Two international matches take place in London next Wednesday – but neither fixture involves England. While the Three Lions play France in Paris, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium hosts an encounter between Brazil and Sweden and Fulham’s Craven Cottage sees Ghana take on Mexico. The prospect of watching the likes of Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Michael Essien and Giovani dos Santos in the flesh will have London’s football fans torn. Do they swap sofa for a stadium, England for Ghana or Gerrard for Kaka for just one night?
We London-based fans are thoroughly spoilt. Not only do we have 13 professional clubs based here (more than in any other city in the world), we now have a host of national sides playing on our doorsteps on a regular basis. This time last year, four internationals were played in the big smoke on one night, including a clash between Brazil and Portugal along with Nigeria v Ghana, Greece v South Korea and Australia v Denmark. The likes of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have also found the capital to be an excellent home-away-from-home over the past few years.
The decision for a number of national teams to chose London as their second home is an obvious one. Geographically, the UK is positioned right in the middle of the football map and an ideal destination for top players, many of whom are already based in England or central Europe. With ten club stadiums in the capital having a capacity greater than 10,000, there is a fine range of venues capable of hosting the smallest or largest of international fixtures. London’s ethnic diversity adds to its appeal to many nations, who can draw on the support of a community of ex-pats when playing here. The Brazilian Embassy, for example, estimates there are 100,000 Brazilians living in London.
The benefit of staging international football matches is clear for London too. Aside from the prestige top football nations appearing here, these games provide a great opportunity for the capital, and England as a whole, to demonstrate why it would be a great host for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Johannes Berendt from Kentaro, the organisation responsible for bringing the Brazil v Sweden fixture to London, believes international matches in the capital are the perfect way to impress key football decision makers.
“It is (hosting internationals) great publicity for London,” Berendt told Soccerlens. “Lots of delegations and FIFA Executive Committee members will be in town to get a first-hand look at how well London can handle those events. Last year there were four internationals on the same night and it was no problem at all for the city´s infrastructure. It gives you an idea of what is possible in London and that´s great for the Olympics and also for the World Cup bid. There is no metropolis quite like London”.
Brazil certainly agree. They will be making their fifth recent London appearance on Wednesday night, having been in action at Wembley, White Hart Lane and twice at the Emirates Stadium in the last three years. Ghana are also frequent visitors to London and recent matches here include a friendly with Australia at Loftus Road (QPR) in 2006 and fixtures against Senegal and Nigeria at Millwall and Brentford respectively in 2007. Ireland and Columbia will be added to the list of national sides to play in London when they meet at Craven Cottage on May 29.
A full house at the Emirates Stadium next Wednesday will boost London’s tourist economy to the tune of millions. Gate receipts for the Brazil v Sweden game will be worth £2m alone. Glasgow pocketed £11.5m when Hampden Park, with a similar capacity as at the Emirates Stadium, staged last season’s UEFA Cup final. A global TV audience in excess of 500 million is also expected to tune in to the Brazil v Sweden match, raising London’s already established image as one of the world’s footballing capitals.
London’s football scene could be set for a further boost next Friday when UEFA announces its venues for its 2010 and 2011 club final venues. Wembley faces competition from Munich, Berlin, Valencia and Madrid in its bid to host a Champions League final, while the Emirates Stadium is one of five possible venues for the UEFA Cup final. Clearly London is a city where footballers want to play matches and spectators want to come to watch games.
Myself and a colleague will be at the Emirates Stadium and Craven Cottage to bring you all the action and images from what promises to be another colourful international evening in London next Wednesday.