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August 2004
Why Scotland should bid solo for Euro 2012











The Irish gaelic translation of 'Ourselves Alone' is 'Sinn Fein' - a term which has rather different connotations than those normally applied to a football tournament. Here at scottishleague.net we'll stick to a good old Scots colloquialism to sum up our attitude towards the latest attempt to forge a bid with Ireland for Euro 2012.

Back when the joint bid for Euro 2008 was first formulated we said it was doomed to failure and we see no reason why 2012 should be any different.

The arguments in favour of such a bid are few and those against are many.

In the pro column we can argue that it's been done before. In Europe we had Belgium/Netherlands in 2000 and it'll be Austria/Switzerland in 2008. There was also Japan/South Korea in the 2002 World Cup.

However both the successful Euro bids were from partnerships of equals who shared a land border. Neither factor applies to a joint bid from Scotland and Ireland. All that the Irish can bring to the table is a dilapidated Lansdowne Road and yet another attempt to alter the GAA's constitution over Croke Park which precludes the playing of 'British' sports.

Neither ground is even a football stadium!

Only one group could be set in Ireland. With 75% of the matches bound to be staged in Scotland there seems little reason not to go the whole hog.

Things would be different if Ireland could guarantee two modern stadia in Dublin, one in Cork and another elsewhere (Belfast even). But they can't. They know they can't. We know they can't. And most importantly of all, UEFA know they can't.

Ireland is, in every sense bar one, a football country. Unfortunately the area where it is lacking is its national league. Just as in Scotland, Ireland suffers from domination by two clubs. Sadly for Irish football the two clubs are Celtic and Man Utd.

At least our ogres still play on their own doorstep. In Ireland attendances at top games are on a par with our First Division and grounds often comparable to those in our Third!

We don't blame the Irish for wanting a joint bid. It makes perfect sense from their point of view. Ireland will never be able to stage a major tournament on it's own, even if north and south mounted a united effort.

But from Scotland's position it just doesn't add up. It's highly unlikely UEFA will reward a joint bid for the third time in four tournaments and even if they do, countries which share a land border will be preferable to those which require air and sea travel to and from venues in this security-conscious age.

Ah, what about World Cup 2002, you ask. Well, that tournament was awarded long before the events of September 2001 altered permanently the concept of tournament security. Where before it meant keeping out hooligans, now it means hunting for suicide bombers.

Also, let's be blunt about FIFA's motives. World Cup 2002 was aimed at securing large and potentially lucrative markets in countries where football faced a fight to become the number one sport.

In Scotland and Ireland the markets are small and saturated.

Consider also the potential rivals for 2012. In theory the big countries of Germany, Italy, England and France can all be discounted as they have all staged at least one of the major tournaments in recent memory.

But by that same reasoning the next World Cup shouldn't be going to Germany. Yet it is.

By 2012 the Italians will be able to argue that it's been over 20 years since they last staged a big competition. Even more ominously it will have been 30 years since the World Cup was held in Spain and almost half a century since they last staged the Euros - and that was in the days of a four-team finals.

The Spanish are still hurting after losing out to Portugal in the race for 2004 and will start as hot favourites if they bid for 2012.

That too is something our media need to learn. Just because we finally get up off our arses and bid for something, doesn't mean we have an automatic right to it.

That attitude stank during our 2008 failure. The idea that the Austro-Swiss bid was successful because of 'cronyism' didn't exactly do us any favours.

Notwithstanding the fact that there will always be elements of back-scratching involved in bidding for major tournaments, the main reason the Alpine countries were successful was because they had the best bid.

Their plans were much further advanced than ours, their political co-operation was sealed while ours hinged on the result of the Irish general election and they had been at it for ages.

Austria had been bidding for a major tourney since Euro 96.

And that's another thing we need to learn. Lack of instant success is not failure, it's putting a marker down for future reference.

Now it may well be that Scotland will never be successful in winning a bid for the European Championships. But we won't know if we don't try. If we fail in 2012 and it goes to Spain then we should try again in 2016.

Of course we can't go on ad infinitum but if we say the game's a bogey after one failed effort then it will only confirm UEFA in their judgement of our attempt.

If we learn from that failure and come back with a better bid then at least we have a chance. Yes, we may lose to Spain. But after Spain, where? There is no obvious candidate for the 2016 tournament. Our erstwhile rivals for 2008 - Hungary, a Greco-Turkish bid and a multi-country one from Scandinavia are no better placed right now than we are.

It's perfectly feasible for Scotland to win the 2016 (if not 2012) competition. If we are seen as major players, determined to succeed. If we are prepared to go through rejection again in order to ultimately win. If we are united as a nation in our resolve to claim the prize.

And that means no mean-minded moaning about costs and 'junketing', usually from hacks who are not the most reluctant of people themselves when it comes to filling out a 'creative' expenses sheet. Either we do this thing properly or not at all.

It also means no crocodile tears from some of our publicity-hungry elected representatives about schools and hospitals 'losing out.'

We've said it before and make no apology for saying it again. If we wait until our schools and hospitals are perfect before launching a sporting bid, we'll wait till doomsday.

In any case money spent on a tournament bid will always be additional, over and above public spending plans.

Do the same people who constantly whinge about the expense of a bid also think we should shut down leisure centres and parks because some council houses need repairs? If not, why not? Taking their argument to its illogical conclusion, no local authority should 'waste' money on flowers while a single house remains without central heating.

We are not saying there should be no criticism of any aspects of a bid. Far from it. Merely pointing out that if we expect other nations to vote for a Scottish bid, we have to demonstrate that Scotland is united in its efforts to win.

You'll have gathered by now that we are by no means confident that even a solo bid will win in 2012. The two key factors are the Spanish attitude and London's bid for the Olympic Games.

There's little we can do about either. Spain, we've already touched on. If they bid, they'll be hard to beat. If the Olympics go to London, it's highly unlikely UEFA will smile on a Scottish bid for Euro 2012.

Who can say where the 2012 Olympics will go? Logic would dictate that London, struggling to avoid gridlock on a daily basis now, has no chance. But when did logic ever enter the minds of the International Olympic Committee?

For every good choice they make (Barcelona, Sydney) there's one equally bizarre (Atlanta, Athens). It's true that the IOC 'owe' London. The capital stepped in after the war to keep the games going and wipe away the stain of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi-controlled Berlin. At least the Olympic decision will be made first. There can be no excuse to thwart a Scottish bid on the grounds that the Olympics might later go to London.

Our view is that it would be a demonstration of confidence for Scotland to proceed with a bid irrespective of the outcome of the IOC's deliberations. It would prove that we were prepared to be serious players in our own right.

So, there we have it. A full-blown, solo Scottish bid for 2012 with the intent to go again for 2016 if unsuccessful. What else do we need to do?

Well, there's the question of hotel space, transport links and the little matter of the grounds.

It's the last of these which poses the biggest problems.

If our hotels can't cope with the expected demand we have thousands of rooms lying empty in our universities over the summer which can take up the slack. And if our airports can (just about) manage the hordes desperate to escape a Scottish summer they should be able to deal with those coming in.

Even our much-maligned trains and roads should be able to deal with the influx. Anyone who thinks Glasgow is congested has clearly not spent any time driving in or around any city of comparative size anywhere else in Europe. Though, admittedly, Edinburgh has major problems in this respect.

The Edinburgh-Glasgow train service is fast, frequent and (usually) reliable. For a comparison, look just south of the border at the Newcastle-Middlesbrough line. The distance is approximately the same as Edinburgh-Glasgow (or Glasgow-Edinburgh for west coast supremacists) yet there are just sixteen trains a day taking an average of over 90 minutes per journey. Or roughly half as many trains taking twice as long to complete a similar journey.

The major drawback on train travel is the lack of a through service between Renfrewshire & Ayrshire to Edinburgh. There's time to put that right and it would be a wonderful legacy from the fitba if it happened.

That just leaves the grounds. It's here that we run into problems. UEFA currently insist on a minimum of eight grounds with a 30,000 capacity. Note the word 'currently.' It's unlikely that capacity will be revised upwards and there's an argument for reducing it.

Portugal had ten grounds used in 2004 but only three of these (belonging to the traditional giants of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto) were in excess of the minimum 30,000 capacity.

That situation is almost analogous to Scotland where we have three big grounds (Hampden, Ibrox, Parkhead) in one city and another (Murrayfield) elsewhere.

Around half the matches in Portugal were played before fewer than 30,000 fans with 16,000 the lowest crowd. Gates generally were good but below those in the Low Countries in 2000 when there were ten sub-30,000 crowds. In the only other 16-team tournament, in England in 1996, there were also ten crowds of under 30,000 with the supposed football hotbed of Newcastle producing the only sub-20,000 crowd.

In 1996 England had only two grounds capable of holding 50,000 or more (Old Trafford and Wembley). In 2000 there were three such grounds (in Amsterdam, Brussels and Rotterdam). This year in Portugal there were also three (two in Lisbon and one in Porto).

In Scotland (counting Murrayfield) we already have FOUR!

The problem is that even if there were a reduction in the minimum capacity it would be unlikely to fall as low as to accommodate any other grounds. Our next biggest stadium is Pittodrie with a capacity of 21,487.

So we need at least four more grounds with a capacity of 30,000. That much at least is clear.

Less so is the question of whether we want to build these grounds and if so, where.

To deal with the first part, let there be no doubt, if we don't build them we can forget all about hosting a major championship. Yes, it's true that it will be difficult to fill them afterwards. BUT THE SAME HOLDS TRUE FOR EVERY COUNTRY AFTER EVERY COMPETITION AND IT STILL DOESN'T STOP COUNTRIES FROM BIDDING.

Basle average almost 28,000. No other Swiss side manages 10,000. Rapid Vienna are the top Austrian crowd-pullers with an average of just over 12,000. Yet there are no worries about building or renovating grounds in either Austria or Switzerland.

Let's look at the likely fate of those seven 30,000 capacity Portuguese grounds. Here are the average League attendances for 2003-04 for the clubs which will occupy these glittering new grounds in the coming season:

Guimaraes 10,728
Braga 9,441
Academica Coimbra 7,693
Beira Mar 6,990
Boavista 5,806
Uniao De Leiria 5,509
Farense 4,012

The Farense figure is from their last season in the top flight in 2001-02. The other six are the best-supported sides in Portugal outside the big three.

These figures actually show Portuguese crowds in a GOOD light. Every one of these clubs recorded huge increases last season. From 150% in the case of Leiria to 13% for Boavista.

If the Portuguese have no qualms about their clubs playing in 30,000 all-seaters, why should we? Every potential site for a 30,000 seater in Scotland should be capable of bettering those figures year in year out - even in the present precarious state of our game!

Remember too, we would need to build just four new grounds to meet UEFA requirements.

So, where would they go? Three at least are obvious. Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. Yes, it would require ground-sharing and a change in the incredibly blinkered attitude expressed by so many Dundee fans for instance who would rather their club folded than play a few yards down the street at Tannadice.

If it's good enough for AC Milan and Inter, why isn't it good enough for Dundee and Dundee United? Or Hearts and Hibs for that matter?

These clubs have done all that they can with their present grounds. In the cases of Hearts and Dundee, staying where they are is not a medium, let alone long-term, option, given their debts.

Yes, it will be difficult to fill 30,000 seats regularly. But it is also true that there are times at present when capacities are inadequate, particularly for games against the Old Firm, local derbies and big European matches.

Or do the clubs in our second, third and fourth biggest cities reckon they will never be able to draw 20,000 spectators through the turnstiles? For with the exception of Pittodrie there isn't a single ground outside Glasgow that can do that right now.

Of course all this is predicated on the co-operation of the SRU regarding Murrayfield. But their own financial woes and their readiness to allow Hearts the use of the national rugby stadium suggests little problem there.

There may be more difficulty in persuading UEFA to accept the use of three grounds in Glasgow. But such is the history of Scottish football that we have little option but to try. It would be impossible to omit any of the Glasgow grounds from our plans.

It's true that no city has deployed three grounds before. But that is because no city has three grounds quite like Glasgow's.

UEFA doesn't want two matches in the same city on the same night, other than for the final group games but that should be easy enough to arrange. We should view the three giant stadia as an asset, not a liability. Shout from the rooftops that here, in this one city, there are more 50,000 all-seaters than in the whole of England.

Even so, and even adding new grounds in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, we are still one ground short. Geographically, Inverness would be the ideal location. But the Highland capital can be instantly ruled out. Here we have a club which reckons it will never need more than 6,000 seats for the SPL.

The fifth biggest football ground in Scotland is Rugby Park, Kilmarnock. With over 18,000 seats, only the three Glaswegian goliaths and Pittodrie hold more. But would a 30,000 seater really be anything more than a white elephant in Ayrshire?

Last time round, Killie showed willing to have a go. But then so did the fantasists from Falkirk who still haven't built the 10,000 seats they've been promising for almost a decade.

This is our real weakness. The lack of an obvious candidate for the eighth ground. If there are legitimate doubts about the suitability of Kilmarnock, then the same, and more, can be said about other options such as Dunfermline, Motherwell or Paisley.

We believe it's time to be imaginative. To explore the option of temporary seating for Kilmarnock and, possibly Dundee. This would allow these grounds to revert to 20,000 or 25,000 after the tournament. Though we maintain that permanent 30,000 seaters in Aberdeen and Edinburgh are desirable and would draw close to full houses often enough over a period of years to justify their construction.

That is more than can be said for the new grounds in Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland.

This would allow us to present a bid based on establishing one group in Aberdeen and Dundee, another in Edinburgh, a third utilising the Old Firm grounds and the fourth at Hampden and Kilmarnock.

Glasgow (Ibrox/Parkhead), Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee would all stage a quarter-final tie with one semi in Glasgow (Ibrox/Parkhead) and the other at Murrayfield.

The Final would be at Hampden - with Scotland thumping England 6-0!

That last part may be pure fantasy and some would consider the entire scheme as such too. But where would football be without dreams to inspire us?

For Scotland this is the only major football tournament we can aspire to. This can be our dream and - who knows - perhaps, one day, our reality.





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