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Euro 2016 draw against low-key opposition shows up fully the FA’s folly of
rebuilding Wembley. Instead of investing the money in grass-roots and more
skills coaches, the FA chose to spend £757m on a ground it hardly needs,
which it will struggle to get close to filling for the qualifiers against
San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia, although the match with main
Group E rivals Switzerland should sell out.
The FA is now planning to cut ticket prices, as well as attempting to lure
prestigious friendly foes to help with repayments.
According to its latest figures, the FA still owes £277m on Wembley and its
commercial department soon has to begin a marketing campaign for the
majority of Wembley’s 17,000 debenture seats up for renewal in 2017.
Asked whether the fans would turn up at Wembley for the qualifiers, Roy
Hodgson said: “Well, I don’t know. It’s a good question.
“I’ll have to leave the job of (filling) Wembley to someone else. I’d
like to think with our performances and the way we play that we will do it
but I do understand the point.”
The fault partly lies with Uefa after expanding the
Euros from 16 teams to 24, meaning that the qualifying journey
loses much of its jeopardy element. The top two from each group qualify
automatically along with the best third-placed side and four of the other
eight third-placed sides after a play-off. “If we don’t qualify people will
say we’ll have done very badly,” observed Hodgson.
As the FA is contractually obliged to stage internationals at Wembley, there
is no possibility of England resuming the road-show to Premier League
grounds that proved so popular when rebuilding was going on while Cardiff’s
Millennium Stadium proved a capable home for the FA Cup final.
“We are very aware that we need to price appropriately and make it as
attractive as possible,” said the chief executive of Club England Adrian
“What we’ve found at Wembley is that the crowds we get are probably greater
than any other nation in Europe and we’re not being arrogant there. You can
go and watch England’s senior team play if you are a family with young
children for a very reasonable price. We will probably increase our family
“We have to make sure we get the friendly opposition to be attractive, to make
sure we get teams who are much higher seeded. We will have four friendly
matches a year (September, November, March and June).We’ve got to sit down
with Roy and the commercial department.
I’m confident we will still get good crowds at Wembley.”
The San Marino coach, Pierangelo Manzaroli, said: “It doesn’t matter for us
where the game is played. It’s an honour for us to play England every time.
If it could be at Wembley like the last match that would be great, but if
not there why not Liverpool? I love the Liverpool team.”
Wales’ manager, Chris Coleman, whose team were placed in Group B, made the
general point that his side play their internationals at Cardiff City
“We’d rather have 30,000 at Cardiff City than have 45,000 or 50,000 at the
Millennium because unless it’s full with the roof on then you lose the
atmosphere,” said Coleman.
But England have to play home games at Wembley in what should be a procession
towards France. Their route to Paris looks so straightforward that the men
who wear the cross of St George can already see themselves boarding at St
Uefa’s general secretary, Gianni Infantino, predicted “some fierce
qualifiers” but it would take a remarkable meltdown for England not to
emerge from Group E. With England set fair for Euro 2016, the FA will at
some point have to make a decision on whether or not to extend Hodgson’s
“That is something that hasn’t been discussed,” said Bevington. “We have a
contract with Roy in place to 2016. He is doing a good job.”
For an England manager, Hodgson has an easy job in qualifying.
First up is Switzerland away on Sep 8 followed by San Marino at home on Oct 9,
a Thursday date under Uefa’s controversial “Week of Football” approach when
Hodgson hopes that there will be no major Premier League games the preceding
Sunday. It is still only San Marino.
England travel three days later to Estonia on Oct 12.
Frustrated at reduced preparation times, Hodgson argued that Uefa’s “Week of
Football” favoured the clubs rather than national teams despite Michel
Platini’s claim that it would “bring the limelight” back to international
“As far as the clubs are concerned, they’ll be happier because it used to be
two weeks for the national teams in these breaks,” said Hodgson. “That got
knocked down to 10 days. Then it was knocked down to nine days. Now it’s
seven or eight days, so the clubs, I would think, are rubbing their hands
all the time because they get the players back quicker all the time. It
could be – if you’re playing Thursday-Sunday – six days.
“For the national teams, though, you don’t have to be a statistician or a
rocket scientist to work out it’s getting harder for us.
We don’t really get the time with the players we would like. We want to do our
bit of tactical work as well, not just the club sides. I don’t understand
how it can be championed as something to help the national teams. If you
want to help the national teams, have more time for preparation.”
England then face Slovenia at home on Nov 15 before the 2015 schedule sees
March 27 against Lithuania at home before a delayed end to the season on
June 14 away to Slovenia. The following season brings San Marino away on Sep
5, Switzerland at home three days later, Estonia at home on Oct 9 before the
final game against Lithuania away on Oct 12.
“I have a lot of time for the Baltic States,” said Hodgson.
As for Switzerland, Hodgson added: “I don’t know about a frisson, but there’s
always a certain amount of nostalgia, especially for with me with
Switzerland, they were four fantastic years and I enjoy a certain reputation
in the country. So, it was quite nice to get them.”
Vladimir Petkovic, who takes over Switzerland for qualifying for 2016, said:
“We’ll be full of respect, whether we’re playing England or San Marino, but
we won’t have any fear and we’ll go into every game playing to win. It will
be a great occasion in Switzerland to play against Roy Hodgson, someone who
is still cherished in Swiss football.”
The Slovenia coach, Srecko Katanec, said: “For us it’s a good draw. We have
England and Switzerland, but it would be more difficult to play against
Spain, Holland or Germany”. Estonia’s coach, Magnus Pehrsson, appeared for
Bradford City. “I played one game when Chris Kamara was the coach and I got
to play in central midfield with Chris Waddle,” said the Swede.
This time, there were no cut-throat gestures as the FA chairman Greg Dyke did
when England were given a tricky World Cup final group-stage draw in
December. Hodgson, Bevington and general secretary Alex Horne stayed
expressionless. “There were three wise men there,” deadpanned Hodgson. “We
were like three Buster Keatons.” Speechless with delight at the draw but
they still have to avoid silent nights at Wembley.