The EUROs: "The fan element is one of the most fantastic things, that’s why I love soccer events”
We sat down with our Managing Editor, Andrew Parkinson to discuss all things EUROs; from memorable moments, to how covering the tournament has changed over the years, and what he really thinks about VAR.
What is the best part of covering the EUROs?
One of the great things about covering soccer events compared to multi-sport events, such as the Olympics, is that you get to actually see the athletes, you get to go to training sessions, you see them kicking the ball around and interacting with each other. Sometimes they’ll be a bit naughty and disappear out of sight for the first 10 minutes to stretch, but most of the time you do get to meet them, and I think that is one of the greatest things about covering major soccer events.
Also, the fan element is one of the most fantastic things, that’s why I love soccer events. I know there have been some appalling situations in the past with fans, but my personal experiences have always been positive. It’s mostly just friends and family getting together as fans, sharing some banter, going to see a soccer event and supporting their team. I think that’s great, I love that aspect of it.
What are the challenges with this year's format currently being split over multiple countries?
In some ways having it in multiple countries has made it easier, because we have a great network of international crews and producers who live in these different locations, we can get crews on the ground easily. So, this time round there has been far less planning involved in terms of getting crews in and out of places. Whereas normally when it is hosted in just one country, we have to get a group of crews "great network of international crews and producers"together at a base and then spread those crews out across the different venues around the country. One aspect we thought might be a problem was around training, however training seems to be happening in their own countries, so again that has worked out a lot easier for us.
However, the issue we’ve got now is that current plans for the tournament are very much up in the air due to the COVID situation, therefore planning coverage around the matches and training, and confirming what sort of coverage will be supplied to us is proving tricky. How will that be organised in the current environment? Again, like so many other things uncertainty is the main concern and it’s very difficult to plan when things are so uncertain.
Going forward, would you like the tournament to be split across multiple cities?
I think that's an interesting question, as it does have some benefits. Being an international European event split across multiple cities gives smaller European countries, that may have difficulty hosting the entire tournament, a chance to host a few games. Otherwise, it just ends up being a rotation of the usual larger host nations such as Italy, Germany, England, and France, so I can see why they have gone for a multi-country approach. However, I suspect because of what’s happened with COVID, and the complexities of organising the event this time around, I don’t think we’ll see this format happen again for a while.
What is your most memorable EURO’s moment?
EURO96 holds a lot of memorable moments for me, England thrashing the Dutch 4-1, football coming home, and then the terrifying memory of losing to Germany in the penalty shootout. Then more recently when Spain won the tournament in 2008, their first major tournament win for a while, that was great.
What impact do you think the delay of EURO 2020 has had?
If you’re talking about the teams in the tournament, particularly England, I think the delay has been good for them, they’re a very young team, with some very young players so to have one more year playing together, I think will have improved them. "desire by UEFA to have some fans at the grounds"
From the tournament’s perspective, I don’t think it’s made a huge impact as football has managed to get itself back playing quite easily and the players are now quite used to playing in front of no crowds. But what I think is interesting is the real desire by UEFA to have some fans at the grounds when the tournament starts, and that if grounds won’t be able to have fans in them, they’ll have the games taken away. At last, there is a realisation that fans are an integral part of any sporting event. And if you don't look after them, or take them for granted, then actually, the sport itself will suffer, because I think sport without crowds is quite pointless.
Due to the delay do you think there will be any shock exits or surprises from the tournament?
I think Germany is going through a transitional phase, but I wouldn’t write any German team off as they tend to get to a tournament, and no matter how bad they've been doing they actually perform well. You would also be unwise to write off the French team, they’re fantastic and full of hugely talented players and Mbappé has the ability to destroy any team.
I think the Portuguese team is interesting, my feeling is that Ronaldo has been, without doubt, one of the best players in the world, and probably one of the best ever. However, there does come a point with a team where your strength is also your weakness. I think he’s maybe in some ways holding that team back; they’ve got some fantastic players in their squad, but they have to play a certain way to have him play at his best.
Also, when you compare the EUROs to the World Cup you realise that the competition is much tighter because there are a lot of good European teams, so there could be some potential upsets.
How has covering the tournament changed over the years?
I think covering the tournament has become easier over the years and technology has made a huge difference, producers and video journalists are self-contained units now. They can shoot footage, write scripts, produce edits, and send the content out. Whereas before you had to physically get a tape to somewhere and then send it back to edit, so that’s massively changed for the better.
Also, the organisation around the teams is more professional than it was, especially in terms of giving the media more access. Team "There is a different fan base coming through now and I think players are aware of that."s are a lot more open than they used to be and are becoming incredibly well organised. You could attribute this to the influence of sponsors who are encouraging teams to be more open and push key messages.
Then there are the players themselves who are a lot more aware of media news coverage. Some players are more cooperative than others and that is probably to do with their perception of how they feel the press is trying to portray them. Then there is of course social media, where players and athletes get the opportunity to say what they want via their own social channels on their own terms.
Younger audiences' perception of these players and how younger fans regard these athletes has massively changed. For example, younger fans, like my son, rarely watch a full football match, but their knowledge of European football is huge, most likely better than mine. This is because they consume media in short form and play video games and retain all the stats. There is a different fan base coming through now and I think players are aware of that. The ability to communicate and have a relationship with this different fan base doesn’t necessarily come through ‘traditional media' – they’re not reading the daily newspaper, they're not watching live TV, they're watching their social media feeds, they're on digital sites and viewing online videos. I think players nowadays are more aware that that's how they want to communicate to their fans.
For the first time VAR is being used at the EUROs, what do you think the impact of that will be? Have lessons been learnt since the last World Cup?
The problem with VAR is that everyone who wanted it doesn’t like it now because everything is now black and white. For example, there are situations where an elbow is offside causing what most fans would regard as being a perfectly legitimate goal to be disallowed. Football has yet to go with a system more like cricket where there is an umpire's call, which is where you can be wrong and yet right, for example, the ball can hit the wicket, but because there’s not enough of the ball hitting the wicket it’s not out. Football doesn’t allow for this kind of judgement call.
However, they seem to have got the handball situation under control now, so maybe they will end up tweaking the offside rule too, to consider where the main part of your body is positioned, which I think is needed. The rules that we currently have are rules that were set before VAR, and maybe we need to change the rules to accommodate VAR now. What’s clear is that it’s here to stay, and as fans, I think we have to accept that and understand that sometimes certain things will happen that we don’t like. "I think the concussion rule is a far more important discussion than VAR at the moment."
What I think is more important is the concussions ruling, which is something football does need to address. For it to work they need to have an independent doctor and as soon as someone is hit on the head, they leave the field to be assessed and replaced for 10 minutes. I think the concussion rule is a far more important discussion than VAR at the moment.
And finally, if you could pick any 2 European teams to be in your ideal match who would they be?
I’m biased here as I’m an England fan, so any game of theirs is great for me, so England vs Scotland would be good, but I just love England vs Germany matches, they’re just totally different to any other. I think for all England fans there is a genuine healthy rivalry between us and Germany – unfortunately, it’s not one that we tend to win too often. So, I think that’s the game I would love to see at the EUROs with England winning 7-0 ideally.
We would like to say a special thanks to Andrew for taking the time to talk to us and for sharing his experiences.
Look out for our second discussion with Andrew focussing on the Tokyo Olympics, his experiences at past games and the challenges faced this time around.