The Football Association of Ireland will only need to see off six rivals in its bid to host games at the multi-nation Euro 2020 with 13 cities to be chosen from just 19 formal applications. With Scotland, Wales, and England also in the running, there’s plenty of regional competition for Dublin but the Irish are confident of success this time around despite various hurdles, including football’s usual seedy politics, scuppering us in the past.
Legend says the Giants’ Causeway was built between Ireland and Scotland so two warriors could fight one another after the Scot hurled insults in this direction. Ahead of the 2008 European Championship, the barbs kept coming westwards when Ireland seemingly ruined the chance to co-host the finals with our neighbour.
Yet the rifts were healed when the nations united along with Wales to launch an initial Celtic interest in the 2020 event. With Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan the other interested parties, the western-Europe project stood a great chance of success, until UEFA president Michel Platini decided to alter the competition’s format as a one-off to mark the 60th birthday of the competition first held in 1960.
In the fall-out from 2008, the consensus was that Scotland were kicking themselves for asking the Irish. However, like England’s quest to host the World Cups in 2018 and 2022, our joint-proposal was not without its conspiracies.
England’s bid was widely regarded as possessing the best technical plan with the stadia already in place. The FA’s standing with Sepp Blatter has always been on shaky ground and the decision to award the tournaments to Russia and Qatar came with a wave of recriminations. Similar ructions emerged regarding Ireland’s bid with Scotland.
The 1998 FIFA election that first saw Blatter become president was dogged by allegations of pay-offs and political favours. David Will, the then Scottish vice president and lawyer, was quoted some days after the decision in Paris as saying the suspicion of corruption would always overshadow the election. Some claim Blatter held a grudge from that point on.
Either way, we went out in the first round and the tournament went to who? Austria and homeland of Mr. Blatter, Switzerland.
The joke was that UEFA officials were given a whirlwind tour of Dublin that took in no stadiums. UEFA were blown away by their tour of Croke Park, only to be told soccer was not allowed. The delegation were then brought across the city to Ballsbridge to see a ramshackle Landsdowne Road that was falling apart but were assured it would be redeveloped.
Then it was a quick hop out to the M50 to be shown an empty field where the great edifice in tribute to our glorious leader, the Bertie Bowl was to be erected.
The fiasco of the collapse of the then government’s plan to build a 65,000 all-seater stadium on Dublin’s western outskirts did untold damage to the original Celtic bid.
Despite our hotels, modern infrastructure and assurances that it would be one of the best fans’ tournament in history with the Scots and Irish as hosts, it failed to stop the judging panel eliminating our bid in the first round.
Platini has already delivered the next European Championship for his homeland, France in 2016. He’s followed it up by tinkering with the structure with 13 host cities for a one-off Euro 2020, an initiative it must be said, which has largely been met with enthusiasm. It just happens, that it stopped a potential Ireland-Scotland-Wales finals in its tracks.
Just 19 countries have submitted official bids for the competition and the successful applicants will be announced in September. UEFA have already revealed that either London or Munich will state the final.
The tournament would essentially revert to its original format from 1960 to 1976 when a European-wide qualifying competition produced four teams contesting the semi-finals, a play-off and the final all in the same country.
The outcry about the potential cost of hosting Euro 2020 games at a time when the country is on it knees economically is valid but four games – three group ties and a knock-out round fixture – as opposed to an entire tournament will sit much better with the Irish public. Dublin’s hugely successful staging of the 2011 Europa League final is said to stand in our favour but Hampden Park has also hosted a Champions League show-piece in recent years while Cardiff will be the venue for the 2014 UEFA Super Cup so we are not without regional competition with England virtually guaranteed to stage games, including a potential final. The government and Dublin City Council have already given full backing to the the FAI’s bid .
In recent years, the economist David McWilliams has argued that staging such events would result in a significant psychological shift for the nation and send out a message globally that we still have ambition. We are, after all, talking about something some years away.
The backlash has already begun, that it’s a waste of money, with the usual pot-shots at the FAI including obligatory references to piss-ups and breweries. Yet the waters have already been tested by the mostly positive reaction to a rugby World Cup bid.
As events transpired to deny us in the past, the authorities here are confident Dublin has a real shot of being named as a host city later this year. Irish fans were renowned for their good humour at the Euros in Poland and Ukraine. This time we can open our doors and repay the favour
The 19 cities are: Azerbaijan (Baku), Belarus (Minsk), Belgium (Brussels), Bulgaria (Sofia), Denmark (Copenhagen), England (London), Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), Germany (Munich), Hungary (Budapest), Israel (Jerusalem), Italy (Rome), Netherlands (Amsterdam), Ireland (Dublin), Romania (Bucharest), Russia (Saint Petersburg), Scotland (Glasgow), Spain (Bilbao), Sweden (Stockholm), Wales (Cardiff).