sorts finally came to Birmingham in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Paris 2012

London allegedly only won the Olympics because of a misplaced vote. IOC delegate Lambis Nikolaou accidentally voted for Paris, when he meant to press ‘Madrid’, in a botched attempt to knock out the favourite, assuming the Spanish capital would go on and win in a run-off with London. The French did not take defeat well — blaming striking transport workers and below-the-belt British criticism of Paris venues. It was also the third time France had missed out both in 1992 and 2008, but, after the financial crash, some considered themselves fortunate not to have to dig up a £12 billion Ballardian netherworld in the middle of a double dip recession.

Years before levelling up had occurred to anyone, the Blair government believed only a heavyweight London bid could win. Paris meanwhile spent just five more years in the Olympic wilderness. Showing a more politically united front than in 2012 and a plan to develop a Stratford-style Olympic village in the deprived Seine-Saint-Denis district — they finally trousered the 2024 games.

The City of Croydon

Croydon provides a testament to civic dysphoria with a series of failed bids for independence from London as early as 1951. It lost out in 2000 to Brighton in becoming the UK’s Millennium City, which was, alongside the Dome, a way in which New Labour nebulously marked Y2K with a neo-neolithic statement that meant to say to future centuries — we woz ‘ere.

With a population of nearly 400,000, Croydon’s 2012 failure to secure regional municipality’s top gong leaves it overgrown as Europe’s biggest town; indicating that it is its indistinguishability from the Greater London conurbation that it repeatedly falls foul of. Seemingly, the home of Dubstep, Kate Moss and a Box Park does not constitute enough culture beyond an almost-place, a stranded uncanny valley somewhere between a town and city.

What is it Croydon London Borough Council so repeatedly craves — has the City of Brighton and Hove’s new pronoun helped galvanise its finances, as well as its self-esteem? Reading and Middlesborough join Croydon as unfortunate towns that have also tried and failed. It remains to be seen if their lust for city status is just a bad love affair — or the destiny of a maturing civic powerhouse in waiting.

Bids that failed to make the list of failed bids:

West Germany — 1966 World Cup
Leeds — Commonwealth Games 1978
Wales, Scotland and Ireland — Euro 2008
Yekaterinburg, Russia — World Expo 2020
Dundee, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes — European City of Culture 2023

Morocco — 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2026 World Cup

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Patrick McKemey

Tall tales & short lists | The South East London College of Arts & Communication: 11 Short Stories is out now: https://amzn.to/2FdAxlh