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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
Academica Coimbra 7,693
Beira Mar 6,990
Uniao De Leiria 5,509
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
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
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
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
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.