Eyes of Europe on the man in the stands

Guy Hodgson talks to Glen Kirton, who will see the culmination of four years' work at Wembley on Saturday; 'Euro 96 is not just a football event, it's also a chance for England to show what it can do'; Glen Kirton Tournament director of Euro 96
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Imagine being told you have to organise the European Championship. Is your first reaction a sharp thrill of anticipation followed by a panic attack at the enormity of what you have to do? Or maybe you sit down and calmly make a list. Wembley would be nice, Old Trafford too...

Glen Kirton took the latter course when Euro 96 was placed on his Football Association desk in July 1992 and, in around a week's time, he will find out if his agenda of tasks was sufficiently thorough. Saturday, when the tournament kicks off, is a big day for English football; it is hardly a humdrum one for him, either.

"I'm very excited," he said, betraying none of the weariness you would expect from a man who after four years has every right to scream when the words Euro and 96 come anywhere within range of each other. "My personal job is virtually completed. A team has been put together that will run the tournament for me."

This was a long way from the case in 1992. Kirton, the FA's head of external affairs, did not exactly have a blank sheet of paper to work with - he had officiated at four World Cups and four European Championships and England had recently hosted two Uefa youth tournaments and three European club finals - but it was not crammed with type either.

"The first thing was to consult people who had organised big tournaments in the past, particularly the Germans and Swedes who had run the last two European Championships," Kirton said. "Then I sat down and wrote myself a list of everything I'd need."

The biggest problem was not infrastructure. Unlike the 1990 World Cup in Italy, which had to undertake mammoth works to build new transport systems and stadiums, England had most of that already in place. In addition, the aftermath of the Taylor Report was all-seated grounds throughout the country.

More problematic was the pulling together of the various organisations who are affected when a big football match takes place in this country. Multiply that by the 31 games that will comprise Euro 96, 16 different sets of supporters and the problems they can bring and the out-of-season timing that adds additional strains and the scale of the task becomes apparent.

"That would be the most valuable piece of information I could pass on to anyone running an event of this nature," Kirton said. "Begin liaising with the various agencies even before you table your bid. National government, local government, police, the football clubs, transport and tourist authorities, there's a lot of people you have to talk to.

"You also have to bear in mind that, although the FA is running the tournament, they are doing so on behalf of Uefa [European football's governing body]. It is their championship and they have a big say in its running. It is Uefa, for example, who sell the television rights."

The process has not gone entirely smoothly, as the FA's embarrassment over the ticket affair proved, but it has been all but completed. Well over a million seats have been sold and around 200,000 visitors are expected. The tourist industry alone expects a windfall of around pounds 125m.

In addition, there will be side events such as music festivals and theatre. "It's not just a football event," Kirton said. "It's a chance for England to show what it can do. It is a chance to prove this isn't a bad place to come, perhaps for a World Cup or an Olympic Games.

"I don't wake up at night worrying. No doubt problems will crop up and something minor is bound to have been forgotten, but everything is in place to deal with it."

As for hooliganism, which threatened the very tournament in the aftermath of the Dublin riot, Kirton, like everyone else, can only cross his fingers and hope.

"No one underestimates that it's a large task putting together a security system that provides the public with the safety and security they deserve," he replied. "One thing we have - and it is for the wrong reasons - is experience. Our police are experts in crowd control and are backed up by good intelligence."

As the curtain goes up on Saturday, Kirton can begin to relax, although a holiday is not on his immediate personal list. "The first three months after the event I'll be writing the reports about the championships," he said. "One of the things football does tremendously well is liaise from tournament to tournament. It is seen as a duty to pass on experience to people who will be doing it next.

"I have to make sure the books are balanced and so on, and I prefer to do it straight away while things are fresh in my mind, rather than go away for a month and have to drag myself back to complete the job."

Having set up the tournament, Kirton intends to enjoy his labour. He plans to see as many matches as possible and every team at least once. "If England cannot win, then I have a suspicion that Spain might do it," he said. "I've got a feeling that the group that includes them, France, Romania and Bulgaria, is going to produce the best football."

After four long years, he will be happy, no matter the excitement quotient. Just as long as the football kicks off on time and without trouble.

Milestones on the

road to Euro 96

Summer 1990: English clubs readmitted to European competitions after a five-year absence.

Autumn 1990: England launch bid to stage 1998 World Cup and/or 1996 European Championship.

Spring 1991: Decision made to concentrate on bid for Euro 96.

November 1991: FA formally submits bid along with Austria, Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands.

May 1992: Uefa endorses FA's bid.

July 1992: Glen Kirton appointed tournament director.

November 1992: Uefa increases number of finalists from eight to 16.

Spring 1993: Uefa chooses eight stadiums to host Euro 96.

January 1994: Draw for qualifying competition.

October 1994: Launch of ticket sales to the public.

Summer 1995: All eight venues fulfil criteria of being all-seater and having a minimum capacity of 30,000.

December 1995: Draw for the final stages. England and Scotland are paired together in Group A.

Spring 1996: Euro 96 announces the sale of one millionth ticket for the tournament.