TWO key figures, plus the success of the Commonwealth Games, combined to prove instrumental in Scotland’s 11th hour victory in being selected as one of the 13 venues for the 2020 European Championship finals, the nation’s first ever major football tournament.
Glasgow was given the nod over Cardiff to stage three group games plus a knockout match following an intense night of last-ditch lobbying by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and his team.
All soundings on the eve of the vote suggested Glasgow would be torpedoed and that Dublin and Cardiff would share the honours, with Wembley getting the prestige semi-finals and final.
The latter proved correct but there was collective surprise in the makeshift conference hall in downtown Geneva when the last envelope opened by Uefa president Michel Platini showed Glasgow which will now be paired with Dublin as one of six regional groupings in Platini’s bid to make the tournament a “Euros for Europe.”
If Scotland qualify, they are guaranteed to play two of their group games at Hampden.
Glasgow had been given the least favourable assessment of the British and Irish candidates by Uefa but still managed to sneak over the line with Hampden Park. “We know there is work to be done around infrastructure but they are all things we have anticipated and we will deliver,” said a triumphant Regan. “Everyone has seen what Glasgow is capable of. The Commonwealth Games put Glasgow on the map. It was a huge factor.”
All candidates made a two-minute presentation to the Uefa executive committee and two-minute film. “We used the Commonwealth Games in ours,” said Regan. “But the person I must mention is Sir Alex Ferguson who came in last week with a video of support for our bid. He felt passionately about it and I’m sure that helped.”
“How did we turn it around? Obviously there was a lot of lobbying. Last week (at the Champions League draw) in Monaco, myself and the president met each individual exco member and focussed on the fact that this was all about Uefa’s 60th anniversary. It’s about history and heritage. We knew Platini was football man and that’s what we played strongest on. That’s why we used Sir Alex. We have had some of the most famous matches in history at Hampden Park. This is a big, big day for Scottish football. It was football that has won the day. “
And also, it would appear, no little emotion. Three months ago, former Scottish FA administrator David Taylor, who later joined Uefa where spent 15 years in a variety of prominent positions died. As well as being a passionate fan of Scottish football, Taylor was a hugely popular figure at Uefa where he became a personal friend of Platini who acknowledged that his death at the age of 60 touched the hearts of Uefa members. “I think that David’s disappearance, in one way or another, has probably helped Scotland and the city of Glasgow,” said Platini. “I’m even convinced of it, knowing the approach of members of the ExCo and the work that David carried out for many years in Scottish and European football.”
Ironically, Scotland and Ireland bid jointly for Euro 2008 and John Delaney of the Football Association of Ireland FA also paid tribute to the work Taylor had put in during his distinguished career in administration. “David was a great friend of mine and I hope he’s looking down on us. The last time I saw him was in April. I’m pleased for his family. It was always going to be Scotland or Wales and the Scots just nicked it.”
Only a single point separated Scotland and Wales in the convoluted voting process and the Welsh could not contain their disappointment, having been a strong favourite to grab a piece of the 2020 action with the Millennium stadium.
Specific dates for the 13-city tournament, conceived by Platini to celebrate the competition’s 60th anniversary, have yet to be worked out but whoever reaches the semi-final and final will head for Wembley, which was chosen to host the climax 24 years after staging its last major tournament, with two painful failed World Cup bids in between.
There was no disguising the sense of delight among English FA officials in contrast to the sense of shock that accompanied the double humiliation of trying to secure the 2006 and 2018 World Cups.
With a free draw likely, whenever that takes place, England, if they qualify, could theoretically play group games at Hampden Park but England manager Roy Hodgson had no problem with this. “I’m sure the players will be delighted to come to Hampden and experience the fervour of the Scottish crowd,” he said.