THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

No luck for the Irish. Paul Doyle studies the basic flaw in the joint bid to host Euro 2008 by Scotland and Ireland

It was only ten years ago that I wrote furiously to UEFA, asking them why they were going to allow England, with their city-trashing “fans”, to host Euro 96. My dismay was real, my pro­test, of course, ignored.

As it turned out, the mute suits were right to entrust the tournament to England, where the stadiums and security were tip-top. And if I admit that, then I also have to accept that my own country’s bid to host the 2008 edition should be catapulted into the same bin as my letter – because the Irish bid is exactly the op­posite of England’s. We offer friendly fans who will make sure visitors have lots of fun as long as they don’t want to watch football – because, er, we don’t have any grounds.

Ireland and Scotland are ma­king a joint bid. The Scots bring four excellent stadiums to the table, with two more promised, the Irish bring their good friend Walter Mitty, who reckons Ireland will chip in another two. Irish soccer has no national stadium, only notional ones. The website run by the Scot­tish-Irish campaign says Ireland could stage matches at two of the following three: Lans­downe Road, Croke Park and Stadium Ire­land. But all three carry considerable caveats.

Lansdowne Road, which belongs to the Ir­ish RFU, is a bucket and, unless it replaces its terraces with seats, will have a capacity of just 22,000 in 2008 (its current capacity for internationals is 33,000 because a special dispensation from UEFA permits the installation of temporary seating). Clearly, a stadium in this state will not be selected for Euro 2008.

Then there is the magnificently renovated Croke Park, the fourth biggest stadium in Eur­ope and only a few minutes’ walk from the city centre. “Croker” regularly hosts 80,000 fans for hurling and Gaelic foot­ball but the stad­ium’s owners, the Gaelic Ath­letic Association, have it enshrined in their founding statutes that soccer should ne­ver be played there. A move to abolish the controversial Rule 42 was overwhelmingly voted down by GAA mem­bers as recently as last April. Though the GAA would surely welcome the money which would roll in if it opened its doors to soccer, it seem­ingly can’t bear the idea of heathen feet walk­ing on their hallowed turf.

Finally, we have Stadium Ireland, an enor­mous, ultra-sophisticated multi-sports facility – which doesn’t exist. Ireland’s Taoiseach [prime minister] Bertie Ahern, is de­termined to bestow upon his people a last­ing monument to himself and he reckons a sports stadium would be just the ticket. Two years ago he promised the FAI he would build it by 2008, and even gave them a huge wad of money (€125 million over ten years) to encourage them not to build their own 40,000-seater. The trouble is, he forgot to mention to the Progressive Democrats, his coalition partners, that the cost of the “Bertie Bowl” would not be €250 million as originally reckoned but more like €1 billion (£650 million). When they found out, Bertie had to tender an embarrassing public apology – but the PDs pulled the plug anyway.

Into this mess marched, in mid-September, UEFA’s inspection team. They diplomatically said the bid was an im­pressive one, but insisted Ireland present def­initive stadium plans by December 16. Sup­porters of the bid immediately told the Taois­each to put the squeeze on the GAA by with­holding almost €38 million in funding from them if they re­fuse to host a few soccer matches. Though the government denies engaging in blackmail, the GAA have taken to declaring publicly that no one will force their hand.

The problem is that even if the GAA make an improbable about turn, that still leaves Ire­land with only one stadium, because the IRFU had made revamping Lansdowne Road conditional on their being granted the use of Stad­ium Ireland. That explains why the Taois­each is insisting he will find private funding for his beloved Bowl, though whether concrete plans can be laid by December remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s organisers must be livid that their First Minister refused to sanc­tion funding for the two extra stadiums that would have allowed them to go solo. But the Scottish government knew what they were doing: if the bid flops, all blame will be piled on Ireland.

From WSC 189 November 2002. What was happening this month

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