20 May ~ Last Tuesday Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland notified UEFA that they intend to bid to host Euro 2020. So did Turkey, who appear to be the favourites, although UEFA are not happy about their recent match-fixing problems. Georgia were the only other nation to declare their interest by UEFA’s deadline, in what was originally meant to be a joint bid with Azerbaijan, who are not interested any more. Scotland and Ireland’s bid to host Euro 2008 was shambolic and the competition will have increased in size by 2020 – as requested by Scotland, Ireland and Wales – from 16 to 24 teams. So why might they succeed now where they recently failed?
Wales's involvement could make a big difference. UEFA notified their members recently that they will consider combined bids from three nations. Each bid needs nine appropriate stadiums: two with at least 50,000 seats, three more with at least 40,000 and four with at least 30,000. Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, which has a capacity of 74,500, would be a perfect addition to Scotland and Ireland's large world-class grounds.
Ibrox, Hampden and Celtic Park all have capacities above 50,000 in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, Murrayfield – the home of Scottish rugby, which has been used for football before – holds 67,200. Dublin's shiny new Aviva Stadium holds 51,700. That provides six grounds with more than 50,000 seats. And there is a seventh.
The 2008 bid was characterised by uncertainty over the use of Croke Park, Dublin's 82,300-capacity cathedral of Gaelic sports. Although Croke Park hosted football while the Aviva Stadium was being built, the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) will not let football overshadow hurling and Gaelic football, and the SFA and FAI never managed to get them involved in their bid for 2008.
The 2020 bid could stand or fall on whether the football associations can work with the GAA. Because it's not just Croke Park. Limerick, County Mayo and North Tipperary all have GAA stadiums with more than 30,000 seats, the size of grounds the bid otherwise currently lacks.
Which is where Wales may provide another piece of the puzzle. Swansea have applied to increase the capacity of the Liberty Stadium beyond 30,000. The city should be involved in the bid, as should Aberdeen and Dundee.
Aberdeen currently plan to build a 21,000-seat stadium on the outskirts of the city. Dundee and Dundee United play across the street from each other, in grounds that could do with a lick of paint. If the SFA and Scottish government help fund a 30,000-seat stadium for each city, the clubs might even be able to afford to bring some ticket prices down in an attempt to fill them.
France 2016 is using ten stadiums. If the SFA, FAI and FAW play their cards right they could have 11 or 12 grounds that are more than suitable without too much expense. There has never been a major senior football tournament in Scotland, Ireland or Wales, while Scotland has a longer football heritage and more famous fans than almost any other country. How many other major tournaments have had seven 50,000-plus-seat stadiums built before the start of the bidding process?
One of the biggest reasons for optimism is that the SFA are no longer the bunch of bowling club blazers they were just a few years ago. They've got their work cut out, but they're now an organisation that can make things happen. And Istanbul is also bidding for the 2020 Olympics – UEFA have said that if they get that, they can't have Euro 2020 too.
Maybe, just maybe, Scotland-Ireland-Wales's main problem in eight years' time could be deciding which top stadiums miss out on the high-profile games. Mark Poole