Don’t fix what’s not broken

In ten weeks time our pain will be over.  Thanks to an invite from Supporters Direct, we will be taking part in the inaugural Supporters Direct Shield when we face fellow fan-owned club Fisher Athletic at Enfield Town’s Donkey Lane.   Seventy days.  Ten Saturdays without any Lewes games to look forward to.  It is more than possible that we will line up on that Sunday in July without actually knowing who our first opponents are (in whatever league it could be).  Fortunately we have the best tournament in the world to keep us happy for a few weeks slap bang in the middle.

The European Championships will fill our screens from mid June for early July and showcase the best talent in European football.  Oh, and England will be there too.  The reason why this is the best tournament is that the best teams are always there.  Every game means something, and can in theory go either way.  Just look at Group B – Portugal, Germany, Holland and Denmark.  There isn’t one weak team in the whole tournament, and that is what makes it so good to watch.  Obviously, after England have been eliminated in the Quarter Finals on penalties (whose turn is it this time?  My money is on Germany again), we can enjoy the continental skill of the best players in the world (bar Messi, is there anyone else we would want to see?) in the final stages while the stampede for Euro 2012 Final Tickets begins.

But this is all due to change in four years time.  Football authorities simply cannot leave anything alone.  So in four years time when the tournament heads to France the current sixteen team format will change to include twenty four teams.  Why?  Because UEFA’s President Michel Platini is all about “inclusion”.  He wants to give the small nations (Scotland?  Belgium?  Malta?) more of a chance to qualify too.  In the current tournament 14 nations qualified from a pool of 51 teams (Poland and Ukraine qualified as hosts), which meant that nearly every fourth nation qualified.

But under the Frenchman’s scheme there will be 23 qualifiers in 2016 from a pool of 52 teams – which means that just over every second nation will qualify.  Yet still they plan to run the qualifying tournament for fourteen months as they do now.  What is the point of that? Most games will be meaningless during the qualifying stages, the group stages will be as pointless as most of the World Cup games (people are still trying to give away their Angola v Iran or Morocco v Saudi Arabia tickets from the 2006 World Cup).

Adding in an extra eight teams for the finals also means another set of matches to get down from 24 teams to 8.  The tournament will be structures with six groups of four, meaning either two go through from each group (12) plus the four best third place teams (4), which means 36 games will be played just to reduce the number of teams from 24 to 16.  Alternatively, a second group stage will be needed (4 groups of 3) to reduce it down further.  Pointless.

The additional pressure on the host nation to accommodate eight extra teams and potentially up to twenty extra games is unnecessary.  So where you this year will have Germany v Holland fighting it out to play England or France in the Quarter Finals could be replaced by watching Scotland v Turkey for the right to play in the next round with Slovakia and Norway.  Now that is something to set your pulse racing.

The current tournament is deemed to big to host for most European nations.  In the past twelve years Holland/Belgium, Austria/Switzerland and now Ukraine/Poland will co-host and split the cost of the tournament.  In 2020 the expanded tournament will be hosted by joint (or treble bids) from Romania/Hungary, Czech Republic/Slovakia, Ireland/Scotland/Wales (more on this early next week) or Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia.  The requirements will not change – between them they will need to provide 2 x 50,000 seater stadiums, 3 x 40,000 seater stadiums and 4 x 30,000 seater stadiums.  What sort of legacy will this league?  The seven nations hoping to earn the right to host the championship have an average league attendance of less than 3,500!  The best supported league, Romania’s Liga 1 has an average of 5,500.  Who will fill the stadiums after the tournament?  Just ask Portugal, Austria or Switzerland who are counting the cost of hosting their tournaments.

Football economics rarely change, despite the meddling of the likes of UEFA.  The plan to include more “smaller” clubs in the Champions League has hardly changed a thing.  We occasionally see the odd surprise, such as APOEL from Cyprus who got to the Champions League Quarter Finals (playing teams from Russia, Portugal, Ukraine and France on the way – not one of the big four leagues) but it really is the exception rather than the rule.

So when on the 1st July all of the talk is about tickets for the final, just think about the legacy going forward.  Isn’t there enough lessons that have been learnt by the legacy of Salzurg, Innsbruck or Charleroi?


    1. For some countries it would be much, much easier to host an Euro tournament if the minimum requirement would be for, let’s say, 6 stadiums, instead of 9 (?) currently and/or if the minimum capacity was lowered. Of course, they don’t want smaller stadiums, nor do they want less expensive ones, because they have the “great” UEFA family to take care of… while they’re busy ripping off the rest of us.

      Many countries would have a perfectly good use for 3-4 stadiums with 20-25,000 seats. But the minimum of 30,000 is beyond what most important cities in most European countries actually need. Generally speaking a 30,000 seat stadium is only feasible if the population is at least 250-300,000. I imagine that a 8 or 10 inhabitants per seat might work, at least in some cities. But there aren’t that many countries in Europe with this many large cities.

      Realistically, few European countries actually need as many and as large stadiums as UEFA requires right now.

  1. Romania will not be bidding for Euro 2020. Not on its own, not with Hungary, not with Bulgaria, nor with anyone else. Bosnia/Croatia/Serbia have also declined to bid. I’ve failed to find any source that there was any recent serious possibility of a bid from Czech Rep/Slovakia.

    The only real bids are from Turkey, Georgia/Azerbaijan and likely Ireland/Scotland/Wales. Turkey will probably get the bid, unless Istanbul gets the 2020 Olympics. Michel Platini said as much recently. Georgia/Azerbaijan, will all respect to them, have very long odds to get it. With foreign enclaves on their territories and tense relations with certain neighbours (Georgia-Russia, Azerbaijan-Armenia), I suspect politics alone, never mind other considerations, should be enough to keep Euro 2020 away. Which brings me to the Ireland/Scotland/Wales bid… I’ll be curious to read an analysis of such a bid here. I suspect a British groundhopper should be more knowledgeable about this bid, than the others mentioned here.

    1. Czech Republic and Slovakia raised the possibility back in 2010 but it was dependent on the Slovaks actually rebuilding the Tehelne Pole. I genuinely think the Celtic bid may gain momentum – I will publish something on this later this week but look at the facilities they already have – Scotland has 4 50,000 + stadiums already, Wales has the Millennium plus Cardiff and Swansea City’s which would not take much to raise to 30,000 and then Ireland – well Aviva and Croke Park are useable now plus Thormond Park in Limerick is not far off the 30,000 minimum. Travel time between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Dublin by air – 1 hour.

  2. You wrote this before the tournament started. How are you feeling now, given how good it has been? Vindicated I’m sure. But you are right of course, meddlers get their way and we’ll be mourning the loss of this format in 4 years.

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