Euros revamp keeps European football open to all
Every time Indiana Jones steps on 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 the experience of 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.
For the teenagers out there, it may seem reminiscent of the 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 a qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague, 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 pretty consistent way regardless of location. A little colour is added here and there by the location of the broadcast centre on, say, Red Square, or a nod to local culture in the design of the tournament emblem and marketing materials, but broadly speaking the games themselves could be taking place anywhere.
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. Challenging enough for a tournament held in a single nation.
Although England have been pre-drawn to play at least two group games at Wembley and another at Hampden Park in Glasgow, 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.
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 that were already household names thanks to the Channel 4’s Gazza-inspired coverage of the Italian top-flight, Serie A. Two years later, Sky Sports began broadcasting LaLiga 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 EA’s FIFA on a console than watching him live 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.
This season, in order to keep tabs on England right back Kieran Trippier after his move to Atlético 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 to 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.
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