It is now official: The United Kingdom and Ireland are bidding for the European Championships in 2028. The FA, FAI, IFA, SFA and the FAW are joining forces to put together a bid to host the Euros having been advised not to pursue the World Cup in 2030.
There are several types of excitement that we are lucky enough to experience in life. The lead up to Christmas, looking forward to an upcoming holiday. The anticipation of pints with the boys. But there is another type of excitement that hits a bit differently. One that is reserved for the true sporting geek. That is the fluttering butterfly inducing excitement caused as a result of ‘The Bid’. The Bid, for those of you that have never experienced the butterflies, is when an association, in tandem with a government seeking a handy pick-me-up, declares they are interested in hosting an upcoming major tournament. Success in the bid is irrelevant; your nation is bidding for a major tournament, let the excitement begin!
The first thing to enter the geeks mind upon hearing of ‘The Bid’ are stadiums. What they will need and which they will possibly use. This particular tournament is expected to run with a total of 51 matches with 24 teams competing. The stadium requirements are that one stadium with 60,000 seats, one, though preferably two stadiums with 50,000 seats and four stadiums with 40,000 seats and also three stadiums with 30,000 seats are proposed in order to host the spectacle.
So which stadiums are available, which are dead-certs for inclusion, which are likely and which could be interesting wildcards?
Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Capacity: 51,700
Among the dead-certs for inclusion in a cross-island bid for the tournament will have to be the jewel in the FAI (or should that be IRFU) crown, The Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Redeveloped from the ruins of a demolished Lansdowne Road in 2010, the Aviva is as modern a stadium as one is likely to find in the Republic of Ireland. Boasting excellent corporate facilities and a decent capacity, it is a shoo-in for inclusion.
Croke Park, Dublin – Capacity: 76,000
Ireland’s best kept secret until the aforementioned Lansdowne Road was demolished in 2007. Owned and run by amateur association, the GAA, Croke Park had a ban on foreign sports since its inception until public outcry forced the GAA to allow the Irish football and rugby teams to play on the hallowed ground for the duration of the rebuild to the national stadium. It turned out the GAA liked the smell of money a tad more than their long standing morals, so the likelihood of a major game decorating the beautiful stadium is highly likely should a bid be successful.
Wembley Stadium, London – Capacity: 87,000
Obviously. There is no chance the FA would not thrust their crown jewel that cost over £1.2 billion of today’s money to the forefront of any bid. It comes with pedigree for hosting too, after the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, the Final of Euro 2020, and already pencilled in for the 2023 UEFA Champions League Final, and is the largest venue available. Next…
Hampden Park, Glasgow – Capacity: 51,866
Stadium, check. Scotland, check. Capacity over 50,000, check. Hosted Euro games in 2020, check! The one-time largest football stadium in the world has an equally rich history, housing over 130,000 for the Scottish Cup Final in 1903, setting the European international attendance record of 149,547 for Scotland vs England in 1937, the epic 1960 European Cup Final that finished Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, and Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen marked by Zinedine Zidane’s sensational swivel volley goal.
Principality Stadium, Cardiff – Capacity: 73,931
Formerly the Millennium Stadium, overshadowing the old Cardiff Arms Park. The closed roof creates one the best atmospheres in world sport: a real lesson in how to build a modern stadium well. It has catered extensively for rugby union by hosting the European Champions Cup Final five times and World Cup games in 1999, 2005 and 2015, as well as the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final.
Casement Park, Belfast – Capacity: 34,578*
Rounding out the offerings from the different associations, Casement Park in Belfast lies in between two categories; nailed on, if finished, but very much in the wildcard territory for the time-being. Belfast may have to settle for training camp status if none of their grounds can be increased to the minimum 30,000 required capacity.
Old Trafford, Manchester – Capacity: 74,140
A stadium worthy of any tournament. Described by some as the theatre of dreams, there is no denying the power and atmosphere of a hopping Old Trafford. On a flight to Manchester I once overheard the attendant asking a couple of Dubs where they were headed, ‘Old Trafford’ they chirped. ‘Oh to see the football?’ she replied. ‘Well we aren’t going to see the bleedin’ cricket are we?!!’ Surely a must for inclusion.
City of Manchester Stadium – Capacity: 53,000
Plenty of empty seats. I digress, thoroughly modern stadium with ultimate state of the art facilities. Built to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the stadium has since staged the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, England football internationals, rugby league matches, a boxing world title fight, the England rugby union team’s last match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and summer music concerts during the football off-season.
Anfield, Liverpool – Capacity: 61,000*
Home to arguably one of the best atmospheres and single tier stands in world football, outside of South America anyway. Anfield is due an upgrade too in time for 2028. With the Anfield Road stand gaining extra seats, it will be a 61,000 seater by the time the Euros roll around. Anfield hosted games at the Euros in 96, and it would be vital to include the city in any bid.
St James’ Park, Newcastle – Capacity: 52,305
Great stadium, great fans, great part of the country. Part of any bid’s success revolves around those ghastly tags such as ‘legacy’ and ‘taking the game to the people’, so geographically speaking it is a no-brainer; nobody would mistake St. James’ Park – thankfully no longer draped in Sports Direct signage – as a token inclusion.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London – Capacity: 62,850
Ultra modern stadium. Surely has to be included as it has arguably become the new benchmark in global stadium design, offering one of the finest spectator experiences in the world. The fully retractable pitch that allows for a first-class artificial surface to host NFL regular season matches is just one of many innovations that make it hard to leave out.
London Stadium – Capacity: 66,000
Built for the 2012 Olympics but has its critics as a football ground, although current incumbents West Ham have been working to fix those doubts. It would be a smooth addition to the Olympics legacy to have it host games at a European Championships, and given the public purse poured into its construction and subsequent conversion, one would imagine authorities would be keen to cement the venue’s value.
Emirates Stadium, London – Capacity: 60,260
With Wembley a dead-cert for inclusion, you have to feel only one, if any, of the above are in with a possible shout for hosting games at the tournament. If the Emirates was in any other city you feel it would be a given, but competition in the English capital is strong.
Thomond Park, Limerick – Capacity 25,600
Home to the Munster Rugby team in Ireland’s sporting capital of Limerick, the possible inclusion of Thomond Park would make Ireland’s inclusion actually mean something more than there being a few games in Dublin. Slightly lower than the minimum required capacity, but a stunning stadium in a vibrant city that would welcome any national side that would make it their temporary home.
Amex Stadium, Brighton – Capacity 31,800
A beautiful stadium in a beautiful part of the world. The Amex brings a true family vibe to the game. It also has the required capacity and it is of course not in London, but still well within reach of the capital.
After stadiums have been considered, one must then look to the detractors; those who don’t get the excitement, that would rather we think of the children. So far the feeling in Ireland has been all about the FAI and the appropriateness of trying to host a tournament when it is on life support itself, drip feeding from the teat of the government cow. Others insist that their money, if any even exists, should be poured into grass roots and upgrading the stadiums we do have and improving the league, the structure of the association itself and finally shaking off the Champagne Charlie look of old.
Detractors exist too at the other side of the Irish Sea, upon hearing of a likely bid, the feeling from large swathes of the English population was to question the inclusion of the Irish in the bid. “We don’t need them ‘’ and various other forms of paddy-whackery thrown around to distance them from us and to make certain that this is England’s bid first and foremost, Britain’s at best, the UK at worst – but including Ireland. Makes no sense. Other, less vengeful cynicism lies in the fairness of the spread of the games and even if it were to go ahead the English fans are bound to mess it up for everyone anyway.
At time of writing, the alternatives to a UK and Ireland bid are Turkey (on their own) and a giant bid from Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. There is also potential, but not concrete interest from Spain and Portugal (likely preferring a World Cup bid), Russia, Italy (considering a giant bid with Saudi Arabia oddly enough) and a giant bid from Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway. The obvious benefits to the UK/ROI bid are the common language across the nations, a relatively small travel area and the sense of embarking on a new geographical zone while also being very familiar. One cannot underestimate too the importance of both Ireland and the UK cooperating on a giant bid just 100 years on from a bitter war of independence.
Ireland have tried only recently to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, only to find, as everyone had predicted, Ireland largely has soviet style crumbling stadiums with the exception of Croke Park, the Aviva and Thomond Park. Even the recently, expensively, renovated Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork offers little to nothing on an international stage. But as part of a larger bid the outlook for Ireland could be very different. So too for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
With UEFA preferring a World Cup bid from Spain and Portugal, and seemingly encouraging a Euros bid from the UK and Ireland, we have every reason to be hopeful. The bid process is expected to last over a year; over a year of wonderful excitement for every bid geek. Bring on the stadium debates. Bring on the debates on whether the England fans can finally behave themselves. Bring on all the debates. Hospitals and roads can wait. We have a tournament to dream about. That, and pints with the lads.