The Euros Vision-Wrong Contest?
Darren has been a part of The Fan Experience Company since 2017.
He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying in the USA .
He is responsible for the reports that in 2019/20, went to over 200 clubs in 13 countries.
Like a few of the UK entries in the annual pan-European singing contest, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Back in 2012, Michel Platini’s original, and rather romantic, vision for Euro 2020 was outlined just ahead of that year’s final when Spain thumped Italy with one of their best, and last, triumphs for their golden generation.
Platini’s idea to take the finals to ’12 or 13’ host cities – a thought formed in the midst of an global financial collapse – made sense on many levels, not least economical. It was also a way of making it different, given the finals would mark the 60th birthday of the competition.
The former French-midfield-maestro could not have envisaged what might happen next. In more ways than one.
It’ll certainly be different all right. For a start, it will mark the 61st birthday after the tournament was delayed for twelve months due to Covid. As well as the multi-city set up, it will also be the first time there are 26-man squads, with 5 substitutes allowed in games, and – gulp – VAR used. Thanks to the pandemic, there will also be reduced capacities in stadiums with plans to allow anything from 20-100% in depending on the venue, although the goalposts could move – metaphorically and maybe even literally – between now and the final on July 11.
There is also the overhanging threat of positive Covid tests on proceedings. Players could be removed from games, teammates forced to isolate and in extreme circumstances, a game forfeited 0-3 for an unfulfilled fixture, bringing the distinct possibility of Covid winning more games during the tournament than Wales.
With the benefit of hindsight, so much trapsing around Europe isn’t ideal while a global pandemic is prevalent. There must have been an incredible urge at UEFA to decamp to one country (a Germany, England or Russia, maybe, where fans could be permitted in greater numbers and where stadiums were in place from previous competitions).
As the impact – or rather, our understanding of the impact – of climate change has also grown since 2012, the environmental issues will raise eyebrows. It’s been calculated that a Swiss fan will travel over 21,000km if they reach the final. With host cities from Seville (the most westerly and who took over hosting duties from Bilbao) to Baku in Azerbajan, it certainly adds up the airmiles for some, although of course, there are also several host countries that won’t have to go far. For example, if England, top their group and reach the final, will only have one brief sojourn from English soil (to Rome in the quarters).
But the Euros has always had something of an experimental whiff about it. It never stays the same for too long.
The brain-child of another Frenchman, Henri Delaunay (who was also one of the architects alongside Jules Rimet of the World Cup and European Cup), the European Championship he first proposed in 1927 was named after him and began five years after his death when, in 1960, the Soviet Union won the first title, followed by Spain. In those days, the tournament took the form of qualifying groups with a two-legged quarter-final stage and then the final four teams finishing things off in one country – in the same way the Nations League did in 2019.
The last held in this way was in Yugoslavia in 1976, when even the players (Panenka, anyone?) were trying brand new things.
In 1980, an eight-team competition was played with a single host (Italy). My first real memory of international football was England fans being pushed back with tear gas after causing trouble in the opening match against Belgium in Turin, ten years before the city gained a very different place in English hearts. That was also a game in which the late Ray Wilkins (called The Crab because he always went sideways) scored one of the best, and most forward-thinking goals the nation has seen.
By 1996, football was ‘coming home’ with sixteen teams, and just two decades later it went up again, to 24 in France – not much less than half of the number of countries who entered at the qualifying stage.
So a major positive is that more countries, and their fans, get to experience the final stages. That was certainly the idea for Euro2020; a jamboree with supporters of all countries mixing together across the whole continent. Or at least, it should have been.
It remains to be seen what the experience will be like for the fans now, or how many will even be allowed to travel.
Although it will take more than travel bans and a pandemic to stop some of them. After watching the BBC documentary on Scotland’s trip to Argentina in 1978, when planes, trains, automobiles and even cargo ships were commandeered, a few hundred miles to reach London will feel like a stroll in the [Wembley] park.
But other cross-border trips might prove harder. The continual changing of rules for travel will make it both expensive and challenging for fans, and thousands who purchased tickets in the ballots will miss out too. The prices of the remaining tickets seem to be at the high end of the scale, giving a nasty whiff of exploitation and pricing some ordinary fans out of games they thought they’d be enjoying.
But was anything other than a slightly chaotic conclusion ever going to take place after the year and a half we’ve just had?
UEFA couldn’t put it off any longer and the next World Cup is nearly upon us, but they’d surely have loved to wait until all fans could watch, from a financial angle if nothing else. As the Euros are one of UEFA’s main income sources, the reduced capacities alone will make a large enough dent in the coffers as it is.
So, who will win it? It feels like a wide-open contest, muddied a little by the extraordinary high number of ‘home’ and ‘away’ games.
France, Germany, Portugal (together in the ‘Group of Death’), The Netherlands and Spain will all fancy their chances. The winners of the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Italy, go into the football unbeaten in 28 games ahead of the tournament opener against Turkey in Rome.
With an exciting set of attacking options and it being a virtual ‘home’ tournament for Gareth Southgate and England, the expectations have been steadily rising that those 55 years of hurt might finally be about to end.
Whatever happens, they should definitely do better than ‘null points’.
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