MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF '96: Kirton rises to the occasion

European Championship: FA's master of ceremonies warms up for football festival as home rivals gear up for combat: Ian Ridley meets the man who must bring Europe a smooth tournament
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT IS a little like Christmas dinner: it takes hours to prepare and is all over in minutes. For Glen Kirton, the three weeks of the European Championship finals in England in June will have taken six years of his life to organise.

Kirton was the FA's head of external affairs, responsible for commercial matters, public relations and international administration when it decided in the summer of 1990 to prepare a bid for Euro '96. A year later Kirton submitted it to Uefa, and in Lisbon on 6 May 1992 England was awarded the finals.

Two months later, Kirton was appointed tournament director. "My mother- in-law always says when you go on holiday to make a list, so that's what I did," he says. "For a couple of months I wrote down everything I could think of, talked to everybody with the relevant experience, such as the Germans, who hosted the finals in 1988, and the Swedes, who ran the 1992 tournament, and read all the documentation."

The process has not always gone smoothly or been without criticism, but gradually the items have been ticked off: ticketing, marketing, travel arrangements and, most important given the reputation of the English, security. Now the draw has been made, Kirton has to switch from broad brush to sketch in the detail. There are, for example, 1,500 volunteers to be appointed and the policing needs of each match must be determined.

The first challenge four years ago came when Uefa decided on a 16-team finals for the first time. Kirton and his assistant, Adrian Titcombe, the only FA staff on full-time secondment, had to appoint four centre directors, each responsible for two venues.

"We had an advantage over Italy's World Cup in 1990, for instance, in that we didn't have any major structural developments in things like roads, and we had the fall-back that all our grounds had to be all-seater by 1994-95 because of the Taylor Report," Kirton says. "That was not the real challenge. That came in an area that the public doesn't really see, in the installation of a computer system for office automation, accreditation, information - all the things needed for a modern tournament."

Such a system would have cost the FA pounds 10m, so an official supplier was needed. One was found and naturally they wanted due credit on the TV coverage, something that took long negotiation with the tournament's official marketing agents, ISL, and the European Broadcasting Union. Agreement was reached only last September.

Travel arrangements for incoming fans were granted to an English company but no longer in the form of exclusive ticket-and-hotel packages, which Kirton believes are illegal under European Community laws. A brochure for competing teams was also compiled, comprising hotels and training grounds. The Germans were beaten to the facilities they wanted in Leeds by the Spanish.

Ticket allocation has so far been the biggest bone of contention. Of the 1.3 million available, a minimum of 421,000 go to the visiting teams; 7,000 per team per match. Since the draw, sales have been stopped for the nine most in-demand group matches - all three at Wembley, Scotland's other two games, Germany v Italy, and the three in Nottingham - so the best way of allotting the remainder can be decided. There should be more for Scottish fans, Kirton says.

Cost is inevitably an issue, along with the maximum allocation of four per person. "It's the price we have to pay," Kirton says. "It means that if you do have four Nazi saluters together, you are not going to have another 20 around them." Kirton accepts that there will always be maverick hooligans but that police intelligence will help make the tournament as trouble-free as is humanly possible.

More than 200,000 vistors are expected, bringing in some pounds 125m, the tourist industry has estimated. Once here, they can expect the host cities to lay on such events as five-a-side tournaments, football exhibitions, rock and jazz festivals and street theatre.

"This is not just a football event," Kirton says. "It is a chance for England to show what it can do. We hope to establish to the world community that this is not a bad place to come, perhaps for a World Cup in the future - although Germany are ahead in the pecking order as future European hosts - or for the Olympic Games."

For that reason, the cost of the extravaganza is secondary: "Excellence comes before profit," Kirton says. Any reasonable loss will be underwritten by Uefa; profit will come if grounds are 75 to 85 per cent full. Stewarding will be the responsibility of the host clubs. As for the volunteer drivers and interpreters, some 2,000 names are already on file, recruited through county football associations and the universities.

"What I would like to see is a job well done for English football," Kirton says. "Also, I'd like to see another couple of hundred thousand kids taking up football next year because they have seen a wonderful event and another one to two million people coming to watch the professional game. And England's captain carrying the Cup around Wembley."