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?