Ireland can make it happen
Infrastructure remains the main hurdle to overcome
Part 3: A United Ireland can make it happenWe would indeed be interested in any moves by the 'Celtic' nations to bid for the European Championships in 2008. It would require work to be done on a new national stadium for Northern Ireland, but this is something that is already under consideration along with the overall strategy for sports in this country.
The timing of involving both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland in sporting links as part of a Celtic bid for Euro 2008 would be seen by many as opportune. Peace in Northern Ireland is now becoming a reality thought impossible just ten years ago, how better to celebrate this new era than the building of a national stadium in Belfast, and the opening of that stadium being as host to one of the sections in the 2008 European Championship finals?
Much has been made of a joint Scotland/Ireland/Wales bid, but it seems in considering this everyone has overlooked the Northern Ireland Football Association. In Windsor Park they already have a national home that has seen some modernisation in recent years, with two stands providing 12,000 seats being added in the North and West ends of the stadium. And plans are being laid for further upgrading Windsor Park, or even building a new national stadium within the next eight years.
A spokesman for the NI Football Association said: "
Windsor Park could be upgraded to 30,000 seats, it currently has 12,000, although it might be that an entirely new stadium is built. Regardless of where the 2008 championships are played, we will be looking at this - but clearly if consideration of a joint bid is on the table, we would like to be involved."
Windsor Park, Belfast - with a bit of work, why not?
So the 8 stadiums in 8 cities that is clearly so much preferred by UEFA might just be possible. The SFA, along with their Welsh and Irish counterparts, could look to a tournament centred in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast, Cardiff, Aberdeen, Dundee and Kilmarnock - a geographical spread within the Celtic nations each holding a character of their own and each with good communication links already in place.
It is though these communication links, along with the other 'infrastructure' issues, that would come high in UEFA's deliberations. The ability to handle a massive influx of people, as well as to accommodate them and move them in safety between venues, is paramount to any bid. The involvement of the Scottish Tourist Board and their Welsh and Irish counterparts would be vital, as would the various transport authorities. As far as Scotland is concerned, this has always been an area where critics of a Scots bid for the championships have looked for solace.
The surprise is just why it should be the case. In mounting a bid for the Ryder Cup in 2009, it has been pointed out that an influx of some 500,000 visitors can be expected to Scotland, roughly the same as might be expected from a Euro 2008. Nobody questions the ability of Scotland to accommodate these visitors, as they have done in many major golf tournaments, so why then should they question the ability to deal with football fans? The answer of course is the view that golf fans tend not to cause as many civil problems as football fans, and this is again a reason why Scotland alone would indeed not be able to host the championships. Even in the unlikely event of a solo bid being mounted, it would be required to outline just how half a million football fans could be kept far enough apart to avoid the type of problems witnessed during the World Cup finals in France.
An Irish legend - it would all be too late for George!
WHY THE HELL NOT?
It is impossible to envisage just how that could be done in Scotland, but it is easier to see how it can be done if the fans are spread in centres around Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. And transport between venues need not be a problem, as anyone who has traveled through Prestwick Airport would testify, a large airport that is criminally underused with flying time to Dublin, Cardiff and Belfast less than 1 hour away. Transport improvements would still be required, but then that is true no mater if the championships come to these shores or not.
It would be easy to see that the SFA feasibility study might conclude that this is all very much a possibility, but would require detailed talks with their Irish and Welsh counterparts. Central to any bid would also be the UK and Irish governments, both of whom would need to show similar commitment to that of the Portuguese in their successful bid, and indeed similar to the commitment already shown by the UK government to the European Championships in 1996 and to the failed English bid to host the World Cup finals for a second time.
As the major football force in the Celtic nations, Scotland could and should play a leading role in European football, as it has done throughout the history of the game. The modern demands of any major tournament do appear to be beyond the means of Scotland alone, but with the added strength of our Celtic partners there is no reason why any difficulties cannot be overcome. An ambitious project could lead to the European Champions Final being played out on Hampden Park in the summer of 2008, the end of a festival of football over the four nations the likes of which has never been envisaged before. And just