"The joint Scotland-Ireland bid for 2008
doesn't look good enough." That's what we said here
back in February. We take absolutely
no pleasure in being proved right as there is no doubt that holding
the European Championships would have been a massive boost
not just for football but for Scotland in general.
We took the view then (and still hold it now)
that a solo bid was the only chance we had and that even then there
would be no guarantees. Instead of crying 'fix' and citing the old
pals act, we should be sitting down to analyse where our bid was
wrong and consider what can be done to improve our chances, should
we decide to bid again.
Firstly, what did the Austro-Swiss bid have
that ours didn't? Stadia either ready or being built for a start.
Excellent transport and accommodation infrastructure. Internal UEFA
support built up over years. Remember, this was the Austrians third
attempt to secure the championships. They bid solo in 1996 and jointly
with Hungary for 2004. How can we possibly say that we are more
deserving than they are?
What precisely were the advantages we held over the
winning bid that has led to cries of 'unfair' from sections of the
Scottish media? Sure, Scotland and Ireland can provide some stunning
scenery. But that's not exactly a weak area for the Alpine countries
either. Yes, we have a rich history and culture. So do the winners.
Our press should have talked less about cheese and chocolate when
decrying the victors and thought more about Mozart and Haydn.
The supposed 'clincher' was the passion of our supporters
and the 'fact' that we could provide half a million more seats.
Well, the Geordies are every bit as passionate as the Scots
and the Irish but it doesn't alter the fact that only 9,000
turned up at St James Park to watch one of the Euro 96 fixtures.
It's no use having thousands of extra seats if
there aren't any bums on them. Can anyone predict with confidence
that 50,000 would demand tickets for, say, Bulgaria v Poland at
Hampden? As for the passion of the fans, it would appear that the
'wha's like us' mentality has been allowed to rule here.
Those Swiss fans we saw on TV when Basle knocked
Liverpool out of the Champions League certainly didn't appear to
any less passionate than our own. And, if we're being honest here,
there's another big difference between the Scots and the Irish.
Sure, when both sets of fans travel abroad, they act the same. And,
yes, host countries are pleasantly surprised to find English-speaking
supporters intent on watching football and enjoying themselves (not
necessarily in that order) rather than destroying their towns.
But, where are these supporters in the months and years in between
We can answer for the Scots. They are out following
their local team. Some even support the Old Firm. But what about
the Irish? Where do the 15,000 we see at World Cups vanish to on
a Saturday afternoon during the regular season? They're certainly
not watching Shelbourne or Shamrock Rovers. You might
see some at Old Trafford or Celtic Park. But, by and large (and
they wont relish the comparison) Irish football fans are like
English cricket's 'Barmy Army' - happy to travel the globe
supporting their team but reluctant to do so domestically.
We may also like to reconsider our (self) description
as the 'best in the world' in light of the events surrounding Celtic's
homecoming from Vigo when a plane full of fans ended up being
diverted into Cardiff with an armed RAF helicopter flying alongside.
Even then, some morons were prepared to tell the cameras that it
was all a bit of laugh. That's the trouble with these airline pilots,
no sense of humour.
In short, we have to admit our shortcomings, stop
pretending that we're the best just because we say so, and learn
from others. It may be a long time before we bid for a major tournament
again. Counting 2008 that's four out of five European championships
that have been awarded to the 'little' countries. Spain, Italy
and France may all be in the frame for 2012. Don't rule
out Russia either. And who knows what the political and economic
situation will be like come the next bid? There may well be a feeling
that it's time Eastern Europe got a look-in. After all, that's where
the bulk of UEFA's new members have come from in the past decade
and it wont be too long before they demand a greater say in the
running of an organisation that seems (to their eyes) remote and
As far as the technical aspects of the bid are concerned,
the failure of the Irish to give absolute guarantees on stadia was
something which was apparent from the outset and meant the bid never
stood a chance of success. Even the day before the vote, the best
that Irish PM Bertie Ahern could say was that Ireland would
"try to" deliver. The ridiculous stance
of the GAA over Croke Park can be contrasted with
the supportive stance of the SRU and Murrayfield.
The GAA is still living in the 1920s if it thinks
that football is still an 'alien' British game. Any future joint
bid with Ireland will run into the same problem. Of great concern
must be the allegations that UEFA were none too happy with the idea
of three Glasgow grounds being used. This has allowed the anti-Hampden
lobby to rise from the grave with their claims that Ibrox and Celtic
Park are sufficient and a national stadium is superfluous to Scotland's
We wonder if those apologists for the Old Firm, so
greedy to secure every big game for the big two would care to take
their argument to its logical conclusion. After all, if we don't
need three grounds in Glasgow that size, do we really need two?
In the whole of England, there are only two grounds with a 50,000+
capacity. The two Milan clubs share a ground, so why not Rangers
Of course the anti-Hampden hacks will throw up their
hands in horror at such a suggestion. How can you force Rangers
and Celtic to share a ground? Get real, they will say. And in doing
so they automatically undermine their own argument and prove the
necessity of having a truly neutral, national stadium that all supporters
can feel happy attending.
But if UEFA are determined not to have such a preponderance
of stadia within a single city, then we can forget about ever bidding
again. Our feeling is that this argument is a red herring. Yes,
there would be problems if there were three matches on at the same
time but that need never happen. The worst case scenario would be
when the final group matches are played. All such games must kick
off at the same time, meaning that two of the Glasgow grounds would
be in use simultaneously.
Here, UEFA need assurances that cannot at present
be given. Currently, even poorly attended games in Dundee
and Edinburgh are forced by the police to be played on separate
days. Consequently it is impossible to receive police permission
for two matches to be played at the same time in Glasgow. Not unless
the constabulary wish to lay themselves open to allegations of hypocrisy.
And they wouldn't want that, would they?
Considering this was Scotland's first attempt to land
a major tournament and that being hamstrung by the joint approach
meant it was a loser from the off, the 2008 team put up a great
performance. Possibly it was too good in that it lulled a large
section of supporters to believe we had a chance when in reality
we had none. Nevertheless, the bid team did the best they could
and they deserve praise for making us - however briefly - players
for one of the game's big prizes.
Time now for them to head homeward to think again.
Perhaps it will be 2012, maybe 2016. At any rate let's hope it's
sooner than the dates suggested by The Herald. 2112 and 2116 really
do call for forward planning!