Dynamic Sublimes, Changing Plans, and the Legacy of a Megaproject

The Case of the 1966 Soccer World Cup

Alex G. Gillett, The York Management School, University of York, United Kingdom

Kevin D. Tennent, The York Management School, University of York, United Kingdom

Global sporting events such as the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup have been described as megaprojects. The motives of decision makers for undertaking megaprojects are summarized by Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) “four sublimes,” which lack a temporal dimension. We utilize a case study of the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, applying the three levels of project management identified by Morris and Geraldi (2011), refined through Flyvbjerg's four sublimes, to analyze the shifting nature of stakeholders’ motives. We evidence that Flyvbjerg's sublimes are dynamic in response to change during the project timeline, creating new insights into project development and opportunities for research into historic projects.

KEYWORDS: megaproject; dynamic sublimes; project environment; mega-event; project management history


Large-scale sport tournaments such as the Olympic Games and FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cups have been described as megaprojects (e.g., Flyvbjerg & Stewart, 2012; Grün, 2004). The motives of decision makers for undertaking megaprojects are summarized by Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) “four sublimes,” which influence their objectives: technological, political, economic, and aesthetic. To mobilize sports megaprojects requires the formation of a temporary project organization to plan and execute a large-scale and complex fixed-duration event, and increasingly, this also involves overseeing the “legacy” of the megaproject for a broad range of stakeholders in the post-event period. These temporary organizations require the application of knowledge and capabilities from the past as well as anticipation of the future (Grabher & Thiel, 2015). Such temporary project organizations are, therefore, complex to manage, but they can be conceptualized quite simply as comprising three levels: the technical, the strategic, and the wider institutional context within which the project occurs (Morris & Geraldi, 2011).

The 1966 FIFA World Cup held in England provides an interesting case study in contrast to existing megaproject literature because the project and its sublimes changed over the duration of the project. The sublimes were, therefore, dynamic—the motives and objectives of the stakeholders shifted as the project progressed. The realized project and subsequent legacy were different from the original conception. Because of changes in the project plan, existing stadiums were developed rather than new ones built, and the work to these existing facilities appears to have been undertaken by locally based contractors. The 1966 FIFA World Cup did not involve a global construction project and its tangible built legacy is less visible than is the case for some subsequent World Cups, but its intangible and symbolic legacy is significant.

We apply the three levels of project management identified by Morris and Geraldi (2011) together with Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) four sublimes to analyze stakeholders’ reasons for involvement in the 1966 World Cup project and their decision making. We demonstrate that these frameworks are compatible in the study of project management history, highlighting the particular importance of Morris and Geraldi's (2011) understanding of the institutional level in this project, and develop Flyvbjerg's sublimes by evidencing that they are dynamic in response to changing opportunities during the project's duration.

Project Management and Sports Mega-Events

We begin with a critical review of sports mega-event literature, demonstrating that such events can be viewed as a form of megaproject. Next, we introduce our theoretical lenses, the three levels of project management identified by Morris and Geraldi (2011) and Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) four sublimes.

Major sport events often include significant stadium building and related infrastructure developments. These sports mega-events, such as the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cups, have been described as megaprojects within the project management literature (e.g., Flyvbjerg & Stewart, 2012; Grün, 2004), although with some exceptions (e.g., Brady & Davies, 2014), the explicit applicability of project management theories to the organization of sports mega-events is less studied.

Outside of project management journals, research on major sports events can be found in literature from different disciplines and different theoretical lenses have been applied. The project nature of sports mega-events is also evident within sports economics, leisure, tourism, and regional studies. This diverse literature contains contrasting viewpoints—perhaps because of the temporal and spatial nature of mega-events and the extent to which they can be compared, and perhaps because of the differences in disciplines and theoretical lenses. However, there are similarities and we summarize how the varying types of literature converge, to explain:

  • The reasons for hosting major sports events, including their intended outcomes;
  • Planning and delivery of the events; and
  • Realized outcomes and legacies.

Reasons for Hosting Major Sports Events

Mega-events are best understood as “large-scale cultural (including commercial and sporting) events, which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance” (Roche, 2000, p. 1). Sports mega-events are scarce, so demand is often high (Andranovich, Burbank, & Heying, 2001), although that is not always the case because of the associated cost and risk of hosting them (Dyreson & Llewellyn, 2008). Motives for hosting sports “megas” include perceived short-and long-term economic and social benefits, some of which can be viewed as an end in themselves, whereas others are a means to an end. The wider, and increasingly global, broadcasting of these events amplifies the symbolism attached to them.

One attractive aspect of sports mega-events is that they are understood as social occasions and contribute to community spirit and the feel-good factor (Madrigal, Bee, & LaBarge, 2005; Molloy & Chetty, 2015; Preuss & Solberg, 2006; Solberg & Ulvnes, 2016; Wann, Melnick, Russel, & Pease, 2001). It is therefore possible to understand why local communities might be supportive (Andersson, Rustad, & Solberg, 2004; Atkinson, Mourato, Szymanski & Ozdemirogly, 2008; Preuss & Solberg, 2006), although that is not always the case, as evidenced by news reports highlighting residents’ reactions and resistance to global sports events such as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

More tangibly, it is often claimed that sports mega-events will lead to financial and economic benefits for the locality and investors, increasing employment and alleviating poverty (Andranovich et al., 2001; Dyreson & Llewellyn, 2008; Grabher & Thiel, 2015; Kaplanidou, Al Emadi, Sagas, Diop, & Fritz, 2016; Kellett, Hede, & Chalip, 2008; Molloy & Chetty, 2015; Pillay & Bass, 2008; Poynter, 2009; Preuss, 2007; Kaplanidou & Karadakis, 2010). It is hypothesized that investments in the built environment and sporting infrastructure will result in increased productivity and discretionary effort during the lead-up to the event (Molloy & Chetty, 2015) and new or enhanced sports facilities and participation in local areas thereafter (Coalter, 2004; Hogan & Norton, 2000; Kaplanidou et al., 2016; Kellett et al., 2008; Preuss, 2007; Solberg & Ulvnes, 2016; Veal, Toohey, & Frawley, 2012). Furthermore, advocates for hosting suggest that sports mega-events might act as a catalyst for public sector investment in local economies and improved national nonsporting infrastructure, for example, transport, and an opportunity to extend the returns on investment by hosting more mega-events in future, because of the long-term life span of such developments (Molloy & Chetty, 2015).

Furthermore, sports mega-events can be seen as promotional opportunities for cities and countries, showcasing their attractions to global audiences, helping to attract tourism and outside investment (Andranovich, et al., 2001; Dyerson & Llewellyn, 2008; Horne, 2007; Kaplanidou et al., 2016; Løwendahl, 1995; Molloy & Chetty, 2015). This relates to a further dimension: the political.

Sport mega-events have been used as propaganda—for example, to legitimize ideologies, such as the fascism of Italy and Germany in the 1930s (Archetti, 2006; Gordon & London, 2006; Guttmann, 2006), or to showcase and catalyze economic and societal development (e.g., Molloy & Chetty, 2015; Zimbalist, 2015). Motives focus on long- and short-term potential benefits and legacies, which can be tangible/measurable, or intangible/difficult to measure (Preuss, 2007). Projected benefits are not guaranteed to materialize, and as a result, sports mega-events carry risks, yet they continue to receive public subsidy. The literature points to the rationale for continued investment as partly being the intangible nature of legacy (i.e., that megaprojects become in some way symbolic), as well as the more tangible outcomes from economic “boosterism” (Baade & Matheson, 2004; Kuper & Syzmanski, 2012; Zimbalist, 2015). To illustrate, the United Kingdom's bid for hosting the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 focused on measurable economic and built environment legacy as well as intangible outcomes from volunteering such as community spirit (HM Government & Mayor of London, 2013).

Planning and Delivery of the Events

Compared with literature about the motives for hosting sports mega-events, or the extent to which these motives are realized (i.e., their legacies), there is less published work focusing on the actual planning and delivery of sports mega-events. The sports history and economics literature place particular focus on considerations before and after mega-events, although project management literature does offer more insight into the management and operational aspects.

National governments often pay a substantial proportion of infrastructure investments (Solberg & Ulvnes, 2016). As an important stakeholder, government is often involved in the main stages of the mega-event project life cycle (bidding, organizing, and delivery) (Andranovich et al., 2001). The FIFA World Cup requires the host government to create an appropriate business climate and environment for the mega-event, and this might involve working across national and state boundaries, and making political reforms through governance overhauls (Kaplanidou et al., 2016; Kellett et al., 2008; Preuss, 2007). Although such development could have positive effects, there is a risk of collusion and corruption (Molloy & Chetty, 2015). Sports mega-event projects require “a tremendous investment of human, financial and physical resources from the communities that stage them” (Kidd, 1992, p. 154). The risks to the public purse and to the wider economy are significant, given that these projects can involve multibillion-dollar budgets (Andreff, 2012; Baade & Matheson, 2004; Flyvbjerg, Bruzelius, & Rothengatter, 2003; Zimbalist, 2015).

Problems might arise in projects because of project task uncertainty and the extent to which project management is embedded within a parent organization (Løwendahl, 1995). Because of uncertainties, sports mega-events can be ambiguous in their nature (Horne, 2007), although this can often be by design. Flyvbjerg et al. (2003) and De Bruijn and Leijten (2007) point out that promoters of megaprojects frequently mislead stakeholders and funders in order to have their projects approved, and that this can be a particular feature of events that is also symbolic in their nature. Project drift, such as the over-engineering of stadiums, can occur from the lure of “free money” and tensions between national and local-level organizers stemming from the different priorities given to different drivers (e.g., should development efforts focus on achieving national exposure via television or on local infrastructure needs) (Molloy & Chetty, 2015).

Realized Legacy

Mega-events deserve public debate, accountability, and critical reflection as to what they achieve beyond the field of play (De Bruijn & Leijten, 2007). Extant literature covers both multisport events, such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and single-sport events, such as soccer and Rugby World Cups. There is relatively little consensus as to whether the proposed legacies of mega-events are actually achieved, and in many cases, the literature concludes that it is very difficult to prove causality for many of the outcomes (Frawley, 2013; Preuss, 2007). Although many studies have tended to be critical, it is important to note that others have demonstrated positive outcomes (e.g., Grabher & Thiel, 2014, 2015; Løwendahl, 1995).

Part of the difficulty in assessing how effectively mega-events achieve their proposed objectives is the lack of a single theory, definition, or law about what constitutes “legacy,” “impacts,” and so on, although legacy is a term used broadly to encompass economic, social, political, cultural, and sporting achievements inherited from one generation, person, or organization to another. Legacies can include additional activity generated after the event, such as increased tourism in subsequent years (Holt & Ruta, 2015).

Following Holt and Ruta (2015), we interpret the term legacy broadly, to include short-, medium-, and long-term achievements, both economic and non-economic, of varying degrees of impact, tangible and intangible, “hard” and “soft” (including “symbolic”), which we consider formative to how the event is perceived in the long run. Consistent with the theme of this issue, our interpretation of legacy emphasizes the symbolic.

Preuss (2007) defines legacy very broadly in terms of event structures, encompassing “soft” and “hard” structures: Soft structures relate to knowledge (organizational, security, technological), networks (political, sport federations, security), and cultural goods (cultural identity, cultural ideas, common memory). Contrastingly, hard structures refer to a tangible legacy and can be divided into primary structures (sports infrastructure and training sites), secondary structures (villages for athletes, technical officials, and media), and tertiary structures (security, power plants, telecommunication networks, cultural attractions). This analysis was expanded by Kaplanidou et al. (2016), who view business networks as important soft structures.

Preuss (2007) and Kaplanidou et al. (2016) show that the term legacy is not just used in relation to the planned and positive. This is consistent with studies such as that of Molloy and Chetty (2015), whose research about the 2010 FIFA World Cup demonstrated wide divergence among their interviewees as to the expected and realized benefits.

The Economic Benefits and Costs

A common claim is that hosting a sports mega-event leads to increased economic activity (Feddersen & Maennig, 2013; Kasimati & Dawson, 2009; Lee & Taylor, 2004; Maennig & du Plessis, 2009; Rose & Spiegel, 2011; Spilling, 2000; Stevens & Bevan, 1999; Tien, Lo, & Lin, 2011). Holt and Ruta (2015) identify that some economists use the terminology of “impacts” (the amount of money that will flow in or out of a geographic area exclusively through hosting an event, either directly or via a multiplier effect) and “legacy” (the additional economic activity generated after the event, such as increased tourism in subsequent years).

It is difficult to isolate the hosting of a sports mega-event as the causal variable behind an increase in economic activity because other factors, including those from the macro-environment, might have an influence (as might the methodology of the researchers, such as their measure of economic activity, sample size, and geography). Furthermore, results can depend upon when the study was conducted (ex-post or ex-ante studies). Nevertheless, it does seem that there can be some direct economic benefits even if these are somewhat short-term. Economic benefit might occur as a result of temporary injections of external funding for new sporting facilities (Holt & Ruta, 2015; Solberg & Ulvnes, 2016). Multiplier effects might then occur, such as from a temporary increase in employment to cope with demand before and during an event, such as building contractors (Brunet, 1995; Miguélez & Carrasquer, 1995). The achievement of any such economic benefits, however, is subject to participation and seasonality effects (Fourie & Santana-Galleo, 2011; Spilling, 2000; Teigland, 1999; Tien et al., 2011). Benefits may also occur as a result of knowledge development in the human resources of the host country (Kaplanidou et al., 2016; Kellett et al., 2008; Preuss, 2007).

As well as evidence for the benefits of sports “megas,” there is a substantial body of literature highlighting the risks, assessing their economic costs, underperformance, and failures, particularly for the host cities and countries (Alm, 2012; Andreff, 2012; Baade & Matheson, 2004; Baloyi & Becker, 2011; Baumann, Engelhardt, & Matheson, 2011; De Bruijn & Leijten, 2007; Gursoy & Lee, 2006; Kim, Flyvbjerg, & Stewart, 2012; Kuper & Szymanski, 2012; Molloy & Chetty, 2015; Müller, 2014; Pillay & Bass, 2008; Preuss, 2004; Preuss, Solberg, & Alm, 2014; Senn, 1999; Zimbalist, 2015). For example, the Olympic Games have frequently been subject to cost overruns (e.g., Flyvbjerg & Stewart, 2012; Zimbalist, 2015).

We have already mentioned that mega-events are hosted in the belief that they will attract tourism and inward investment. There is some evidence to suggest hosting a sport mega-event can have a positive country-of-origin effect, improving the image of the host in the minds of visitors as prospective consumers (Donaldson & Ferreira, 2009; Kim & Morrsion, 2005; Sun & Paswan, 2012).

However, there is also literature to demonstrate that regardless of image boosting and changes to consumer attitudes, hosting sport mega-events might not necessarily result in economic gains (Kang & Perdue, 1994; Pyo, Cook, & Howell, 1988). Jakobsen, Solberg, Halvorsen, and Jakobsen (2012) and Flyvbjerg and Stewart (2012) suggest that sport mega-events do not necessarily achieve the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows governments sometimes predict. Baade and Matheson (2004) explain that visitors and residents may decide not to shop locally because they are concerned about congestion and price gauging for the duration of the tournament. Second, errors made in estimating direct spending are compounded when calculating multiplier analysis—the indirect spending from the circulation of tourists’ money in the local economy. Leakages can be significant if the host economy has high employment, because the event will be staffed by people from other localities, in which unemployment or a labor surplus exists. A further point not stated by Baade and Matheson (2004) is that many of the staff could be working on a purely voluntary basis.

The Noneconomic Benefits and Costs

There is much debate as to the wider effects of sporting mega-events, beyond those that can be classified as strictly/directly “economic.” For example, there is little consensus as to whether hosting mega-events can lead to increased interest and participation in sport (Frawley & Cush, 2011; Pope, 2016; Brent Ritchie, 1984; Truño, 1995; Veal et al., 2012) or not (or at least not to the extent that is proposed when making the case to host a mega-event) (Hogan & Norton, 2000; Weed et al., 2009). Some writers suggest that the global exposure of a city or country can make the expense of hosting an event worthwhile (Oldenboom, 2006; Brent Ritchie & Smith, 1991; Varrel & Kennedy, 2011), whereas others discern little or no impact on international awareness and image improvement (Chalip, Green, & Hill, 2003; Gripsrud, Nes, & Olsson, 2010; Mossberg & Hallberg, 1999; Rivenburgh, Louw, Loo, & Mersham, 2003). For example, though not an economic success in the short term, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa arguably helped elevate the country's image as a growing competitive economy, and promoted national unity and national identity (Varrel & Kennedy, 2011). In England, the success of the 1996 Union of European Football Association's (UEFA—soccer's governing body in Europe) European Championship Finals reinforced an optimistic attitude toward the idea of bidding to host the 2012 Summer Olympiad (Fairclough, 2000). However, as Grabher and Thiel (2014) identify, mega-events can result in risky “self-induced shocks” (massive disruptions because of expectations for stunning and overwhelming spectacles). A further and related criticism is that sports mega-events can lead to protests and bad publicity resulting from the displacement of local populations (Andranovich, Burbank & Heying, 2001; Beaty, 1999). Whether successful or not, hosting mega-events can be politically sensitive for host countries (Solberg & Ulvnes, 2016); therefore, there is an impact on reputation. To help reduce the risk of mistakes being repeated, the London 2012 Olympics plan for legacy formally attempted to capture managerial experience and best practice by implementing an open access internet platform accompanied by several lecture and publication series (Grabher & Thiel, 2015).

The symbolic legacy effects over the long term are also important, but they may be intangible and even impossible to quantify—the implication being that the legacy of sports mega-events must look beyond the immediate cost-benefit analysis (De Bruijn & Leijten, 2007; Flyvbjerg & Stewart, 2012; Horne, 2007). Cynics may, however, argue that claims of non-economic and intangible benefits are an attempt to cover up for the aspects of the Olympic Games that did not achieve their proposed financial or tangible benefits. Critics of sports mega-events and boosterism, such as Zimbalist (2015), argue that there are few positive spillover effects associated with sports events and the building of new sports venues, which often constitute the built legacy.

Theoretical Lenses

We have shown that actual realized outputs and outcomes from hosting sports mega-events may differ from those that are proposed when prospective hosts bid for the rights to hold a mega-event, and also that there are contrasting findings within academic studies.

Capturing the network of organizing and delivering the 1966 FIFA World Cup event, Tennent and Gillett's (2016) swarm model (Figure 1) interprets the scope of stakeholders, portraying them as bees swarming to establish a new colony or nest. In this analogy, following Gloor (2006), the participant organizations simultaneously cooperate to organize, manage, and deliver the project, apparently without a high degree of deliberate central coordination. The swarm analogy has limited explanatory power, however, in that it is an empirical rather than a theoretical construct. It is limited in its depth as to the locus of decision making. Neither does it fully contextualize the reasons for stakeholders wanting to host the event, or explain its legacy (Porter, 2016).


Figure 1: The 1966 World Cup Swarm (adapted from Tennent and Gillett, 2016).

Tools exist that can address these limitations. First, Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) “four sublimes” that drive megaproject development explain what makes megaprojects attractive to decision makers. Flyvbjerg extends the “technological sublime”—a term he attributes to Miller (1965) and Marx (1967)—to explain “the excitement engineers and technologists get in pushing the envelope for what is possible in ‘longest-tallest-fastest’ type of projects” (Flyvbjerg, 2014, p. 8). Three additional sublimes also make megaprojects attractive to decision makers—namely, the following:

  • Political: “The rapture politicians get from building monuments to themselves and for their causes, and from the visibility this generates with the public and media”
  • Economic: “The delight business people and trade unions get from making lots of money and jobs off megaprojects”
  • Aesthetic: “The pleasure designers and people who love good design get from building and using something very large that is also iconic and beautiful”

Another useful project management framework is Morris and Geraldi's (2011) identification of project management levels in temporary organizations. Similar to the conceptual disaggregation of strategy in the strategic management literature between the operational, business unit, and corporate levels (Johnson, Scholes, & Whittington, 2008), Morris and Geraldi (2011) see project organizations as being manageable at three levels: Level 1, the technical, consisting of the operational and delivery orientation; Level 2, the strategic, taking a more holistic view of the project process; and Level 3, the wider institutional context within which the project occurs. Level 2 is relevant to this study because it emphasizes the project as an organizational entity to be managed within its business and social context (Morris, 1994). This has congruence because, although a sport mega-event is short in duration, lasting a month at most, the preparation process usually takes place over the course of years, and may necessitate the creation of special project organizations within the host sporting bodies. Level 3 is also particularly relevant to sport mega-events because the sporting bodies are usually not capable of managing the project preparation process on their own, because of the broad nature of the events involving diverse social and economic variables beyond the playing of sports.

Succinctly described by Morris and Geraldi (2011), Level 3 involves “the institutional context: management here is concerned with ensuring the long-term project management health of the organization. Work will be in the ‘parent’ organization and/or in the environment that the project is operating” (p. 23). In practice, this concerns the interaction of the sporting event megaproject with the wider environment, comprising various levels of government and other stakeholder organizations. This complex interface involves a range of scenarios and requires further research for increased explication, a point raised by Morris and Geraldi (2011).

Research Approach

The Case

Megaprojects are expensive in terms of time as well as finance and thus carry considerable reputational as well as economic risk. Time, political reputation, and international diplomacy were prominent drivers in the case of the 1966 World Cup. Unlike contemporary sports mega-events or the FIFA World Cups of the 1930s, the 1966 FIFA World Cup was not initially conceived or engineered as a symbolic megaproject, but as we identify, it evolved into one.

We first became interested in studying the 1966 FIFA World Cup because of another project we were involved in, concerning the use of public finance to fund sports clubs and their built assets, such as stadiums and sports halls. We discovered that the 1966 FIFA World Cup received an unprecedented sum of public money in the UK context, with the majority of this money directed toward stadium improvements, although no new stadiums were constructed. However, the legacy of these investments in the built environment was largely forgotten over the decades following the tournament, as English soccer suffered a decline in support (for a discussion on the reasons for this decline, see Walvin, 1986). Stadiums were neglected until reforms following several fatal disasters spurred investment in new all-seater stadiums, which ushered in or at least corresponded with soccer's revitalization in England, and which, in turn, has corresponded with the sport's global expansion and financialization (Conn, 2004; Taylor, 1990).

Thus, the 1966 edition represents a pivotal moment in the history of soccer's World Cup—the 1966 event was at the vanguard of the global expansion of the soccer “industry” through subsequent World Cups, broadcast media, and sponsorship. Despite the lack of tangible built reminders to 1966 (even Wembley Stadium, the venue that hosted the World Cup final in 1966, has been demolished and rebuilt, and was a megaproject in its own right), tourism and economic opportunities have arisen since, as a result of the symbolic nature of the project.


We used inductively based archival research, drawing upon project documents alng with periodicals and secondary sources to triangulate and compensate for the problems of archival silence and selection (Decker, 2013; Kipping, Wadhwani, & Bucheli, 2013). We believed that returning to the documents generated in the 1960s by the original stakeholders was the optimal way of avoiding the danger of ahistoricism, enabling our understanding of how the World Cup was contextualized within the economic and social settings of the 1960s, rather than applying our present-day understanding of the tournament to the past. This historical survey of the topic allowed us to examine planning and organization, and the extent to which phenomena such as stadium boosterism existed in the 1960s and how far the FIFA World Cup of that period was captured by social and economic concerns. We offer a management and organizational history of a global sporting event, focusing on the institutional context and the organizations involved in delivering the event.

Within the project management history literature, Söderlund and Lenfle (2013) offer five categories of project history research:

  1. History of project management practice
  2. Landmark projects and project narratives
  3. Corporate project history
  4. History of project-based production
  5. History of project managers

We position ourselves within the framework in Type 2 (landmark projects and project narratives) and Type 3 (corporate project history), because we are concerned with a single project, within which we study the project organization at the “firm level,” analyzing the P-form links between a number of organizations that manifest themselves in temporary form.

A wide sweep of archives was consulted, including documents belonging to the following stakeholders identified from Tennent and Gillett's (2016) World Cup 1966 swarm model:

  • English Football Association (FA, soccer's governing body in England): minute books of the main organizing committee, council minutes, the plans for the 1966 tournament, and subsequent publications such as the Mayes (1966) official World Cup report.
  • Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA): Records of the organizing committee, the FIFA Bureau, correspondence, and plans detailing early planning and regulations that divided responsibility between FIFA and the FA.
  • UK government and civil service: At the national level, memos and correspondence principally originating from the Foreign Office and Ministry of Education, as well as the prime minister's office and Ministry of Transport were used to establish their roles in planning the tournament. At the local level, local authority minutes and local newspaper accounts of the hosting arrangements were then added by visiting archives and libraries, and local organizing committee files were accessed.

Using historical methods to study project history was valuable because a temporal perspective allowed us to see the longitudinal scope of a project while avoiding concerns about the presentism of much project management research (Biesenthal, Sankaran, Pitsis, & Clegg, 2015). Maylor, Brady, Cooke-Davies, and Hodgson (2006) argue that where a task stretches over many years, a project is not a temporary organization. However, our project is, by definition, a temporary organization, as there was a fixed end in 1966 and a fixed maximum span of six years for project delivery. A further benefit of an historical study is that we were able to observe long-term legacy, such as 50th-anniversary celebrations and how “1966” has become symbolic. By focusing on a single case study, we aimed to draw out the deep structure of the case, drawing richer and more detailed insights than possible from multiple case studies (Dyer & Wilkins, 1991; Platt, 1988). We use these insights to evaluate the case study, highlighting the general in particular in order to uncover the “dynamics of phenomena” (Maclean, Harvey, & Clegg, 2016, pp. 612–613). In doing this, we follow the lead of Eisenhardt (1989) in highlighting the extent to which historical specificity matters—in this case, creating opportunities for future researchers to exploit the differences between this and other global sporting events.

Following Yin's (2003) matrix of relevant situations for different situation strategies, our study exists within the overlap of archival analysis, history, and case study. We were mainly concerned with the “How?” and “Why?” of our case in relation to motives and decision making, and ultimately, to the legacy of the event. We were mostly concerned with the past, although we also had an interest in contemporary manifestations of “legacy,” such as events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup tournament. With reference to Yin's (2003) taxonomy, it was not necessary to control behavioral events because most had already occurred, while the ongoing legacy could be observed.

Initially, we undertook a literature review. This analysis revealed that different disciplines converge to suggest reasons for hosting events, the ways in which they are planned and executed, and the resulting outputs and legacies. The emergent and intangible nature of projects was an interesting finding because motives for hosting can become subverted or forgotten. We found no academic literature to satisfactorily capture the dynamic, intangible, or symbolic nature of the 1966 event. We considered this a gap worthy of exploration and an opportunity to develop understanding of a significant historic project.

Our archival analysis comprised three main phases. Eisenhardt (1989) refers to the usefulness of writing up a narrative account of the case as a suitable early step in the case study process. First we produced a chronological narrative understanding of the project from an initial reading of the data to identify what compared and contrasted with the existing literature and what was novel. By evaluating key points and identifying the dates when important decisions about financing, locations, and so on were made, and by whom, we created a timeline to provide a snapshot of our case that helped us keep things in chronological order. We identified clues as to the reasons for hosting the tournament, how it was organized, and also some indication as to legacy, although additional research was required to address the question “What happened next?” We visited commemorative events such as the National Football Museum's (the English soccer museum) exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the 1966 tournament. Identifying events and producing a chronology provided the building blocks of our case, but to go beyond descriptive case history to produce a case study, we observed patterns within the data (Pettigrew, 1997).

Second, to address the question “Why were the stakeholders interested in hosting the event?” we examined the original proposals for the tournament, the “new” plan, and what actually happened. We noticed that the motives of different stakeholders changed over time. We distilled our findings into two main themes: (1) how the 1966 World Cup was organized and delivered (this included who was involved, when, and why), and (2) what the project delivered (including positive and negative, short-, medium-, and long-term legacies). We researched theory for an explanatory framework following Eisenhardt's (1989) recommendation to ask ourselves: “What theory is this similar to? What does it contradict and why?” Eisenhardt claims that linking to existing theory in this way enhances the internal validity, generalizability, and general level of theory building from case research. We identified two frameworks from the project management literature as being the best fit for our data: Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) four sublimes of megaprojects to determine what the decision makers’ motivations/drivers for the project were, and Morris and Geraldi's (2011) three levels of project management, to show where and in what way decision making occurred. We were also able to assess the extent to which this contemporary framework might apply to a 50-year-old example.

Our third phase of data analysis involved examining the project network of the temporary organization, to determine the spaces within which decision making took place, and by whom. We found that the headings provided by the frameworks of Flyvbjerg (2012, 2014) and Morris and Geraldi (2011) were suitable for coding and sorting our data, although some expansion of definition was required. We applied these frameworks to the data to see what fit and how, and what the frameworks don't explain. The latter were our unique features. We discovered that a more dynamic understanding of the existing theory was necessary, which we will explain later in this article.

Our theoretical choices were made after data collection, and our research approach was exploratory and inductive. There is some comparison with the work of Molloy and Chetty (2015), whose study of the 2010 FIFA World Cup used grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Their study of a contemporary mega-event was based on interview data, which was not possible for our study because the organizers were dead, although autobiographies were used to triangulate some of the archival data relating to Sir Stanley Rous (FA, FIFA) and Denis Howell (UK sports minister).


The Original Plan and Intended Benefits of Hosting

The 1966 World Cup involved no “new build” stadiums, and the improvements that were made to the existing stadiums were procured and overseen by the soccer clubs themselves. As a result, the tournament is dissimilar to many other FIFA World Cups, where the building of new stadiums was an integral part of the plan (e.g., Molloy & Chetty, 2015). To understand the reasons for hosting the 1966 event, we must analyze the intended benefits, which requires us to look beyond the plan used in the delivery of the project, to the English Football Association's (FA) original plan document (FA, 1961). We now outline our findings from this document using Flyvbjerg's “four sublimes” to evidence the FA's intentions for hosting. The FA, as host, was contractually responsible for the tournament's delivery within FIFA's specifications; the FA essentially represented a franchisee of FIFA. The FA secretary (effectively a chief executive), Sir Stanley Rous, and the England team manager, Walter Winterbottom, wrote the first detailed plan for the hosting of the tournament in 1961 (FA, 1961; Rous, 1978). This vision for the tournament included details of the financial plan, possible host grounds, and speculation about the possible status of broadcasting for the competition. Potential hotels and training grounds for visiting sides were also listed, and even ideas regarding possible souvenir products for both the public and visiting teams were detailed.

With reference to Flyvbjerg's four sublimes, we found that these were less evident at the time of the initial bid to host the tournament in England, which was driven by the FA without government backing (Table 1). Contextually, the FA would celebrate its centenary in 1963, so perhaps this was a catalyst, although our research did not reveal any documentary evidence to prove it. It is apparent from the plan that opportunities existed relating to technology and economics that were certainly attractive, although it might be stretching the data to claim much significance for the “technological” or “economic” sublimes when compared to some previous World Cups (for instance, 16 years prior to our case, the 1950 World Cup held in Brazil involved constructing the largest stadium in the world, the Maracanã). An example that demonstrates the interlinking nature of these opportunities was the noted possibility to film all of the games and broadcast them globally—the United States and Canada are mentioned explicitly—although it was stated that any deals for film rights should not be made until 1966; because of the pace of technology, the technological capabilities would be more advanced by then (FA, 1961). The plan identified economic opportunities or ticket sales and merchandising such as badges and scarves. The plan gives no consideration to the potential for product licensing, although this would be the dominant approach when the tournament actually happened (FA, 1961).

Type of Sublime Characteristic Degree of Applicability Explanation
Technological The excitement engineers and technologists get in pushing the envelope for what is possible in “longest-tallest-fastest” types of projects Medium
  • Emphasized use of existing stadiums with one proposed “new build” (Sheffield) although actually proposed by the club's owners, not by the FA
  • Stadium improvements required, including hospitality, covered areas, and electronic scoreboards comparable with European stadiums
Political The rapture politicians get from building monuments to themselves and for their causes, and from the visibility this generates with the public and media Low (UK government) High (English FA)
  • Low: Not yet considered by national government
  • High: Prestige for English FA as hosts
Economic The delight businesspeople and trade unions get from making lots of money and jobs off megaprojects, including money made for contractors, workers in construction and transportation, consultants, bankers, investors, landowners, lawyers, and developers High
  • FIFA to ensure organizational continuity
  • Government aim to attract foreign currency
  • Local economies from incoming tourism
  • Host football clubs from available funding and gate receipts from match attendance
Aesthetic The pleasure designers and people who love good design get from building and using something very large that is also iconic and beautiful, such as the Golden Gate Bridge No evidence N/A

Table 1: Four sublimes of the 1966 FIFA World Cup (at the time of the FA's original plan, 1961) (Source: Adapted from Flyvbjerg, 2014, p. 8).

It is possible to infer that the “political” sublime was present at the time of the original 1961 plan, but more in relation to the “politics” of soccer than to party politics. Specifically, the fact the report's authors, Stanley Rous and Walter Winterbottom, were senior figures in the English FA indicates that the possibility of hosting the 1966 tournament was considered important and prestigious, as well as an opportunity to leverage income from souvenirs and ticket sales, and spread the sport into new territories or leverage technological advancements in film and television.

Broadcast media aside, other technological developments were clearly important as to how the event would be experienced and contributed to its lasting legacy both in terms of the built environment and symbolically. The FA's original plan provides a slightly different narrative to the established story of which grounds were selected—for instance, that Ayresome Park was only considered at the very last minute, whereas the northeast group was originally conceived to include three stadiums.

Table 2 shows that the original vision was for the tournament to be held at 14 grounds (FA, 1961). Assumptions of likely gate receipt revenues were based upon data from the 1958 FIFA World Cup, which indicated attendance figures of 50,000. The plan also estimated some of the operating costs of the World Cup, but no capital expenditure plans were outlined. The plan envisaged that stadiums would have to be improved with regard to the amount of covered seating and standing accommodation available, including some improvements to the seating at Wembley, as the English weather could not be relied upon. It was also noted that restaurant, bar, and toilet facilities at all stadiums required a “100% increase” (Ibid, p. 14) and that television facilities needed to be installed, as well as facilities for up to 500 journalists with 100 telephone lines. Support services would also have to be improved, such as accommodations for police, first-aid posts, catering services, souvenir sellers, and information kiosks.

Group Stadium Anticipated Capacity
London Wembley Stadium 97,165
Highbury 67,000
White Hart Lane 62,000
Stamford Bridge 71,000
Birmingham Villa Park 70,500
St. Andrews 55,000
Wolverhampton Molineux 53,500
Liverpool Goodison Park 72,000
Manchester Maine Road 75,200
Old Trafford 65,600
Sheffield Proposed new stadium* 58,500
Sunderland Roker Park 60,800
Newcastle St. James Park 59,500
Middlesbrough Ayresome Park 55,500
Total 923,265
Source: Adapted from FA, 1961, p. 14
*Planned by the Sheffield Wednesday board, not specifically for the tournament.

Table 2: Original Rous and Winterbottom plan: Proposed stadium capacities.

Also envisaged was the introduction of electronic scoreboards, which already existed in some European grounds, as well as improved dressing room facilities, and even places for prematch entertainers to change. Security measures and access for teams and officials would also need to improve. A feeling emerges that Rous and Winterbottom had a vision of what was required to modernize England's traditional soccer grounds, which had been built with locally living standing spectators in mind, and which had not envisaged the use of the grounds in internationally televised tournaments. The plans were mostly an adaptation of existing grounds—the one exception being Sheffield Wednesday, where the club's board proposed a new ground. Further, the projections were still largely based on standing accommodations being the norm. Wembley was the only venue where additional seating was proposed, including temporary form benches to be placed on the greyhoundracing track.

A New Plan

The death of FIFA President Arthur Drewry led to the election of Sir Stanley Rous in his place (FIFA, 1960; Rous, 1978), but with Rous unable to carry on as FA secretary, this meant that he moved from franchisee to franchisor. As a result, the strategic thread was lost, and Rous's successor as FA secretary, Denis Follows, started the process again from scratch after a gap of around a year, convening the first meeting of the FA's World Cup Organizing Committee (WCOC) in November 1962 (FA, 1962).

Our archival data show the decisions and behaviors of the main stakeholders involved in the planning and delivery of the 1966 FIFA World Cup. By relating our findings to the three levels identified by Morris and Geraldi (2011), we provide a more detailed and effective understanding of the project management of the tournament than has previously been published. Table 3 summarizes our analysis.

Our findings indicated the particular significance of public sector involvement in the project, which we will now explain.

After the death of Drewry, Dennis Follows was essentially left on his own to replan the tournament, although government support was not forthcoming at this stage; Follows’ approach to the Conservative government led only to an assurance that police escorts would be provided for visiting team vehicles (FA, 1965). Follows was forced to economize by narrowing the 18 possible hosting grounds down to eight. Each of the four groups would now have two constituent grounds; Everton and Manchester United remained hosting matches in the North West group, Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East group, while Sheffield Wednesday was grouped with Aston Villa in the Midland group, and London group matches were to be held at Arsenal and Wembley.


Table 3: Morris and Geraldi's (2011) three levels of project management and the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Crucially, the committee decided that the hosting clubs themselves would be responsible for funding any new facilities or improvements deemed necessary. Their reward for taking this risk was to receive 15% of the gate receipts (FA, 1962); the rest of the takings after expenses paid to teams and officials would be paid to the qualifying nations, the FA, and FIFA. Clubs were still expected to stage matches simply for the honor of doing so, with no consideration of legacy. Indeed, in the first draft of the World Cup Regulations, FIFA only allowed 10% of the receipts for “ground hire,” clearly stipulating that all usual privileges, such as club season tickets and complimentary tickets, were suspended for World Cup finals matches (FIFA, 1963). In May 1963, after negotiations with the FA, FIFA agreed to allow the host clubs 15% of the gate receipts, although FIFA would not contribute toward the cost of ground alterations (FA, 1963a). The FA committee started to plan the tournament within the limited envelope allowed for them by FIFA, although it would be as late as 1965 before the definite final host grounds, shown in Table 4, were decided.

The Influence of Stakeholders

Our archival research has revealed that the original 1961 plan by Walter Winterbottom and Sir Stanley Rous for the 1966 FIFA World Cup, which focused on the tournament as being for the benefit of soccer and the sport's governing bodies, was gradually subverted toward the benefit of national and local government instead. The national government sought to benefit from an improved image for Britain in order to improve foreign relations and boost exports. The local governments sought to boost local industry and improve tourism. This led to considerable investment of public funds into the project, and co-option of local industry into its implementation. The influence of stakeholders, power, and politics can also be considered from the perspectives of international diplomacy between governments and sports governing bodies, with each other and one another. Cold War concerns, wider geopolitics, and domestic industrial policy in a period of national planning evolving around the world (everywhere from the United Kingdom to North Korea) also led the politicians to desire a more permanent legacy than was initially envisaged, as we will now explain.

A New Government

The election of Harold Wilson's Labour government in the autumn of 1964 caused an abrupt change in the political landscape. Important to our narrative is the change of ethos toward centralized planning, which was fundamental to the Wilson view of the economy. In the British context, Wilson's National Plan of 1965 meant stimulus and corrective intervention in the economy through control of public investment, nationalized industries, and encouragement of technological change (Tomlinson, 2004), rather than the outright command and control approach favored by Communist nations. An important element of the Labour government's policy was to invest heavily in science and education. Unlike today, where sport and leisure have its own distinct government department, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), in the 1960s, sport was under the purview of the Department of Education and Science (DES). As we shall now explain, the government's role in funding the World Cup was part of this expansion of education and science funding, and sport formed only part of a broader portfolio in which education and science were the main responsibilities (Howell, 1990).


Table 4: Eventual host grounds, 1965.

Denis Howell, the undersecretary with responsibility for sport, and also a soccer referee, saw the potential of the World Cup tournament for national prestige. Wanting to generate a lasting legacy, he approached Wilson for funding. Wilson agreed to set aside the sum of £500,000, partly backed by the Board of Trade, which saw the opportunity to boost British exports (Howell, 1990; The Times, 1965a). The government saw the World Cup as an opportunity to create a lasting legacy; it was symbolic of progress under the government's national plan. This was the first time the UK government had funded a soccer event, but it had previously supported the 1948 London Olympics, and this invited comparisons with that event in the civil service (HM Treasury, 1965).

The chosen stadiums were substantially unimproved since around 1900—attendance had been large, but the gate receipts had mostly been spent on transfer fees. Despite this, it would be prohibitive to build new stadiums and the treasury admitted: “We have to make do with what we have” (HM Treasury, 1965). The issue of power and rivalry between different parts of government became important as Howell and his team prepared their plans to enhance the tournament in the spring of 1965. In terms of creating a lasting legacy, Howell persuaded the FA to go beyond the original plan by installing new areas of seating, together with improved hospitality and media facilities, to make the stadiums more welcoming to the overseas media and visiting dignitaries (HM Treasury, 1965). There were concerns about how good an investment this would be for the public sector because of the prolificacy of soccer clubs with increasing transfer fees and player wages at a time when they were unwilling to invest in the updating of their stadiums, their main capital asset (The Times, 1965b). There was also concern in the treasury that investing in the World Cup could be the thin end of a very large wedge; there could potentially be as many tournaments to spend money on as there were types of sport (HM Treasury, 1965).

There was further concern in the Foreign Office about the inclusion of the team representing the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK—more colloquially referred to as ‘North Korea’). It was feared that their presence in England and symbolic display of national symbols such as flags and national anthems would legitimize a state considered nonexistent at best and an enemy at worst, this being the height of the Cold War and within recent memory of the Korean War. It was also feared that recognition of North Korea would implicitly legitimize the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was backed by the Soviet Union. Because of a boycott by most African and Asian states, the DPRK ended up being the sole qualifier for the 1966 FIFA World Cup from outside of Europe and the Americas. The Foreign Office was initially unwilling to grant the DPRK team a visa to visit the United Kingdom, and this threatened the team's ability to appear in the World Cup finals at all. After considerable negotiations between DES and the Foreign Office, a compromise was reached in which the DPRK team would agree to be known as North Korea and the usual World Cup customs of displaying flags and playing national anthems before matches would be suspended for most of the tournament (Polley, 1998). This was an example of a conflict between government organizations, as well as between countries, because DES had already invested public money in flagpoles for the host stadiums (HM Treasury, 1965).

Although part of the original plan, the location of Middlesbrough in North East England might not have been included in the actual project had it not been for local politics in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. An important name associated with the National Plan in the North East was that of ambitious council leader T. Dan Smith, who had grand designs for the city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and was at loggerheads with the local soccer team, Newcastle United Football Club, which leased the St. James Park stadium from the council. Smith wanted to upgrade the stadium to a municipal multisport arena that could be used seven days a week, rather than allowing it to be the sole domain of the club (Foote Wood, 2010; Joannu, 2000). This dispute caused significant delays when it came to starting any of the required work for the World Cup, and meant that the club, responsible for the day-to-day operations at the stadium, was unable to guarantee to the FA that it would still be occupying St. James Park by the time of the tournament. This presented such a significant risk to the WCOC in terms of the FA contract with FIFA that it was decided to relocate the matches to Middlesbrough (FA, 1964a, 1964b).

Intended and Achieved Benefits of Hosting: Legacy and Symbolism

A key finding of our study was that as the 1966 FIFA World Cup project evolved, the sublimes became more significant as opportunities were identified and public money invested. There is some evidence to suggest that Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) sublimes can explain the motives for this evolution, and the same typology can be used to categorize the actual outputs and outcomes of the project, which were tangible as well as intangible. An important finding was how the 1966 FIFA World Cup has become increasingly symbolic over time, in ways that were not envisaged by its organizers.

Table 5 summarizes our findings in relation to Flyvbjerg's four sublimes (technological, political, economic, and aesthetic). We found the political and economic sublimes emerged as government and the public sector became increasingly involved. Similar to the findings of Molloy and Chetty (2015), who studied the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there is evidence to show how the technological sublime became more relevant in the 1960s as public money became available. Although there was no major aesthetic built legacy, there is evidence to support the aesthetic sublime, as the WCOC realized the potential for symbolism and branding.


Table 5: The four “sublimes” of the 1966 FIFA World Cup


There is evidence that clubs brought forward investment plans to benefit from the opportunity of public money. Soccer clubs seized upon the expectation for the higher specification technical conditions encouraged by FIFA to access grant funding so that they could create stadiums that were technically advanced and worthy of a never-before-seen event. Even in the initial plan, there were proposed technical improvements to stadiums, though mostly of a temporary nature (FA, 1961). In contrast, the subsequent plan proposed by Denis Howell sought a longer-lasting legacy, with the intention of improving English stadiums to be comparable with those found overseas. Proposals included installing new steel cantilever stands (the latest technology), new seating, permanent facilities for television broadcasters for the first time, and new hospitality facilities, including women's toilets for the first time at many stadiums. Sheffield Wednesday did not build a new stadium, but did develop a gymnasium and a whole new stand seating 5,000 at its existing Hills-borough stadium (HM Treasury, 1965). Middlesbrough FC, whose Ayresome Park ground had the lowest capacity of the host stadiums, made significant improvements, proposing an additional 8,520 seats to replace dated terracing, as well as improving its hospitality areas and covering its terraces (HM Treasury, 1965; Middlesbrough FC 1965a, 1965b). Everton FC demolished housing to lengthen its pitch and increase stadium capacity (Mayes, 1966), and Manchester United widened a road bridge and developed a “modern,” technologically advanced cantilever stand (Financial Times, 1966). By the end of the process, all six provincial host grounds had at least 18,000 seats installed, a high number for English soccer grounds at this time (HM Treasury, 1965).


There is a clear overlap between the political and the technological sublimes—the UK government as well as FIFA intervention was the driver for technological improvement after the 1964 general election, creating a world-class sporting spectacle to showcase the country.

Despite satire (e.g., Private Eye, 1966), the 1966 World Cup is remembered as successful: The host nation's team won, people were happy, and diplomatic embarrassments were avoided. However, British soft power was impacted (Foreign Office, 1966a, 1966b). This was partly the result of the poor performance of South American teams—World Champion Brazil exited in the group stages, followed by Argentina in the quarter finals. There were claims the English had used their influence within FIFA to choose referees favorable to themselves, which escalated into a diplomatic row. British embassies in South America expressed concern over the risk to British exports and FDI links (Foreign Office, 1966a, 1966b).

The World Cup seduced national and local politicians who thought it would create an opportunity to generate much-needed foreign currency and drive the National Plan for industrial renewal, itself a seductive megaproject. This was consistent with the wider failure of 1960s economic and social planning. In a reflection of how a small detail can upset a larger plan, the FA appointed the travel agency Thomas Cook, which mismanaged the allocation of visiting supporter accommodations (see below). With reference to organizational theory, this was a warning from the 1960s (a decade characterized in Anglo-Saxon economies by M-form organizations) that the Druckerian policy of outsourcing could compromise project delivery (Wilson & Thomson, 2006). The idea that the World Cup would provide an opportunity to push British industrial exports to soccer fans might have been far-fetched: There is no evidence to suggest that Brazilian fans placed orders for Sheffield steel or Sunderland glass as a direct result of attending the World Cup! This practical disconnect is evidence of the seduction explicit in sporting mega-events.

More broadly, the tournament improved British relations with DPRK, on a local scale at least, which we explain later in this article, in relation to the symbolic legacy of the 1966 World Cup.


Economic factors had significance at the time of the FA's first plan for the tournament and became more important as the project progressed.

As hoped, the profile and image of soccer benefited from global TV exposure, which, in this tournament, was the greatest yet. Advances in the marketing and licensing of World Cup branded products—for example, the “World Cup Willie” range (Mayes, 1966, p. 44) innovated the first-ever World Cup mascot. Unlike in previous World Cups, the English approach demonstrated that hosting the tournament did not require the construction of new stadiums.

As the tournament grew closer, there were hopes that it would encourage tourism and promote local industry. However, the expected influx of tourists did not materialize. Many overseas visitors opted to stay and visit London instead of going to Sunderland or Liverpool. The provincial cities were relatively unknown to overseas visitors, yet these cities were also keen to put themselves in the shop window, and like the tournament overall, the regional matches were exploited for local economic purposes. Tours of factories and workplaces were organized, including the Vauxhall Motors factory near Liverpool and the offices of the Little-woods football (soccer) pools company (Liverpool Echo, 1966). In Sunderland, the local authority organized tours of factories and shipyards (Northern Echo, 1966a). In Middlesbrough, an “Industrial Eisteddfod” event was held on the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) chemical company's showgrounds, planned separately from the World Cup but tied into the tournament (Northern Echo, 1966b).

The FA's official travel agent, Thomas Cook, sold the tournament to overseas visitors in the form of three-week “packages” on the assumption that a fan would spend the whole tournament around a 50-mile radius of a single match center. There were ambitions that floating hotels might be needed to alleviate accommodation shortages in provincial cities, but these proved optimistic (British Railways Board, 1966; Evening Gazette, 1965; FA, 1964c, 1964d). This approach, which did not match the pattern of matches played and did not take account of the allure London held for overseas visitors, was flawed. Accommodation bookings were not tied to overseas ticket sales, and inevitably, with a range of attractions, the London package proved the most popular.


We found little evidence of the aesthetic sublime in Flyvbjerg's (2012, 2014) meaning of the term. Construction was temporary or for technical compliance and economic reasons, such as future income. The built legacy of the tournament was one of neglect. With few exceptions, soccer clubs did not renew their assets until forced to do so by the Taylor Report of 1990, a direct response to the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, in which many soccer fans were killed or injured during a soccer game at Sheffield's Hillsborough stadium. Fans also died at another World Cup stadium, Ayresome Park; and elsewhere in the country, a fire at Bradford in 1985 showed the dangers of England's stadiums, which were in need of improvement (Conn, 2004). After Bradford, the memory of the 1966 World Cup became a symbol of hope when the 1966 World Cup final was re-created in an exhibition match between the England and West Germany teams, comprising 1966 alumni (Wray, 1985).

There was an aesthetic dimension to the World Cup 1966 project in terms of the World Cup Willie merchandising, developed for economic purposes, but this, as we explain next, has become iconic and symbolic of the tournament, demonstrating the power of sports mega-event aesthetics. A better way to explain this is in terms of the symbolic legacy.

A Symbolic Legacy

The 1966 FIFA World Cup has taken on symbolic meaning for several reasons, including the culmination of sublimes and other factors. It remains the only time the tournament was both hosted and won by England, and this victory took place in the setting of the iconic Wembley Stadium, which has since been replaced. At the time of this writing, there had been a fashion for soccer nostalgia, and 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of these events.

The 1966 World Cup was a symbolic project for unintended reasons—the legacy of the tournament was almost entirely intangible and social rather than built and economic. This partly supports Warrack's (1993) proclamation that megaprojects have “powerful economic, social and symbolic roles in the society” (p. 2). The final, in which England won 4–2 against West Germany, became iconic—the main reason for this being the technological advances made in the broadcast media, which enabled viewers across Europe, the United States, and Mexico to watch live. This catalyzed the formation of the North American Soccer League (Cairns, 2016). England's victory was a landmark moment in English popular memory, compared by some to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 (in the where were you when it happened sense, rather than in a tragic way) (Critcher, 1994; Hughson, 2016; Porter, 2009; Wray, 1985).

Public appetite for televised soccer in the United Kingdom increased after the tournament, raising the profile of the FA's domestic cup competition. Match attendances also enjoyed a short-term revival (European Football Statistics, 2016). To illustrate, BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme's comment at the final whistle, “Some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over—it is now!” slipped into the English language, inspiring the title of the BBC's panel game show They Think It's All Over 30 years later (Porter, 2009). England's subsequent failure to again win the tournament inspired a popular song “Three Lions,” which included lyrics reflecting on England's “thirty years of hurt” since 1966 (Baddiel & Skinner, 1996). The tournament was also instrumental in broadening the appeal of soccer among females as both supporters (Pope, 2016) and players (Lopez, cited by BBC, 2016).

There was a more successful cultural and commercial legacy related to another symbol of the tournament, the mascot World Cup Willie, conceived as a marketing device within England only, but less commercially successful in 1966 than the English FA had envisaged. Subsequent World Cups have had their own mascots, and the Olympic Games followed suit a few years later, as well as the UEFA European Championship in 1980 (McGuiness, 2011). English soccer clubs also introduced mascots in the wake of 1966 (Football League, 1967). The legacy lives on: London 2012 was notable for two mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, although it remains to be seen whether they will have the longevity of World Cup Willie. Simultaneously, the British Olympic Committee launched Pride the Lion, a mascot resembling World Cup Willie (Gibson, 2011)! Even today, World Cup Willie memorabilia can be found for sale on the collector market, both for original items and as contemporary souvenirs. An opportunity for this has been provided by the soccer nostalgia market, symbolized by the National Football Museum's dual-site World Cup ’66 exhibition in 2016–2017 in Manchester and Wembley Stadium. Anniversary exhibitions were also organized locally at other 1966 host cities.

The 50th anniversary was commemorated by the media, with documentaries, dramatizations, and newspaper articles. Book publishers also capitalized on the event with a plethora of new titles. An academic symposium was held in London during June 2016, attended by the authors of this article, along with other academic experts and authors. Another way in which 1966 has been commemorated was with the launch of the Sporting Memories Network, a social research project to record written and oral memories of the tournament. This project was extended to establish a network of sporting memories groups for people over age 50 and demonstrates how the unforeseen legacy of a sporting event can be used for social good decades later. It exists “to reignite connections between generations and combat the effects of dementia, depression and loneliness.” (Sporting Memories, 2017) This is fitting because some members of England's 1966 team have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

At a local level, a symbolic relationship between Middlesbrough and the DPRK has persisted. The Ayresome Park stadium was demolished in 1997 to make way for a housing estate incorporating memorials to the club and tournament, but a bronze sculpture marks the location of an important goal scored by North Korea (Wood & Gabie, 2011). The North Korean players revisited Ayresome Park in 2002 (Middlesbrough Football Club, 2002) and the Middlesbrough Ladies Team visited North Korea in 2010 (Kelly, 2010).

The Temporary Organization—A Missed Opportunity?

We have outlined the outcomes and legacies of the 1966 World Cup tournament in relation to technological, political, economic, aesthetic, and symbolic perspectives. Also important is the missed opportunity to sustain the successful relationships within the project organization. The delivery of the project entailed a series of temporary organizations oriented around each city by the Local Liaison Committees, stretching the scope of the project far off the pitch (FA, 1963b).

These organizations brought soccer's institutions—including the FA and the clubs—together with the media, local authorities, police, and utility companies such as the General Post Office and British Rail. This enabled the creation of an integrated communications system to manage the unusual demands of the tournament. Press centers were established at stadiums and city centers, with new telephone links to allow international media to dispatch reports (Mayes, 1966). Special rail services were arranged to correspond with games, and British Rail also set up a Transport Information Unit to relay information to the BBC (British Railways Board, 1966). Information kiosks were provided for foreign visitors (British Railways Board, 1966; HM Treasury, 1965; Northern Echo, 1966a) and a corps of language students from universities recruited as translators (FA, 1965). Universities and colleges provided premises and team accommodations (FA, 1964d; Foreign Office 1966a; Manchester Evening News, 1966). The temporary organizations engendered a great sense of camaraderie. Workers in Manchester remarked that it was a shame there wasn't another project after the tournament (Shiel, 2006). This network evidences the existence of soft structures, as discussed in our literature review. However, we broaden Kaplanidou et al.'s (2016) concept of business networks to place greater emphasis on state-run organizations. In the case of 1966, this was a missed opportunity—an example of interagency cooperation to deliver a large-scale project, with no further projects planned.


Scranton (2014) raises the question: “Is it possible projects serve as a useful category for historical analysis?” (p. 354). We examine this proposition by looking at one such historical project, the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England. We analyzed the 1966 World Cup as a megaproject worthy of analysis informed by project management and organizational theory, in relation to the contexts of its time. Doing so has allowed us to extend the work of Flyvbjerg (2012, 2014) by demonstrating that the four sublimes of megaprojects can interact and change over the course of a project. We also identify what goes on in a sport mega-event project and how this one was managed.

Our findings provide an alternative view of the factors that need to be taken into account when evaluating such events as a success or failure over time, including the symbolic impact on national identity and status, international relations, and so on. We also explain the temporal nature of project implementation, demonstrating that the strategic and institutional context itself is not static over the lifetime of a project, and thus, the contribution of historical analysis is to provide an opportunity to evaluate how these challenges were managed. We argue that this requires an understanding of the dynamic nature of megaproject management.

Megaprojects are expensive in terms of time as well as finance, and thus, they carry considerable reputational as well as economic risk. Time, political reputation, and international diplomacy were all prominent drivers in the case of the 1966 World Cup. Unlike contemporary sports mega-events or the FIFA World Cups of the 1930s, the 1966 FIFA World Cup was not initially conceived or engineered as a symbolic megaproject. The tournament did not require the construction of huge new stadiums. The 1966 edition represents an interesting pivot in the history of soccer's World Cup, which was subsequently amplified; the 1966 event was at the vanguard of the global expansion of the soccer “industry.” Despite the lack of tangible built reminders of 1966 (even Wembley Stadium has been demolished and rebuilt—a megaproject in its own right), tourism and economic opportunities have arisen since, because of the symbolic nature of the project.

Therefore, we argue that the 1966 World Cup was a “vanguard project” (Brady & Davies, 2004, p. 1607) and should be viewed as the pivot point between the “Stanley Rous era” of FIFA and the approach taken to hosting mega-events in Britain, and the coming of Rous's successor at FIFA, João Havelange, who ushered in a new commercial era of soccer.

We view this project as one that emerged within a particular spatial temporal context, with unique features (Maylor, Brady, Cooke-Davies, & Hodgson, 2006) that arose because of the nature of the temporary organization wrought around it, and one where there was a great danger of knowledge being forgotten (Foucault, 1971) as the FIFA World Cup circus moved on elsewhere. By viewing the World Cup project in such a way, we also seek to show that it is possible to answer Söderlund and Lenfle's (2013) call for more variety to enhance our knowledge of projects in countries such as England and away from railway, canal, military, and space projects. We add further methodological sophistication by breaking away from the quasi-Chandlerian norm (Söderlund & Lenfle, 2013), not only challenging the hegemony of corporate histories but directly engaging with them while using their archives to find traces—sometimes merely transient and ephemeral on their own—that when converged together prove synergistic in the creation of the narrative of a transient, multifaceted organization.

The argument that sport is a relevant topic for social science has been made by Bourdieu (1991), who postulated that sport is a form of production intended to meet a social rather than economic demand. Within the study of sport, global mega-events such as World Cups, which require associated infrastructure work and off-the-pitch intervention, are a type of megaproject. Their size and significance are evidenced by the fact that their organizer, FIFA, has more members than the United Nations and because their ubiquity and use of large sums of money, including public investment, make them worthy of critical analysis (De Bruijn & Leijten, 2007).

The study of World Cups and their legacy, therefore, requires researchers to look not just at the tangible economic legacy but also at the intangible and non-economic legacy. The 1966 project is particularly interesting because the tournament that took place differed significantly from the original conception. Developments were done mainly to (1) meet FIFA required standards, and (2) improve hospitality and press/media facilities. As a result, the 1966 World Cup became an important event in the evolution of the tournament toward its contemporary scope and scale, and also symbolic in English national identity—partly because of an injection of public money that contributed to its success.

The organization of the 1966 World Cup was a project shaped by Morris and Geraldi's (2011) Level 3 environment, but one in which the parent organization, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), franchised out the implementation to a wide range of institutional actors such as the English Football Association (FA), the UK government, local authorities, and national utilities. These actors came together to deliver the tournament with a finite deadline, but the team was dissolved and moved on to very different projects despite the feeling that the project organization had developed real capacity.

This case emphasizes that politics in the megaproject sense is not limited to relations with government but also to the wider “institutional” context (Morris & Geraldi, 2011, p. 20). Therefore, Flyvbjerg's (2014) definition of the “political sublime” should be expanded to include institutions as well as governments. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as FIFA and the FA provide the institutional framework for the operation of sporting megaprojects. Indeed, FIFA's entire economic survival at the time was contingent on the World Cup, and this remains true to a large extent today, even though the main income streams now come from sponsorship and broadcasting rights rather than ticket sales.

Conclusion and Suggestions for Further Research

The central contribution of this article is to illustrate the dynamic nature of Flyvbjerg's (2012; 2014) sublimes framework. With government intervention, the 1966 FIFA World Cup evolved from just a soccer event into an increasingly important political, social, and economic megaproject. We have found that the main benefits of the project were actually unintended or perhaps accidental, and that the intended benefits either did not materialize or melted away. Government intervention in megaprojects is always a risky activity, but in this case, the government's involvement changed the nature of the project, which had already shifted from the original plan, and served to increase the visibility of the project, thus enhancing its cultural significance. We have reached these conclusions by analyzing what happened during the project and how it was managed.

Our study has resonance for contemporary megaprojects, potentially beyond sport, where the political sublime is an important driver. As sports mega-events become bigger in scale and scope, the lead time expands. Therefore, the need to understand the implementation phase has increased. Historical sports mega-events provide an opportunity to evaluate an entire implementation process, including the change implicit within this process.

We recommend that further research be undertaken to evaluate the pressures of continuity and change during the lives of megaprojects. We have demonstrated the usefulness of contemporary project management theory (i.e., Flyvbjerg's sublimes and Morris and Geraldi's three levels) in analyzing an historic megaproject. In particular, we have found that these frameworks were useful for explaining continuity in a project, but less so change. We have also found that the main benefits of the 1966 World Cup project were actually unintended or perhaps accidental. Government intervention in megaprojects is always a risky activity but in this case the government's involvement changed the nature of the project, which had already shifted from the original plan, and served to increase the visibility of the project and thus ironically enhanced its cultural significance. With government intervention, the 1966 FIFA World Cup was more than just a soccer event; it was an important political, social, and economic megaproject.

Further research should focus on the dynamic nature of sublimes and of decision making within the levels of a project. Specifically, research should aim to explain more recent and more complex megaprojects where legacy was planned and engineered into the projects from the early phases. An obvious comparative study would be to research another World Cup or Olympiad, but other case studies beyond sports could be similarly rich, such as transport or military, in instances where the institutional and political contexts have been particularly dynamic, such as regime change. We will now explain how further research could apply additional theory to develop and refine the ideas presented in this article.

In our article, we have drawn mainly upon Flyvbjerg's (2012; 2014) sublimes and Morris and Geraldi's (2011) three levels of project management. Used together, these frameworks were most suitable because (1) their scope is consistent with the most significant stakeholders identified from our data, and (2) we have been concerned with changes over the lifetime of the project and its longitudinal legacy, including the way in which the project has resulted in, or even shaped, symbolic value. But there are other perspectives—for example, a corpus of work on large-scale projects exists that is underpinned by a sociological perspective of institutional theory (see, for example, Ainamo et al., 2010; Javernick-Will & Scott, 2010; Scott, Levitt, & Orr, 2011). Here, conception of institutional theory, which “attends to the deeper and more resilient aspects of social structure” (Scott, 2005, p. 460), has adapted Scott's (1995) pillars framework, which emphasizes three main elements of institutions—they are regulative, normative, and cultural–cognitive. Put simply, “institutions lead to regularized or homogenous behaviour within a group” (Mahalingam & Levitt, 2007, p. 523) as “a dominant institutional form will overcome a weaker one” (Mahalingam & Levitt, 2007, p. 526).

The institutional conception of an organization's context appears broader than in the frameworks of Flyvbjerg and Morris and Geraldi. Scott (2011) proposes that institutional perspectives can help inform and guide decision making by important project stakeholders, including “governments, oversight bodies, consumers of services, community members, and interest groups” (p. 8). This broader sociological institutional perspective has been applied to global projects concerning engineering projects focusing on built environment and infrastructure development and does not appear to fully reflect or explain the findings that emerged from our data relating to the 1966 FIFA World Cup. There is, however, potential for applying institutional theory to other historic cases, and also to recent sports mega-events such as the London 2012 Olympics, or contemporary or future FIFA World Cups, which from the bidding stage onward explicitly place more emphasis on legacy for a wider scope of stakeholders than was evident from our findings of the 1966 tournament. This legacy has often involved investment in new infrastructure and the built environment. For instance, Germany, which hosted the 2006 World Cup, already had sufficient stadiums to host the tournament, but public funding was lavished upon infrastructure, including a new central railway station in Berlin. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 edition in Brazil also involved considerable investment in stadiums and public infrastructure, and for the 2022 tournament, host Qatar has promised 9 to 12 stadiums with at least a US$65 million investment in transport and hotel infrastructure (Tennent & Gillett, 2016). Indeed, the 2022 FIFA World Cup project is sufficiently globalized for the project to act as an opportunity to import procurement accreditations from overseas (Kaplanidou et al., 2016). Specifically, we identify the following future research directions:

  • How do national or organizational cultures affect sports governing bodies such as FIFA and other global sporting bodies (e.g., International Olympic Committee (IOC)), continental confederations (e.g., UEFA), and national associations (e.g., English Football Association, United States Soccer Federation)?
  • How do national or organizational cultures affect the way these bodies work with one another and with external stakeholders such as governments, sponsors, construction firms, the media, and other stakeholders?
  • How does the institutional perspective affect the project sublimes for hosting sports megaprojects?
  • How do the institutional factors affect the perceived legacy of hosting sporting events? Is legacy perceived differently by different stakeholder groups depending upon their cultural attitudes, beliefs, and so on?

Hofstede's (1993) cultural beliefs include the most deep-set and “slow moving” of the institutional elements. They connect to deeper “background” assumptions taken for granted by their adherents, including expectations of power distance, uncertainly avoidance, masculinity, and long-term orientation (Campbell, 2004). So, institutional theory helps us understand how and why things work the way they do. For example, conflicting timing norms can lead to temporal misfits on global projects (Dille & Söderlund, 2011, 2013); institutional theory could help us more easily coordinate norms within sporting megaproject teams to fit the requirements of the sporting calendar, TV broadcasts, and so on. Orr, Scott, Levitt, Artto, and Kujala (2011) identify leadership, teamwork, and risk management as areas for future research, but perhaps most interesting in terms of the symbolic legacy for sport megaprojects might be trust and shared project culture. The creation of new group identities, symbols, and collective practices specific to the project team in sports mega-event projects raises certain questions, such as the following:

  • To what extent does a shared culture develop within a project organization, especially in relation to Morris and Geraldi's (2011) three levels of project management?
  • How long does this take to achieve good performance and how can it be accelerated?
  • How can the quality of output be optimized?

Project management and institutional theory has tended to take a snapshot approach—this is where historic studies are potentially useful; whereas longitudinal studies require the researcher to wait for something to happen, historic studies such as the case presented in this article allow us to look at a temporal run of data to analyze the evolution and legacy of a project over the medium to long term—in our case, over six decades. For example, a process research approach could be applied to chart events, activities, and choices, and the involvement of individuals and organizations within the project organization, to shed more light on the sequence of events and dynamics among the various actors as they interpret and react to events in World Cup projects (Langley, 1999).

This research agenda has the potential to help further integrate sport, history, and project management research into mainstream international management theory areas. Following Engwall's (2003) postulation that projects are nested within their historical and organizational contexts, we propose further research to identify the evolution and linkages between global sporting mega-event projects. Preuss’ (2007) Matrix of Event Comparison case studies suggests that there would be value in studying other events in the United Kingdom, such as the UEFA European Championships 1996 or any of the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. Alternatively, we could explore cases in geographies other than the United Kingdom—for example, World Cups or other global sporting megaprojects, including multisport events such as the Olympic Games or world championships in a single global sport.

To illustrate, an interesting comparison to our study but beyond the contexts of the World Cup and the United Kingdom could be the 2020 Olympic Games, set to be hosted in Japan. Following IOC Agenda 2020 reforms, which suggest using existing facilities if it makes financial and practical sense, and with costs escalating, the Japanese government has tried to find savings with new proposals to either move the location of some venues farther away from the main Tokyo hub or even to make more use of some of its existing facilities, including the built legacy of the 1964 Olympics (The Guardian, 2016; Zimbalist, 2015).

In summary, the study of sports megaprojects using historic and contemporary data offers potential for rich insight as to the ways in which plans and motives change as megaprojects (and sometimes also the network of organizations involved in and around the temporary organization) become more high-profile and more political. Applying dynamic sublimes, levels of decision making in project organizations, and institutional theory would surely help develop and refine the conclusions presented in this article.


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Dr. Alex G. Gillett is Lecturer in Marketing at the York Management School, University of York, United Kingdom. His research interests are relatively broad, but much of his work has focused on organizational networks, relationships, and interaction. In addition to studying contemporary contexts, Dr Gillett has a keen interest in management history, and is a founding committee member of the Management and Business History Special Interest Group of the British Academy of Management. He can be contacted at Alex.gillett@york.ac.uk

Dr. Kevin D. Tennent is Lecturer in Management at the York Management School, University of York, United Kingdom. His research focuses on the themes of governance and strategy in management history, across the fields of sport, international business, the music industry, and transport. He is founding chair of the Management and Business History Special Interest Group of the British Academy of Management, and is active in the Management History Division at the Academy of Management. He can be contacted at Kevin.tennent@york.ac.uk

Project Management Journal, Vol. 48, No. 6, 93–116
© 2017 by the Project Management Institute
Published online at www.pmi.org/PMJ

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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