By Stuart Roach in Johannesburg
Rory Fallon may have failed to find the net for New Zealand in South Africa, but Plymouth still has a lot to gain from this World Cup.
For while Fallon's New Zealand side narrowly failed to qualify from their group despite remaining unbeaten against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, another of Plymouth's unsung heroes was working hard behind the scenes to learn some valuable lessons in World Cup planning.
Plymouth City Council leader Vivien Pengelly was invited to South Africa on a fact-finding mission as part of the Devon city's bid to become a World Cup host venue in 2018.
"People want Plymouth to be a major city and this is our chance," Vivien told me as she headed home with a mountain of research material and immeasurable anecdotal evidence that World Cups can provide a lasting legacy for a city.
Twelve cities are on the shortlist to host matches should England be chosen as the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, a decision that will be made by Fifa in December. And while the likes of London, Manchester and Birmingham are obvious destinations for an English tournament, Plymouth will be fighting with less obvious venues including Bristol and Milton Keynes to make their voices heard.
"We jumped at the chance of securing host city status," Vivien said, adding: "Plymouth is a beautiful place, with the Hoe and the surfing among the unique selling points, and we have the opportunity not only to put on football but also to host fanfests between the matches. We could get 40-60,000 for events on the Hoe."
That will be an important part of the decision making process for Fifa - who will announce the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues on December 2 this year - and ultimately for the Football Association when they reduce the 12-venue shortlist to eight host cities. The ability to keep fans interested and entertained in one area is seen as a vital requirement for any host venue, one of the many lessons Vivien has learned from her visits to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
She said: "The World Cup is bigger than the Olympics in tourism terms, because more people travel to World Cups and make it their holiday. We spoke to Brazilians who had come to South Africa for their summer holiday and tied it in with cheering their team on at the World Cup.
"But it's important that people can find lots to do between games. If there are varied events on days between the games, people will stay in the area, even those without tickets for the actual matches. And fans come in for any game, not just their own. From the events we have seen in South Africa, everyone is happy and there is a fantastic spirit and if we could bring that to Plymouth in 2018 it would be wonderful."
The city's remote location should help them, rather than hinder. "It can't all be in the north," Vivien pointed out, as I pondered the nations who might clamour to be based there. France and Spain, with their direct ferry links, would be very much at home in Plymouth; Italian fans gathering in what was once a trading post for the Roman Empire and Americans visiting the departure point of the Pilgrim fathers in 1620.
Whatever the selling points, Plymouth's Council team came in for criticism for their initial decision to bid and again when Vivien headed out to South Africa for a seven-day reconnaissance of this World Cup. But she appears to have won over even the fiercest of local doubters and continues to fight the Council's corner, adding: "It's not just a bid by the County Council. Plymouth City Council have backed the bid and we have support from the University and from Devon and Cornwall on either side. We want people to see the whole area.
"When the FA said it was a good idea for the bid team to go and see the World Cup in operation we jumped at the chance. We now know so many more details about organising a World Cup and the £5,000 the trip has cost the Council is nothing compared to the millions the World Cup would bring in and the affect of putting Plymouth on the map.
"The legacy of a World Cup is beautiful buildings in beautiful cities and we have the opportunity to create a legacy for Plymouth. The Johannesburg I have seen here is very different from the one I saw 14 years ago when I last visited and only a World Cup can do that."
Given that the vast majority of shortlisted England cities were represented in South Africa, it would probably have been a bigger gamble not to have joined the FA's fact-finding mission and Vivien believes the crash course in World Cup management they have all received during their time at the tournament will be invaluable.
Advice on everything from how to negotiate with Fifa over who pays for what to joining forces with other host venues to buy turnstiles in bulk and save a combined fortune were safely tucked away in the file belonging to the Plymouth council leader, who mingled with Sepp Blatter, Sir Trevor Brooking and an army of politicians led by Boris Johnson during her time in South Africa.
But while manicured landscapes, polished new roads and a Home Park that Argyle fans have only previously dreamed of will all form part the Plymouth legacy, I couldn't help feeling there was still something missing. What, I wondered, referring to the rack of souvenir vuvuzelas sticking out of Vivien's hand luggage, would Plymouth's equivalent offering be?
She had clearly thought of this already, returning my serve with a pacy response: "Plymouth is a garrison town, home to the Marines and the Royal Navy. Surely we could find a backer to make a bugle based on the military version? The vuvuzela created an amazing atmosphere and the Plymouth bugle could too."
Food for thought - and if blowing your own trumpet counts for anything then Plymouth's World Cup bid is already a guaranteed winner.
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