Celebrate Euro 2012 because the future looks bleak
And so farewell Euro 2012. I will take a lot of good memories from it. The best team, Spain, not only won the tournament but also created history with their hat trick of successive major titles. From a personal and professional perspective, it was a pleasure to watch and write about their unique brand of football.
Repetitively boring? I think not. OK, their semi-final against Portugal stretched the limits of optical endurance, yet can a team be expected to hit the absolute heights in every match? Again, I think not. Anyway, their 4-0 demolition of Italy in the final erased much of the derision unfairly heaped on them after the Portuguese stalemate and subsequent spot-kick shoot-out.
I took great pleasure, also, from England’s mini-revival, however limited, the demise of the love-thyself Dutch and the fervour of the fans of the co-hosts Poland and Ukraine. They do not deserve the legacy of impressive yet soon-to-be threequarters-empty stadiums that Uefa, in its infinite money-grabbing wisdom, has effectively imposed on them for the future.
Regrets? A few. The ludicrous £80,000 fine that Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner picked up for deliberately displaying his unofficial branded underwear, when incidents in the past involving racial abuse from countries’ supporters aimed at rival players have attracted a fraction of that penalty. Such a decision, Uefa, was … just pants.
Regrets, also, that Ireland performed so poorly, despite the tumultuous backing of the travelling “Green Army”; that multi-talented Germany never made the final, which might have provided a better spectacle in Kiev; and that Greece, bankrupt economically at home and similarly devoid of expressive footballing ideas, ever got as far as the quarter-finals.
To dwell on the past, though, is to stand still. After the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, we’re off to Euro 2016 in France. And to an expanded format from 16 teams to 24, which begs the question: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But fix it Uefa will be attempting to do, the new bloated format sure to produce unworthy contestants at the finals and, consequently, many ugly mis-matches when the minnows meet the big boys.
I’m all for giving the “smaller” countries their day in the sun but do we really want to see Lithuania, Bulgaria or, dare I say it, Scotland taking centre stage? Let’s face it, the Republic of Ireland – despite their magnificent fans – stunk the the place out in Poland and Ukraine.
Martin Kallen, Uefa’s tournament director at Euro 2012 and a backer of the 16-24 increase for Euro 2016, had an interesting take on it all. “The Scots are also not here [at 2012],” he said. “They bring a lot of emotions, a lot of atmosphere with them.” Sorry, Martin, not sure I wholly agree with you.
My one and only personal experience of the Scots abroad was during the 1998 World Cup finals in France, when their team played Brazil in that ever-dodgy district of Saint-Denis in Paris on the opening day of the tournament. An uncomfortable 7am flight from Stansted, full of their already the-worse-for-wear fans, got worse in the Stade de France.
A section of neutral African supporters in front of me were racially abused throughout the match, by the aforementioned drunks, and I was relieved and ecstatic that Scotland lost 2-1, especially to a late Tom Boyd own goal. It had nothing to do with petty Anglo-Scottish enmity, honest!
The day-long aggression of the “Tartan Army” louts only toned down when, on the return to Stansted, our pilot gravely announced that he wasn’t convinced that our landing gear was down and that he would have to do a “fly past” so that air traffic control could do a visual check. Thankfully, the wheels were OK.
Of course, every country has its bad apples. At Euro 2012, Russia had quite a few in their travelling throng. But the real point is, would the likes of Scotland deserve to be at Euro 2016? The passage from the qualifying groups, to make up the finals numbers, is undoubtedly going to be easier.
And instead of an excellent wham-bam-thank-you-mam tournament of three-and-a-bit weeks, the 51 fixtures – instead of 31 – will be spread over almost double that period. Also, the four best third-placed countries from the six groups at the finals will move on to the 16-team knockout stages. Should essentially weak third-placed finishers be allowed that luxury? Probably not.
Mind you, what awaits at Euro 2020? Michel Platini, the Uefa president, has suggested that the tournament be hosted by 12 cities across Europe. Platini, ever playing the political game, does not miss a trick. The big cities in the big countries will get most of the gigs, if not all, and the small fry can crawl back to their holes. So much for taking the game to the people of the supposedly less developed nations, like Fifa did with the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
However, there may be method in Platini’s vote-catching madness. Should Europe’s biggest cities get the nod, then most of their already state-of-the-art grounds will need only minor renovation to stage the 2020 matches. And, vitally, they will be full afterwards, by dint of their host clubs being among the domestic and European elite. And as I touched on earlier, the Uefa legacy – like in Poland and Ukraine, and that orchestrated by Fifa in SA – would not then be threequarters-empty stadiums.
And let’s face it, in this modern age, would the travelling from Euro country to Euro country be any more difficult than that endured by the fans in Poland and Ukraine, whose transport infrastructure – despite mega-upgrades for the tournament – will now swiftly return to what it was before. Pretty damn basic. Also, with the Polish and Ukrainian governments still paying for it many years from now.
Similar post-tournament scenarios – of gleaming “White Elephant” venues dotted anywhere and everywhere – can be envisaged after the World Cup finals in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Not that the Russian oligarchs or Qatari squillionaires who funded them will give a monkey’s.
Remember Euro 2012. Revere it, rejoice in it. It might be your last chance.