Let the Celtic Nations Combine!
Politicians must play their part in any bid, but do they have the bottle?
Part 2: Celtic Nations Unite!
A sobering note for those politicians who still believe that Scotland can mount a solo bid comes in the bill for the Portuguese finals. Before going ahead with their bid, which was accepted by UEFA as the winner in 1999, the Portuguese government signed an agreement that effectively underwrote the work required to bring their countries infrastructure up to the standards required by UEFA. The final bill faced by the government is expected to be around £300m.
Some politicians in Scotland are at last realising the folly of any solo Scottish bid. One tireless campaigner is Hibs fan and Conservative MSP Brian Monteith, who while having stated in the past that he would have preferred a solo effort on the SFA's part has now realised that a joint bid is the only way of ensuring that any investment in the bidding process would not merely be throwing cash into the wind. In a recent interview Monteith conceded: "I honestly don't believe we can go it alone, given that we would need to build two new 30,000 seat arenas, so my preferred option is to encompass Hampden, Parkhead, Ibrox and Murrayfield with the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and a new stadium in Dublin." Monteith continues to lay great faith in UEFA accepting a bid where three of the participating stadiums are in a single city, but it is in that assumption that any Celtic Nations bid would be badly hampered, if not derailed completely at the station.
The First Minister has he the bottle to back a bid all the way?
Brian Monteith A prime mover in the campaign at the Scottish Parliament
The Portuguese demonstrated amazing commitment to their 2004 project, seeing as many in Scotland do the massive benefits to their country that are already being enjoyed by Holland and Belgium, who made a £10m profit from the 2000 tournament but in addition will enjoy for many years the stadium and communication improvements put in place for the championships. The question being asked now by many Scots is: do the SFA and, of more importance, politicians in Edinburgh and London have the same level of commitment?
Brian Monteith does not seem to believe they have, when he said: "Why should the tax-payer help fund new facilities for Hearts, Aberdeen, Dundee or Hibs? Hand on heart, I can think of many better things on which to invest £60m." This is not the words of encouragement the SFA require to stage a bid, as has been shown by those nations successful in convincing UEFA to award the games know only too well such investment is almost mandatory, but it should not be seen as a mere investment in stadium, but one in the future of sport in the participating nation.
"We are going to have to make our soccer more competitive, much more attractive."
Clubs in Portugal are going to have something to live up to, there is no point in having modern stadiums for 30,000 people and then playing to a half-empty house. We are going to have to make our soccer more competitive, much more attractive."
Portugal are looking upon 2004 as an opportunity to rebuild sport in their country from the ground up, and they fully expect benefits to be felt many years after the elite of European football have moved on. Portuguese Football Federation chairman Gilberto Madail said last year: "
The lessons from the Portuguese bid are many for Scotland. And the truth of the matter is that there can be no conceivable way that the Scots can follow the route taken by Portugal. There is simply no backing in the country that would produce over £300m to build new stadiums, and even if this was possible, the study being undertaken by the SFA is unlikely to find a sympathetic ear to any argument that sport of all types in Scotland could sustain such stadia after the tournament, let alone make a profit from them.
Do we then simply pack up our keyboards and cease all calls for this ridiculous dream to become a reality? That would be the easy option, but if there is one thing Scots are famous for it is their ability to face the impossible with a smile! This is a characteristic that is shared by all Celts, so why not join together for a Celtic festival with a difference? What has become glaringly obvious to UEFA and all the smaller European nations is that the European Championships have outgrown the physical size of those nations taking part.
An easy option for UEFA would be to rotate the championships between those larger nations who already have the infrastructure in place to host them. In itself that would be fine, but UEFA are rightly anxious that football is promoted in every corner of the continent, and to do that their flagship tournament must be taken to as many competing nations as possible. This was why UEFA were delighted to receive the join Dutch/Belgian bid, and the results of that tournament both on the field and off it proved the wisdom of their decision to break the mould and accept that joint bid.
It has already been hinted by the SFA that the best way forward for Scotland might perhaps be in a joint bid, with Scotland aligning itself with Ireland. However for reasons already given even that would likely fail, as a joint bid with Ireland would produce one, perhaps at best two, additional venues. The Football Association of Ireland have indicated that they would wish to talk with the SFA about a bid, clearly seeing it as an additional tool in their campaign for a new national football stadium in the Blanchardstown suburb of Dublin.
The FAI has plans to build the new "Eircom Park" and provide football with a home of its own in Ireland, the national side currently sharing Lansdowne Road with Rugby. The ambitious project is for a 40,000 seat national stadium complete with retractable roof and removable pitch, but it is a project that almost mirrors the new English national stadium at Wembley, with initial estimates proving to be grossly inaccurate.
An initial estimate of £281m has already grown to £550m, and with inflation in Ireland a particular problem in the building industry feelings are that if work does not start soon then £1billion is not impossible! Because of these costs and local opposition to the plans, the FAI would welcome another aspect to their case for the building of a new stadium, and a joint bid with Scotland for Euro 2008 would provide just that. This would add strength to any bid, but would still only add one city and one stadium.
More strength can be added through the Welsh Football Association. The magnificent national stadium in Cardiff has already been chosen as the home of the FA Cup Final this year, giving the Welsh an opportunity to play host to a massive influx of football fans. But perhaps of even more note could be the addition of another Celtic nation in support of bringing Euro 2008 to these shores, that of Northern Ireland.
In Part 3 - Ireland can make it happen. Few European nations are so wrapped in the idea of a single market than the Irish, who were proud some years ago to be selected to host a stage in the Tour de France. But could a united Ireland add even more strength to Celtic hopes of staging these major European Finals?