The four UK nations and Ireland have submitted a dossier to Uefa outlining their plans to host Euro 2028, with 14 stadiums across the five countries shortlisted to hold matches, including Everton’s future home at Bramley-Moore Dock and Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, one of two north-east venues selected. A final list of 10 will be submitted in April 2023.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have one stadium and the Republic of Ireland two, with the remaining nine in England, including two in the north-east, which was controversially overlooked for this year’s Women’s European Championship.
The stadiums selected are: Villa Park, Everton Stadium, London Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Wembley Stadium, Etihad Stadium, St James’ Park, Stadium of Light, Old Trafford, Dublin Arena, Croke Park, Belfast Casement Park Stadium, Hampden Park and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
The UK government is thought to be confident that its joint bid will be approved by Uefa, with Turkey the only other country in the running. Russia had announced its intention to bid but was ruled out by its Uefa ban from football since its invasion of Ukraine. Uefa’s executive committee will decide the hosts in September 2023.
A joint statement from the UK nations and Ireland outlining their preliminary vision for the tournament said all stadiums were well connected. It added: “The UK and Ireland’s track record of hosting successful major sporting events over many decades means we have the expertise and experience to take this world-class tournament to new heights.”
The UK and Ireland this year shelved plans to host the 2030 World Cup. The English Football Association’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, cited vast expense and “many areas of uncertainty”.
The impeccably groomed world of football administration was host to an intemperate spat on Tuesday, after Uefa accused the company behind the European Super League of “disrespect” and having fewer supporters in 2022 than the UK has had prime ministers.
In an unmistakably forthright communication, European football’s governing body hit back as its meeting with A22, the business formed to deliver the Super League, ended in a flurry of critical statements.
The meeting had been requested by A22, which hopes to revive the Super League idea and is pursuing a more up-front approach than the skulduggery that ended in failure last spring. A22’s new CEO, Bernd Reichart, expected to meet Uefa’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, to discuss the topic but instead was received by at least a dozen football luminaries, including representatives from the Premier League, La Liga and PSG’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi.
In an initial statement, Uefa said it and its “football stakeholders” had used the meeting to restate their commitment “to the foundations of European football, which are based on openness, solidarity and meritocracy … rather than on privilege and self-entitlement”.
A22 argued that its “takeaway” from the meeting was that “the status quo is satisfactory to Uefa”, noting it had met a “large group of … executives”. It went on to ask that any “ongoing dialogue” with clubs about the future of European club competition “must be carried out in an environment free from threats and other restraints”.
Uefa then took the unusual step of replying to A22’s statement. It set off as it meant to continue, saying: “The ‘other executives’ [A22] refer to were not faceless bureaucrats but senior stakeholders from across European football, players, clubs, leagues and fans; people who live and breathe the game every day. To fail to recognise that is disrespectful.”
The rebuttal continued: “If there is a ‘takeaway’ from today, it should be that the whole of European football opposes their greedy plan, as was clearly communicated in our media release. European football has constantly demonstrated its openness to change but it must be for the benefit of the whole game not just a few clubs.
“A22 wanted dialogue so we gave them 2.5 hours of time from all of the game’s stakeholders and each one rejected their approach. As the Football Supporters’ Association said, the UK has had as many prime ministers in the last two months as they have supporters of their plans.”
When you’re being compared to the UK government, it could be argued that things really have come to a pass.
Antonio Conte’s frustration is set to increase with the Tottenham manager facing a ban from Tuesday’s crucial Champions League match at Marseille.
Conte was sent off by the referee Danny Makkelie in the closing stages of Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at home against Sporting Lisbon for his remonstrations at the decision to disallow Harry Kane’s stoppage-time strike.
Uefa’s disciplinary regulations state: “Unless the competent disciplinary body decides otherwise, a player or an official sent off from the field of play and/or its immediate surrounds, including the technical area, is automatically suspended for the next match of the competition in which the expulsion occurred.”
Conte would not merely be missing from the touchline in Marseille, where Spurs need a draw to qualify for the last 16. He would not be permitted to make contact with his players at Stade Vélodrome before or during the fixture and will have to sit in the stand.
The regulations state: “A team manager/coach or other team official who is sent off or suspended from carrying out his function may not be in the technical area or communicate directly with the team’s players and/or technical staff during the match … In addition, a team manager/coach or any other team official who is suspended from carrying out his function may not enter the dressing room or tunnel before or during the match.”
Further punishment could come Conte’s way once Makkelie has handed in his match report of the Group D fixture. Had Spurs won they would have qualified for the knockout phase.
Conte was still seething when he spoke afterwards and Uefa may also investigate his post-match comments. During his short press conference, he accused VAR of being dishonest and creating “big damage” and insisted it would not have disallowed Kane’s goal had it been for a “top team, in an important game” before he walked out after one question.
An independent report by leading academics into the chaos at May’s Champions League final claims police treatment of fans “constituted criminal assault”.
The report also suggests Uefa’s “egregious failures” led to thousands of supporters being caught up in severe congestion on the approaches to the Stade de France and those who reached the ground being forced up against the perimeter fence as ticketing and turnstile problems caused huge bottlenecks.
Fan attending the Liverpool v Real Madrid game were also attacked by local gangs, and Paris police used tear gas on supporters waiting to get into the venue and on those in the fan zone several miles away.
A panel led by Professor Phil Scranton, who also led the Hillsborough Independent Panel into the 1989 disaster in which 97 Liverpool fans died and has been an advocate for the affected families, has produced a report based on 485 eyewitness testimonies – two-thirds of whom mention fearing for their lives.
The report states: “Persistent, random police assaults on fans, and unprovoked deployment of teargas on men, women and children trapped in confined spaces, was reckless and dangerous. It constituted criminal assault.
“The hostility of the police prior to the match (at the Fan Zone and stadium approaches), during (in the stadium) and after (at the stadium, the stations and in the city) demonstrated a collective mindset which resulted in breaches of criminal law.
“At the Stade de France there were egregious failures on all aspects of Uefa’s responsibility for stadium safety. Sustained failure in crowd management severely compromised the health and wellbeing of fans.
“It is clear from fans’ statements that they were put at risk by aggressive policing, ineffectual safety measures and a failure to implement comprehensive stadium safety management plans based on risk management principles.
“Grounded in their understanding, and for some direct experience, of the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool fans prevented a fatal tragedy occurring through their collective action.”
The report stated the organisation of the final showed a lack of coordination between the actors involved and it identified “multiple malfunctions”.
“It is difficult to comprehend the sequence of events that constituted the debacle in Paris, leaving so many people physically injured, psychologically harmed and financially compromised,” said Scranton, Professor Emeritus, School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast.
“Men, women and children were subjected to unprovoked, indiscriminate police violence including teargas and baton assaults, together with robbery at knife-point by local gangs.
“Many left before the match, those who stayed were subjected to further attacks by riot police and gangs on leaving the stadium and arriving at local stations. Responsibility for the collapse in authority, management and safety, lies with those organising and administering the event.”
Uefa’s independent report into the events is due to be published next month and it will not comment on the subject until it is published.
The profoundly shocking way Uefa mishandled its Champions League final on 28 May has prompted alarming questions about the organisation and its president Aleksander Ceferin and, by natural extension, the whole edifice governing modern football.
Uefa may still be that great institution, formed in 1954 to organise the European Cup and still 68 years on, thanks to last year’s defeat of the Super League breakaway, organisers of the glittering Champions League.
The reality, though, is that Uefa is a member organisation; the confederation, to use football’s jargon, of Europe’s 55 national associations, including the English FA. Yet the politics of football’s ostensibly democratic pyramid have long been dysfunctional and questions about their fitness for purpose are generally explored only when a crisis makes them suddenly more urgent.
Uefa’s conduct at the Stade de France remains staggering, but the English FA has said nothing at all about it in public. On the night, feeling under pressure to explain the kick-off delay to a watching world, Uefa’s response was to blame Liverpool supporters, who had been put through hours of dangerous disorganisation and chaos and had more to face on the way back.
Just weeks before that, Ceferin had been still full of praise for English fans and, with Liverpool’s supporters prominent leaders, their campaign to fight the Super League, which preserved the immensely lucrative Champions League for Uefa. “When we were at war with the Super League, we were helped by English fans. Italians and Spaniards have done nothing,” Ceferin said, perhaps indelicately, on 2 May.
But then when the first Champions League final with a crowd was held since English fans saved Uefa’s billions and Ceferin’s world, Uefa took no responsibility for the near-disaster. Instead it issued two globally broadcast statements, oblivious to the 33-year Hillsborough trauma, content to depict Liverpool supporters as late-arriving mass ticket fraudsters.
The questions that naturally followed have included criticisms of the Uefa culture under Ceferin, the surprise reform candidate from Slovenia anointed in the 2016 vacuum after Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter, presidents of Uefa and Fifa respectively, were banned amid financial scandal.
It has seemed very significant that Ceferin’s best friend, Zeljko Pavlica, was appointed Uefa’s head of safety and security last year as “natural successor” to the previous head, Kenny Scott. Some critics have also expressed concerns about more general cronyism and a culture of personal alliances at Uefa at a still critical time for football governance. The big clubs’ gigantic commercial power means that the battle for some rebalancing, and for the traditional value of the confederation structure, was far from won despite that injury-time defeat of the Super League.
England’s FA is a major, historic member of Uefa, among the wealthiest, certainly compared with the countries of eastern Europe and the Balkans which now add up to a large number of votes in a presidential election. Yet although thousands of English supporters were put in danger in Paris having paid fortunes to Uefa for tickets, and then been blamed by those infamous statements, the English FA has not seen it as part of its role to speak out in solidarity or concern.
Its main representative at Uefa, the former Manchester United chief executive David Gill, is an influential figure these days, a vice-president on the executive committee, the equivalent of the board. That part-time role entitled Gill to €250,000 (£216,000) last year; he is also chairman of the finance and remuneration committees, and Uefa’s treasurer. The Observer asked the FA and Uefa how much Gill is paid for these other roles, but neither was forthcoming with that detail. Gill’s remuneration committee approves Ceferin’s salary, awarding the president 2.56m Swiss francs (£2.3m) last year, up from 2.42m (£2.17m) in 2019-20.
This newspaper also asked the FA about its silence since the Stade de France debacle and whether it tries to play a reforming role at Uefa. It declined to comment. Sources indicated that the FA did make supportive contact with Liverpool after the final, and was vocal privately at Uefa about the need to have the “independent review” that is taking place.
But speaking only privately feels like just another dimension of the problem. Joseph Weiler, the New York university law professor who resigned from Fifa’s governance committee in 2017 after the abrupt removal of its chairman, Miguel Maduro, said of the confederations: “Football’s democratic governance model is flawed, because although there is one vote per national FA, after an election there is no opposition holding those in power to account. All the FAs have to be part of the ruling regime, and internal debate and scrutiny is weak.”
The perception too is that the FAs are mainly focused on winning favour at the confederation, which has the power to award hosting of its prestigious tournaments. The English FA is seeking Uefa’s approval to host the 2028 men’s Euros and the scale of national kudos a tournament promises, resounding for decades, suppresses a healthier culture in which FAs would act as critical friends and speak out.
David Bernstein, the FA’s chairman from 2011-14, now a critic of the system and campaigning for an independent football regulator, confirmed that perception from his experience. “The system is based on patronage and does not encourage debate. Of course the FA is always very preoccupied with the chance of being awarded tournaments, and speaking out and scrutinising the confederation risks upsetting people.”
It is also a flaw in an apparently democratic system that these questions are not asked regularly enough, and it takes a near-disaster to expose the stale, complacent insides of how the game works. And that even when the questions are asked, they are met with the sound of silence.