Nigel Harris wants to know why Wales have to play their home matches in England
What major football debate have you had recently? How about a manager being sacked partly due to mass hysteria about his personal beliefs? The merits of someone being able to manage club and country? The reality of per-pay-view football? An FA Cup match effectively being declared null and void? All worthy topics, but what about the British international team barred from playing a match in its own country?
Wales face Denmark on June 9th in a Euro 2000 qualifier. Due to continued dementia, the Football Association of Wales initially opted to play at Anfield, where they also played Italy, while the National Stadium remains under construction. This was hugely unpopular with most Welsh fans who, amazingly enough, want Wales to play home matches in Wales.
Somehow, and despite Bobby Gould’s antics, Wales suddenly have an excellent chance of at least reaching the play-offs for Euro 2000. Cardiff City’s Ninian Park, which hosted the Belarus qualifier with intense passion to help produce a thrilling win, is to have increased seating capacity, so the FAW belatedly agreed to switch the game. This results in less income than Anfield but undoubtedly provides an increased chance of winning.
Denmark, however, complained to UEFA. Their argument is that they may bring 4,000 fans to Anfield and so should have the “same conditions” as Italy. This translates as wanting a neutral atmosphere in a half-empty stadium. UEFA upheld their complaint, deciding that there are no “sporting and organisational” reasons to switch the game.
But what greater “sporting and organisational” reason is there for any national team to be denied the right to play at home? Denmark would be allocated 1,500-2,000 tickets at Cardiff but, please note UEFA, Ninian Park will not be able to host as many Wales fans either. The FAW are undoubtedly the architects of their own downfall in all this but the fact that the home side is not allowed to select the venue for a match, despite sufficient notice being given and the venue being suitable for international football , seems to create another precedent. Does anyone doubt that UEFA, who preach about fair play and caring about football fans, would have reached the same conclusion if it was Germany or France? It seems that FIFA rankings have more influence than anybody previously realised. For Welsh supporters, agonies never cease, and neither does appalling football politics.
From WSC 146 April 1999. What was happening this month