The Football Association’s chief executive officer, Mark Bullingham, hailed a “brilliant day” for the UK and Ireland after it was confirmed they will stage the men’s European Championship in 2028. He promised a national event that leaves no area of the host countries untouched.
Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium looks certain to hold the opening match with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley. It will be the highest-profile sporting event held in the UK since London 2012 and, for sheer scale, the biggest football tournament held on either island.
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Bullingham said the bid’s success vindicated the decision to prioritise it ahead of an attempt to host the 2030 World Cup and he believes it will herald a long-overdue transformation of the UK’s grassroots facilities.
“It’s something we’ve been working really hard on during the last few years,” he said. “We’re looking forward to putting on a fantastic tournament. It’s a brilliant day for the country.
“The stadia are spread throughout the whole of the country so everyone has an event within touching distance. It is critical that the whole country feels they are involved and we have that excitement throughout every part of the country.”
Ten venues have been confirmed in nine cities and Uefa has agreed for the first time that fan zones can be created in places not hosting games. It means regional centres such as Bristol, Brighton and Edinburgh could hypothetically play a part in the event while matches are played elsewhere.
Two stadiums, including Everton’s new ground at Bramley Moore dock, are yet to be completed. An element of doubt continues to surround Casement Park, the Northern Irish element of the bid. It involves the redevelopment of a dilapidated GAA stadium and the project, whose projected costs are thought to have exceeded £160m, has been hit by delays.
Uefa has not made clear whether a contingency plan is in place. But the stadium has been backed by the UK and Irish governments and Patrick Nelson, the Irish FA chief executive, said he was confident it would be completed on time.
“We’re assured by the government [in UK and Ireland] that the funding will be made available for it,” he said. “We’re fairly sure it will fit within the timescales we need. We’re going to be working with Uefa a lot over the next five years and we’ll ensure that it’s all done.”
Euro 2028 stadiums
Nelson took a moment to reflect on the particular significance co-hosting Euro 2028 will hold for Northern Ireland. “I think George Best will be looking down and smiling on us. This is a fantastic day for all five [hosts] but especially for us: 25 years ago, the Good Friday agreement was signed and maybe at that time people would not have dreamed that we might be able to host something like this. Now we’re just five years away from doing it.”
Gareth Bale, who attended the brief announcement ceremony at Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon in his capacity as an ambassador for the bid, expressed hope that Euro 2028 would have a similar effect on Wales to the groundbreaking semi-final appearance his side made in 2016. “To have it on your doorstep, that atmosphere, those kids are going to be watching their idols and their heroes playing and I think that will inspire the next generation even more,” he said.
Bullingham warmed to that theme by touching on a vital element of the tournament’s legacy. “We know as a country our facilities are an embarrassment and we know we lose a huge number of grassroots football games when the weather is bad,” he said. “So it is critical so we can transform our facilities and every kid has a local facility at a decent standard that they can use.”
The UK government is injecting £550m into community facilities as part of its backing for the tournament.
The bid’s seeds were sown last year after the FAs elected not to pursue hosting Fifa’s showpiece in 2030. It was given a clear run after Italy and Turkey chose to concentrate on a joint bid for Euro 2032, which was also accepted on Tuesday.
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“We have never doubted we made the right decision,” Bullingham said. “We were choosing between two tournaments: one we felt we had a really good chance of winning, one we felt we at best would have been a real long-shot to win. We chose to go for 2028 and we are delighted we did; we think the announcement helps vindicate the decision.”
The host countries will go through qualification for Euro 2028, with two “safety net” berths for any who do not reach it on merit. Bullingham described it as “an easy discussion had early on” from England’s perspective, emphasising the benefit of competitive games. It is unclear how the reserve places will be distributed if, for example, three of the nations fail to qualify. Noel Mooney, the Football Association of Wales chief executive, said he believed the fairest tiebreaker would be measurement of performance in the years before the tournament.
Rishi Sunak cited the successful hosting of the women’s Euro 2022, which was won by England, as proof of the new bid’s strength. “We host tournaments better than anyone else,” he said. “It’s going to be a massive boost for the economy. We’re going to welcome millions of people to the country and it’s going to inspire a whole new generation.”