FA Wales CEO, Noel Mooney. PA
up for grabs

'We want as many spaces and as many matches as we can, so it’s like a bunfight to get the most'

Welsh CEO Noel Mooney discusses the UK/Irish bid for Euro 2028, with no decision made yet on how many places will be reserved for co-hosts.

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVES of the five associations involved in the joint UK/Irish bid to host Euro 2028 will meet on Friday, with no final decision made yet on how many automatically qualifying spots will be reserved for the co-hosts, and how they will be allocated. 

The FAI have joined the football associations of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland in submitting a bid to host the 2028 European Championships, with Turkey providing opposition. The winner will be announced in September next year. 

The tournament is expected to remain at 24 teams, though there has yet to be clarity on how many spots will be reserved for the co-hosts. All involved want a place reserved for all five co-hosts, though nobody expects Uefa to grant that wish.

Instead, that decision will be a product of negotiation between Uefa and the UK/Irish bid. It, along with the final list of stadia to be used, has not yet been finalised.

The42 reported last month that the FAI are optimistic they will be guaranteed an automatic qualification spot based on the number of stadia that will be used. The FAI intend to stage games at Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium, whereas Scotland and Wales are expected to propose one stadium each. 

Speaking to reporters on Thursday at an event to promote business and cultural links between Ireland and Wales, FA Wales CEO Noel Mooney – a former LOI goalkeeper who served as interim FAI CEO in 2019 – said no decision has yet been made on the criteria to assign automatic spots, though favours one in which all five sides compete in regular qualifying and may avail of a reserved, co-host spot as back-up in the event they don’t qualify on merit. 

The criteria as to how to avail of any guaranteed spot remains undecided. Different criteria suits different co-hosts: while the FAI would like it be based on the number of stadia used and the number of games staged, Mooney raised the prospect of basing it on Fifa world ranking – which would suit Wales – or Uefa Nations League status, which would suit recently-promoted Scotland. 

Having voiced these possible criteria, Mooney says the fairest decision would be to hand out any guaranteed spots on the basis of performance in the qualification campaign. 

This would raise the prospect of an effective mini-competition among the five co-hosts running concurrently with the qualification campaign, with the best-ranked sides who do not qualify on merit handed whatever positions Uefa make available. 

“If we don’t qualify automatically [through the group campaign], which I hope we do, but if we didn’t then it’s unlikely that we’ll get five spaces, as we know”, said Mooney of Wales. “If it’s three spaces, who gets them, if it’s two spaces, who gets them: that still has to be worked out. 

“There’s a proposal in there. We’re open, we’d love to get five [guaranteed co-hosts spots], but we’re trying to get feedback from [Uefa] to see how they feel. 

“First of all, you’d hope you’d qualify for the tournament, so our hope would be that we qualify automatically. If we don’t, then you’d have criteria. For us, a preference would be Fifa rankings because then we should be getting it automatically.

“But I don’t think that’s the way it will work and I don’t think that would be the right way. I think the right way is taken on the competition itself, who has done the best in qualifying.

“Say, for example, the Republic of Ireland and England qualify, and there’s three [co-host spaces] left, then you’ve three spaces and the three of us are going anyway. But if it’s one space, for example, and if you were trying to fit the three into one, it probably should be on how you perform in that competition.

“We want as many spaces as we can, and we want as many matches as we can, so it’s like a bunfight to get the most. The spirit between the federations is fantastic, we agree things relatively quickly. We are really hopeful we win the bid first of all.” 

a-view-of-casement-park Casement Park, pictured in 2021. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, there remains doubt as to whether Northern Ireland will host any games. They currently have no stadium that meets Uefa’s requirement to host a game, with all hopes pinned on the redevelopment of Casement Park. 

“Everyone is really supportive of having matches in Northern Ireland, we really want it to happen”, said Mooney. “Obviously what happens in the government up there is not great. I was at a meeting this week where civil servants from Northern Ireland were very positive about what we are trying to do, that it goes in the right direction, whatever the legal stuff is around Casement Park, for example. We really want Northern Ireland to host matches, all of us. We are hopeful they can get it over the line and get whatever arrangement to host matches in Northern Ireland, as it would be really disappointing if we hosted the Euros without games in Northern Ireland. 

“Casement Park is the option. Hopefully that is built, and is ready for Euro 2028. We want matches in Northern Ireland, it would be a shame if there wasn’t but we are very positive and optimistic that NI will host matches in Euro 2028, should be be successful.” 

If Casement Park is not ready, that does not mean Northern Ireland would drop out of the bid entirely. 

“They are very much part of the bid. I never discussed them not being part of the bid. If for whatever reason Casement Park is not built you would still want them part of the bid, of course you would. In a tournament sometimes you do other things other than hosting matches. Like a media centre or where the referees operate from, all sorts of things.”

Mooney is also unconcerned that the bid may be weakened by the chaotic scenes at Wembley around the Euro 2020 final last year. Uefa handed England a two-game stadium ban and a €100,000 fine after ticketless fans clashed with stewards and forced their way into the stadium, following scenes of excess and disorderly behaviour down Wembley Way ahead of the match. 

“You learn lessons. In Uefa, we would have held up the English as the very best in terms of security”, said Mooney, who worked at Uefa before becoming Welsh CEO. “What they do with the Premier League, and with their international matches and their own supporters, is amazing. The final was looked as an outlier. The tournament itself was a really good tournament – it was difficult because of the pandemic – but the final was an outlier. 

“I was there. But they would have learned lots of lessons from it. England are still seen as a bastion of great organisation. We saw what happened in Paris for the Champions League final which was a difficult day again. A lot of learnings from both events. The English are so professional in that area. Again that day, the final, was not a great day. I am sure if we are lucky enough to win the Euro 2028 bid we will put on a fantastic Euros, the best ever.”

Mooney hopes Cardiff is selected to host the opening game, should the UK/Irish bid be successful. 

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