It’s all about beetroot soup and hard boiled eggs - travelling to another country to soak up another culture and to enjoy a football tournament that is. But if the powers that be at UEFA have their way the fans will be the biggest losers when it comes to Euro 2020.
Like many other Republic of Ireland supporters I travelled to Poland in June to cheer on the ‘Boys in Green’. I’d never been to places like Poznan, Gdansk and Sopot before and I probably never would have had Euro 2012 not been held in Poland and Ukraine.
Beetroot soup with boiled eggs (a national delicacy of Poland) would never have struck me as two ingredients to put together but it works, and I’d probably never have tasted it had I not I not been able to spend the best part of two weeks travelling up and down Poland in camper-van.
It goes without saying that one of the main reasons football fans go to football tournaments is to watch football - that’s a given. However, one of the most amazing aspects of travelling to a competition like the European Championships or a World Cup finals is that it gives fans the chance to experience an entirely different culture.
One of my lasting memories of Poland in the summer of 2012 is entering a small bar off the, Bohaterów Monte Cassino, (main street in Sopot) and proceeding to drink virtually every conceivable flavour of vodka with Poland fans (the Polish had just drawn with Russia and were in the mood for celebrating). It was, what we say in Derry, ‘one of them nights’.
Memories such as mine are only possible when a country or countries host a competition like the Euros or the World Cup. Even though the Polish national team did not do as well as many might have hoped it didn’t stop an entire nation getting behind their team. From the cities, to the towns to the small rural villages the country was decorated with red and white flags and wherever I went I heard the unforgettable phrase ‘Polska biało-czerwoni’ (Poland, the red and the whites). The Poles were hooked on the Euro 2012 atmosphere.
If UEFA President Michel Platini goes ahead with his plan to make the European Championships in 2020 into a pan-Europe competition football fans from all over the continent will not have the chance to enjoy what is a truly outstanding tournament.
The bidding process for 2020 had already started. Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland put forward a joint bid to host the finals as did Azerbaijan and Georgia however UEFA claim the only country to put forward a serious bid was Turkey but with the country in the middle of a match fixing scandal Platini et al moved quick to distance themselves.
Platini suggested that cities as opposed to a country or countries could host the competition back in March but few thought it would actually happen.
The European Championships is one of the world’s most exciting tournaments and before we, the fans, have to endure travelling all over Europe for three group games we have Euro 2016 to contend.
Euro 2016 will be hosted by France and it will be the first time since the competition started in 1960 that 24 teams, as opposed to the usual 16, will compete.
The additional eight places up grabs means that just under 50 per cent of the 52 teams taking part in the qualification stand a chance of qualifying.
The competition has used the 16 team format since 1996 and it’s because of this that it remains thrilling to watch, competitive and it showcases some of the best football in the world.
In 2016, when the number of teams competing is increased to 24, less skilful teams will qualify and this will inevitably have an impact on the quality of football on show.
The reason behind the jump from 16 teams to 24 is the same reason that Platini and his cronies have decided to stage Euro 2020 in cities right across Europe - they want to make as much money as possible and the group people who will feel the pain is football supporters.
Imagine cheering on Ireland’s first group game in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and then flying to Madrid for the second fixture before making it to Berlin for the final match. Don’t get me wrong, if money wasn’t an issue, it would be enjoyable but the fact remains, the vast majority of football fans are not millionaires.
Thousands of Ireland fans made the trip to Poland this summer. Why? Because it was affordable. The only people who will benefit from Euro 2020 will be airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet - they’ll be rubbing their hands together over the prospect of fans wanting to fly all over Europe to cheer on their team.
Travel agents, sponsors, advertisers, television executives, marketeers, travel operators, hoteliers and, crucially, UEFA delegates all stand to benefit. It stinks to high heaven.
Platini, who has suggested he will run for the FIFA presidency in 2015, will not care when it comes to 2020. If he replaces current president, Sepp Blatter, it will be someone else’s problem.
Platini, who supported Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup has, yet again, shown the two fingered salute to the fans; the sooner we, the fans, reciprocate and vote with our feet the sooner Platini and his cash hungry cabal will have to listen.