Euro 2020: The result can be brushed aside, but worry about the reputational damage

NOBODY should be too surprised that the aftermath of the European Championship final descended into primitive times: the hospitals anticipated increased A&E traffic, people predicted “there will be all hell let loose” if England lost and you just knew that racism would come to the fore. 

In short, while Gareth Southgate’s team performed heroically throughout Euro 2020, the players, the nation (and humanity) were all let down by thousands of drunk, aggressive and racist fans.

We’ve seen it before, of course, one of our top sporting exports in the 1970s and 1980s was football violence,  but we assumed the worst had passed thanks to the gentrification of the game. But in the past five years, there has been a resurgence of ignorance, a rise in racism and anti-semitism, popular nationalism and, overwhelmingly, increased xenophobia. And there’s been more than a sprinkling of arrogance. We don’t need to dig too deeply to find the root cause, but it is fuelled and almost egged-on by certain toxic political elements. Football has always been vulnerable to be exploited by those that want to whip-up prejudice and bigotry.

As soon as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their penalties, it was inevitable the blame for defeat would head their way. On the London Underground afterwards, black fans were attacked, while anyone Italian was under threat on their journey home from Wembley. So very disgusting, so very sad – but so very predictable.

We buried our heads in the sand for some years, believing racism was no longer a problem, but every now and then, an incident would be reported and we were always open-mouth horrified. But it really never went away, it was just beneath the surface, ignored and, often, played down by the media. We’ve had a series of wake-up calls and the whole “Black Lives Matter” campaign, which was jeered by a lot of fans, indicated something was very badly wrong. 

Dovetailing the racist element was the general behaviour in London during the hours leading to kick-off, with fans climbing on red buses, trashing the streets, sticking flares in their orifices and urinating in public, all of which points to a society with problems. Football just happens to be an outlet for it. Boris Johnson said they should be ashamed of themselves, but will they really care? And the storming of the Wembley gates? Have they learnt nothing from crowd disasters of the past? 

Do these people not realise that reacting in this way to defeat only makes the loss harder to take? In such circumstances, empathy and the spirit of “we’re in it together” is vital, but the way fans invariably respond to disappointment is to become angry and to seek a scapegoat. All the pre-match singing, all the fake affection and bonhomie, amounted to nothing. Football fans have always been fickle, but instead of venting their frustration, true football fans sympathise and console the vanquished, and real sportsmen and women congratulate the winners, not kick their fans.

For many years, UEFA and FIFA refused to award England a major competition. The events of July 11 2021 will probably set back the nation in terms of sporting credibility – England look like sore losers. Such a pity, as England’s young players performed very well and were the second best team in Europe – a status that should have kept their runners-up medals around their necks. Right now, the fans involved in this debacle should ask themselves, what did they really do for their country?


Euro 2020: Has Platini’s folly been a success?

COVID-19 will prevent UEFA and analysts from really judging if Euro 2020 has been an overwhelming success. The multi-centre structure, spreading the joy across Europe, was a controversial decision by UEFA and appeared to be doomed to failure, but the restrictions placed upon the competition and the ongoing economic pressure of the pandemic, may render any analysis quite limited in value.

From a playing perspective, Euro 2020 has been a genuine success. There has rarely been a poor game, there’s been a lot of edge-of-the-seat tension, some terrific goals and a number of classic clashes. There may have been a lack of great individual stars, but the team ethic and dogged pragmatism has come to the fore. England and Italy were the best teams on show, so their place in the final is appropriate and earned.

With crowd restrictions and covid precautions, the possibility of creating the “carnival” aspect of a major tournament was compromised. Every World Cup or Euro has an element of the scout jamboree about it. That said, the scenes at some improvised and organised fan areas look to have thrown covid caution to the wind.

Some countries had to travel – why Baku keeps getting garlanded is something a mystery – while others had no small amount of home advantage – England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Russia. Seeding by location.

UEFA will have factored revenue dispersal long before before 2020, but the pandemic was surely a huge blow to even the most conservative balance sheet predictions.

Euro 2016, delivered a € 1.2 billion benefit to the French economy, while UEFA themselves made € 847 million. France welcomed 600,000 overseas visitors across its hotel sector in 2016. In 2012, Poland and Ukraine also saw an influx of tourists (Poland had 766,000 visitors) but the Poles spent heavily to host the event. UEFA made € 347 million in 2012. In under 30 years, the European Championships have grown impressively – in 1992, for example, revenues totalled just € 41 million. 

Two years later, Russia claimed the 2018 World Cup earned € 12.2 billion from a competition that many sceptics said would not attract travelling fans. The next World Cup, in the winter of 2022, will be challenged, but history has shown us that when it comes down to it, fans certainly suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and most don’t care too much about human rights records.

There is little doubt that success in football can have a positive financial impact on a single country. Deutsche Bank’s analysts forecast that the Euros could have a £ 90 million benefit to the UK economy, almost half of it attributable to accommodation.

While a continent-wide Euros dilutes the financial rewards, it has also meant that no single country has had to spend heavily on infrastructure or new stadiums. But on the other hand, the amount of travelling has been questionable. In this age of increased climate awareness, financial pressures and the pandemic, transporting teams and fans across Europe doesn’t sound like a responsible operation. It doesn’t take much to imagine infection rates soaring when the teams go home.

And what teams have impressed. England, Italy and Denmark have been super achievers, Spain, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland, exceeded expectations. France, Belgium and Germany disappointed or were disappointed. Players like Raheem Sterling, Kasper Schmeichel, Patrik Schick, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa have impressed. 

The name that will live on, though, is Christian Eriksen. The incident, in Denmark’s first game, provided a reminder that football is not more important than life or death, but football can be a case of life and death. Happily, Eriksen is up and about, smiling and breathing.

What have we learned? For all football’s virtue signalling, some supporters still feel the need to jeer an opposition national anthem and opposition players and fans, that diving is not exclusive to any one nation and, thankfully, as demonstrated by Finnish fans, human nature is still capable of demonstrating its good side. When the final whistle blows in the final, we can look back on one of modern football’s better tournaments and a month that has helped restore national team football’s appeal as well as the appetite for the spectator experience. The profit margin may have been eroded, but Euro 2020 has been a success – in spite of the format. But let’s stick to conventional formats in the future.

Photo: Alamy