The Football Association announced today it had further narrowed its potential World Cup venue locations in England to 17 stadiums in 12 cities. The familiar names were there — Old Trafford, Wembley, etc — but one that will certainly have surprised observers at home and abroad was that of Home Park, Plymouth.
This is not the Theatre of Dreams: it’s the “Theatre of Greens”, home of Plymouth Argyle in the Championship (one of only two English teams to play in green). Home Park dates back to 1893, and though it’s been renovated since, isn’t exactly up to FIFA World Cup standards at present, holding around 20,000 after considerable renovation in the past decade.
But Plymouth’s presentation to England’s World Cup Bid panel included ambitious plans to upgrade the stadium to a 46,000 “Wembley of the West”. The club is already committed to a £20 million expansion of the stadium to hold 27,000 regardless of the bid, with plans to increase the capacity to 46,000 should the bid be successful at a cost of a further £30 million.
The stadium design is by Populous, one of the world’s leading stadia-design firms, also responsible for Wembley Stadium. Of particular interest was that a representative of American firm AEG, who have built and operated MLS stadia for a few years now, joined the Plymouth delegation’s presentation to the panel, with AEG slated to operate the stadium.
MLS fans will not be surprised to learn that AEG’s interest in Home Park is in more than the sport of soccer, with rugby and other entertainment events also planned for the venue. Plymouth impressed this on the World Cup panel as evidence the giant stadium would not end up empty besides any World Cup games it hosted.
“I think they got the impact of the design of the stadium, and most importantly they got the point that the stadium is about multi-sport and entertainment use after the World Cup. It’s not just about Argyle’s 23 home games a season,” Plymouth’s executive director Keith Todd told the Plymouth Herald.
A curious wrinkle is that AEG’s billionaire owner and long-time major backer of MLS, Phil Anschutz, sits on the USA Bid Committee competing with England to win the right to host the World Cup. I guess it helps to have more than one basket to put your eggs in, doesn’t it?