Football at Twickers! World Cup 2018 bid team want to stage matches at rugby HQ

England's bid team for the 2018 World Cup have identified Twickenham, the home of rugby union, as a possible venue for the tournament.

Andy Anson, the bid chief executive, and his staff plan to hold what could prove complicated discussions with the Rugby Football Union in the belief that Twickenham could be one of the three London stadiums they present to FIFA's executive committee.

Holding a major football event at Twickenham would be unprecedented in English rugby, but the 2018 team are, understandably, reluctant to ignore the second biggest stadium in the country.


Welcoming the round ball: the FA want to make use of the second biggest stadium in the country at Twickenham

Only Wembley boasts more than Twickenham's 82,000 seats and by next month a stadium that has an international history dating back the best part of a century - England met Wales there in January 1910 - will house the added attraction of a new £100million Marriott-run hotel in the South Stand.

Such a move could meet resistance from traditionalists on both sides, as well as from a powerful local residents' association. But the bid team have been encouraged by the RFU's apparent desire to raise revenue from their five-star venue and their more recent success in hosting pop concerts.

Music fans have been treated to concerts by The Rolling Stones, U2, Iron Maiden and a host of other major rock and pop bands. Most recently R.E.M. performed there.

One concern would be the poor transport links to the stadium, but in its favour is the space and parking facilities that visitors to Twickenham enjoy.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter demands enough room to erect the tented villages that are used to entertain corporate guests, as well as host much of the media activity that takes place at the match venues. In that respect, Twickenham has an advantage over many of the football stadiums in this country.

Football's world governing body are expected to demand the use of at least 10 stadiums. Germany used 12 in 2006 but South Africa, hosts of the finals next year, will use 10.

venues of legends

venues of legends

There could still be a limit on how many grounds are identified for each city but, as things stand, Twickenham would be used in addition to Wembley and Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. Indeed, the Emirates, for all its success, has concerns over a lack of space around the actual stadium.

Identifying all the venues could prove a long and complicated process and much could change between now and 2018. The final, fully detailed bid has to be made in May next year - FIFA will then make their decision in December 2010 - but by 2018 there could be a new stadium at Tottenham as well as Chelsea, while Liverpool, Everton and even Leeds also hope to have new homes by then.

If Tottenham and Chelsea have new grounds built in time, there could be serious opposition from them - and from the wider football community - to Twickenham.

As things stand, Old Trafford would be used and so, in all probability, would Manchester City's home at Eastlands. Having been built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Eastlands has a vast amount of open space around its perimeter.

Villa Park would be another obvious choice, as would Newcastle United's St James' Park and Sunderland's Stadium of Light. That said, there are slight concerns with the fact that Newcastle's ground has been so spectacularly squeezed into the city centre.

home of rugby

home of rugby

Other clubs have also expressed their intention to build a new stadium and that could attract the interest of the 2018 bid team. Portsmouth has been discussed, as have Bristol City and Nottingham Forest. The bid team are conscious that the tournament should be taken to all corners of the country, from the south west to the north east.

In Euro 96 only eight venues were used but the World Cup finals are, of course, a significantly bigger event and for that reason Twickenham could yet feature in the bid team's final presentation. 
The use of Twickenham is unlikely to meet with opposition from FIFA on sporting grounds because the world governing body have been quite happy to see South Africa identify Ellis Park in Johannesburg and the Free State stadium in Bloemfontein as two of their main venues.

Like Twickenham, Ellis Park has hosted a Rugby World Cup final - in 1995 when South Africa beat Jonah Lomu and his All Blacks colleagues - but it does also have a history of hosting football matches.

The 61,000-seater ground is now the home of the Orlando Pirates and in 1995 the South Africa football team - Bafana Bafana - memorably held Argentina to a 1-1 draw.

During periods of extensive rebuilding at Twickenham, the old Wembley hosted an England rugby Test against Canada in 1992 and then, in the late Nineties, Wales played a whole season of home games at the venue while the Millennium Stadium was under construction.