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European Championship revamp keeps football open to all

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Every
time Indiana Jones takes a plane, his journey is illustrated by a red
line moving gradually towards its destination, the aircraft pivoting
now and again to refuel as it traverses continents.

For
those still recovering from trying to understand the Uefa Nations
League, the Raiders of the Lost Ark motif helps explain what will
happen at Euro 2020.

It’s
simple. Instead of heading from San Francisco to Nepal via Hawaii and
Manila, a nation that qualifies and is drawn in Group A, for example,
could in theory reach Wembley for the semi-finals via Rome, Baku,
Bucharest and Saint Petersburg.

Read more: Wembley upgrade pledged for Euro 2020

For the teenagers out there, it may seem reminiscent of Alan Partridge’s World Cup ’94 Soccermeter. But essentially it boils down to the European Championship finals being held across the continent for the first time in the competition’s 60-year history, with 12 host cities in all.

Ahead of Monday’s qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia, England appear well placed to qualify. So where Indy wore a tattered leather jacket and a carried a bullwhip, Gareth Southgate will don his celebrated waistcoat and carry a nation’s dreams.

But
how different will this tournament feel to past campaigns?

To the stay-at-home fan, probably not much. International tournaments are presented in a consistent way regardless of location.

A little colour is added by the location of the broadcast centre on, say, Red Square, or a nod to local culture in the design of the tournament emblem, but broadly speaking the games could be taking place anywhere.

Huge pull

For the travelling fan, however, travel will be the operative word.

The route to the final outlined above would be an 8,000-mile round trip with the added challenge of only being able to book transport and accommodation for the business end of the tournament at the end of the group stage.

Although
England have been pre-drawn to play at least two group games at
Wembley, they would then be on the road for the round of 16 and
quarter-finals.

As
such, the chance to experience different footballing cultures should
nonetheless act as a huge pull for England fans at precisely the
point it is becoming less straightforward to watch European football
on TV.

England will play group games and – potentially – a semi-final and final at Wembley next summer. Credit: Getty

Let’s
raid the lost archive for a moment to a time when Southgate was
better known for missing penalties than missing sleeves.

Euro ’96 featured players who were already household names thanks to Channel 4’s Gazza-inspired coverage of the Italian league.

Two years later, Sky Sports began broadcasting Spanish football and the best of the rest were on show for all with Champions League nights a staple on ITV.

Nowadays,
fans are more likely to have become aware of the likes of the
Argentine Juventus star Paulo Dybala from playing the Fifa video
games than watching him on TV.

Football Italia allowed fans to keep track of Gascoigne and the clutch of England stars, such as David Platt and Paul Ince, who followed him to Italy.

Then, Sky’s LaLiga coverage allowed them to monitor the progress of Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and, of course, David Beckham at Real Madrid.

Footballing cultures

This
season, in order to keep tabs on England right-back Kieran Trippier
at Atletico Madrid, fans have had to keep patient while a broadcaster
was found willing to meet the reserve price for LaLiga football
rights in the UK.

As
it stands, to watch LaLiga or Serie A requires a subscription to
Premier Sports, which is, in all likelihood, an additional cost for
fans to bear alongside a BT Sport and/or Sky package.

The
huge investment the likes of Sky and BT Sport now have to make to
retain their marquee rights – the Premier League and Champions
League – mean budgets no longer stretch to the £18m per season Sky
was reportedly paying LaLiga before declining to bid for a renewal.

With
live club football all but vanished from terrestrial TV, the flagship
international tournaments like Euro 2020 take on even greater
importance.

They
offer every fan the chance to watch the very best players without
having to pay, while a revamped European Championship format will
offer a glimpse of footballing cultures that are increasingly closed
off to English fans.

This
time, with Wembley hosting both semi-finals and the final, football
really is coming home. England fans will hope the team can go at
least one better than their last crusade.

Neil Hopkins is a director and global head of strategy at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment.

Main image credit: Getty



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