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bobby moore

Missing the moment

Mash Media MD Julian Agostini reflects on how different England’s footballing past might have been if it hadn’t decided to ‘wait and see’.

So the dust has now well and truly settled on the World Cup and England’s heart-warming performance. Hopefully it will carry the country through the winter months to come. It’s astonishing how powerful this event is and how it can control the mood of a nation…at least temporarily.

There is so much that we can take and learn from the World Cup as the events industry; it is, after all, the pinnacle, the world’s biggest event engaging millions, if not billions, all around the globe. We should all be using it as an example to demonstrate what happens when the show comes to town: everyone gets a payday.  There’s more work, opportunity, the mood is upbeat, people spend freely etc., but that’s not my point today.

The World Cup wasn’t always like this, of course. It has grown enormously in stature and, despite many of its recent wrongdoings for which it has been publicly castigated, FIFA is an excellent example of an association that has really driven its industry forward. It has used the event to spread the word of the beautiful game and take it to all parts of the world. Football is not the most popular sport in the world (by miles) just by accident.

FIFA has introduced football to all nations and shown how it can help communities, engender passion, bring people together and boost the economy…powerful stuff. It has helped many countries set up their own infrastructures and guided them with shared knowledge and experience and now the rewards are there for everyone to see.

UFI could, and perhaps should, adopt the same role in our own industry. There are still dozens of countries that don’t have real exhibition facilities nor is it part of their culture but it should be. Exhibitions help build countries and economies…why wouldn’t any country want them happening in all their major cities? UFI’s mission could be similar to FIFA’s i.e. that every nation in the world has a thriving exhibition facility and therefore industry. Think of the opportunity that would bring for market leaders such as the UK but we’d have to take that chance when it was presented, which brings me back to the World Cup.

The first tournament was in 1930 and all footballing nations were invited to participate. It was in Uruguay and FIFA’s first showpiece event. England, at the time, was the most developed football nation; having invented the game and brought it to the world, England had a strong internal infrastructure and was widely considered to be the major force worldwide. Why wouldn’t it be? Many other nations were in their infancy in terms of developing domestic leagues and cups whereas England already had a 60-70-year history under its belt.

So what happened next?

England had left FIFA over a variety of protests but was still invited to participate. England was a football powerhouse after all, a genuine market leader; how could the event be taken seriously without its involvement? Does this scenario sound familiar at all to those of you that have launched shows?

The FA, albeit with poor advice from the Foreign office, chose not to take part.

The tournament went ahead, of course, and despite England not participating in the first three World Cups the event grew dramatically and the sport improved as a result.

What a pity…can you imagine how different it would all have been if the right people had made the right decisions? England would probably have won at least one, maybe two or even all three of the World Cups in the 1930s. That would have given it a unique history of success with the competition which may well have provided a platform for even more successes in later years due to an air of invincibility, a right and expectation to win that we see in other nations today.

Instead, one of the key market leaders chose to ‘have a look at the first few before joining in’ and by the time England did get involved, it wasn’t ‘needed’ and was eliminated fairly swiftly in 1950 even though the team were still very strong. The event had moved on without them and they paid a heavy price.

What would the FA and England as a nation give now to have World Cup wins under their belts? The creators of the game have only won it once. To put that in context, Uruguay has twice been champion with a population of 3.4 million and it still looks dangerous at every World Cup due to that self-belief, stemming from its history. Salutary lessons to be learnt.

So when you are next having conversations with so-called market leaders – or indeed any apprehensive exhibitors – and you are served up that tired old line of ‘we’ll come and have a look this year’, it might be worth recounting England’s track record of participation at the biggest event in the world, and reminding your potential client how the nation was completely engaged and lifted. Life, itself, just became a little bit more fun and exciting for a month…it means that much.

What if we hadn’t been let down by previous timid decisions not to get involved, where would be now? Football may never have left home!

This column originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of EN