By Joe Behan
The Football Association of Ireland has dived in with the Scottish Football Association in a Celtic bid to host Euro 2008. Scotland was considering going solo in a bid to host what is the third biggest sporting event in the world. The question is, then, why did the SFA ask Ireland to join forces with them?
No doubt the recent mini-riot at Pittodrie between Aberdeen and Rangers deterred the Scots going solo. And it’s now believed that, recognizing this, the FAI rode to the rescue. The pitch now is, it’s a joint Celtic bid that includes one of the best supporter bases in the world, the Irish, and, of course, their well-deserved reputation for hospitality. Obviously, the SFA are not too worried about where the Irish will actually play their games; the Scottish simply wanted to keep the dream alive of hosting one way or another. One now must wonder what plan of action the soccer associations have.
Scotland have a potential six stadiums at the ready. Ireland have none and need two. There is, of course, rugby’s Lansdowne Road and the GAA’s Croke Park that the FAI can rely on. At least in the case of Lansdowne, they have been doing so. Indeed, Ireland has qualified for one European Championship and two World Cups using the depleted stadium built on the sinking bank of the Dodder River.
For Euro 2008, Lansdowne would need some serious renovations to be considered a possible venue. To add to the embarrassing soccer situation in Ireland, the FAI are now going from depending on the Irish Rugby Football Union to depending on the Gaelic Athletic Association. There has been talk of using Croker as a soccer venue and now it is a must for 2008, unless, of course, the Irish decide to build their own national soccer stadium.
Politicians have been posturing and procrastinating on such a project for far too long, but that’s what happens when people who have no idea about soccer are calling the shots. The amateur GAA put the Irish politicians and the FAI to shame here when it comes to facilities. The Gaelic body on their own bread and butter have renovated Croke Park into one of the better stadiums in the world. The GAA, of course, still have to scrap the rule that only Gaelic games can be played on their ground.
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There are, not surprisingly, many heated discussions at the moment as to the actual stadiums available, from Lansdowne Road and Croke Park to building a national stadium. The lack of a clear vision has long been to blame for the absence of a national soccer stadium. Politics and soccer have mixed about as well as oil and water. The situation remains in shambles, as any soccer supporter in Ireland can attest.
When one thinks about it, it really is quite remarkable that Ireland, with a top international team and a World Cup pedigree, have not been able to parlay their success into acquiring what many lesser countries boast: a home ground. How much money did the FAI make on the Republic’s international success and what have they done with it?
Irish supporters would love to have their own ground, but the people running the show may not — at least that’s the way it seems. Nonetheless, Ireland has joined forces with Scotland for the bid and now the pressure is on for facilities. The compulsive decision to join forces with Scotland does indeed seem to rest on how much money the government and the FAI can make, and there is an incredible amount to be made.
It is good for soccer in Ireland, one way or another, that they are involved in the Euro bid. The great Irish soccer minds of our time will meet, and meet, and may come to realize that they can include soccer stadiums, alongside rugby and Gaelic. In fact, they may realize that soccer is one of the best vehicles Ireland has to increase economic growth at home and abroad. Need we remind the soccer gurus that the Irish team could get past the first round of the World Cup; but they will probably want to wait to see that happen before making any decision.
Hasn’t it always been a case of “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”? Who knows, maybe some of the brainstorming might link into the state of the grounds in the Eircom League, but perhaps that’s wishful thinking at the moment.
The thing is, this Euro 2008 decision never took into account just where the Irish stand anyway with Uefa. The one Irish representative on the Uefa committee is Ireland’s Des Casey; Scotland do not have any voice there at all. Casey, however, is stepping down and the Celtic bidders have not nominated a replacement. All the other bidding nations have their candidates in line and are ready to come to Uefa’s powerful executive table with their say. These competing voices will be more concerned about convincing Uefa about their national economic and political status rather than their stadiums.
It’s a shame, really, because Ireland has so much potential on offer here. But it simply will not have an inside persuader. Right now there is major rebuilding throughout the country, and indeed in Dublin City. Ireland is in a fantastic position as work could be said to be in progress. However, there is no Celtic knight at the Uefa table. Therefore, in reality, there is no field to do battle in.
The GAA and the IRFU do seem to be in an advantageous position here in that the FAI almost is depending on them for their stadiums.
Ironically, the FAI think they are in a smug position in that Euro 2008 cannot be refused. The IRFU want the promise of a new stadium. If, on the other hand, Lansdowne is to be renovated, rugby will lose out on attendances. Besides, the IRFU has been let down on many occasions, but this time they will likely not fall short of compensation.
The GAA has had its fair share of rhetoric from politicians, and while they have held out from soccer intervention, it does seem that they will be tempted by Euro 2008.
It is a sad state of affairs when politicians cannot decide where to build a new stadium, never mind two. It’s all reaction right now and the emphasis is on where the games will be played: in new or existing stadiums.
The Irish should be tackling these domestic and national facility projects, anyway, with or without the prospect of hosting the European Championships.