Seven years have passed since Hampden Park was selected as one of the original 12 host cities to stage UEFA EURO 2020.
The aspiration then was that the national stadium would be more than a venue and that Scotland would not simply be hospitable hosts but active participants.
Today, that 2020 vision has become a reality, albeit a year later than anticipated as a result of the global pandemic that remains in our midst.
In Glasgow Green the doors have opened – with necessary safety and public health measures in place – for the Official Fan Zone. The tournament is now under way across Europe and tomorrow the spotlight shines on Glasgow.
At this juncture, I would like to reiterate the thoughts and prayers of the Scottish FA to Christian Eriksen, his family and our colleagues at the DBU.
The scenes in Copenhagen put the trivialities of football into perspective and we commend the heroism and solidarity of Christian’s team-mates in his time of need.
As we approach our opening group match against Czech Republic, the impact of Scotland’s achievement in qualifying cannot be underestimated, bringing to an end 23 years of enviously watching major men’s tournaments through the looking glass.
Following in the footsteps of the Scotland Women’s National Team, who qualified for UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 and FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, Steve Clarke has restored the men’s squad to what for decades had been its rightful place.
Qualification represents not just the culmination of hard work from the players and coaches who embarked on the journey through the Nations League and Play-Off route but an elixir for a nation on the long road to recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
A country with football in its DNA can be brought that bit closer together by the success of the national team. In the context of the devastating impact the virus has had on the health and wellbeing of friends and family, communities and businesses, and the civil liberties that society had taken for granted, Monday’s opening match against Czech Republic, in front of 12,000 lucky supporters, represents more than a game.
The players who ended the enduring disappointment in Belgrade and the 26 who have made the final squad will be part of Scottish football’s history, irrespective of the fates that lie ahead against Czech Republic, England and Croatia.
Success will run much deeper and endure longer than the results on the pitch. A generation of young Scots can now aspire to emulate heroes in the national game.
Last month, the Scottish FA launched its new strategic plan, The Power of Football. Our stated vision for the national game is ‘to harness the power of football to inspire the nation and transform lives.
Recently I wrote to the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, to plead on behalf of every boy and girl across the country to have supporting Scotland as part of the curriculum.
Being able to appreciate their skills tomorrow, we hope, can be an education in itself and create lifelong memories for the next generation. It is our hope that schools across the country can accommodate the request and use the power of football to fuel the hopes and dreams of those who represent our future.
I am also acutely aware of the juxtaposition of welcoming UEFA EURO 2020 to Hampden Park whilst football pitches within a goalkeeper’s kick-out of the national stadium remain closed. I have alluded to the impact of COVID-19 across all aspects of life, not least the effort of national and local government in keeping the country safe.
None the less, the Scottish FA cannot in good conscience entertain the notion of football pitches not reopening. Not when some of those pitches, such as the Barlia Complex in Castlemilk, represent a beacon of hope for an entire community in an area that has a proud tradition of producing international players.
And not when the social return on investment of the game in Scotland is conservatively estimated by UEFA to be more £1bn.
We have been in ongoing dialogue with Glasgow Life to find a sustainable solution to the economic challenge. But it requires a wider, longer-term and strategic discussion with Scottish Government, sportscotland and partners to safeguard football facilities at risk across the country. These pitches and playing areas support over 2500 football clubs and enable hundreds of thousands of people to be active and improve the health and wellbeing of the nation. I believe more can and should be done to preserve existing facilities in Scotland.
On behalf of the Scottish FA, I wish all our visitors a safe and enjoyable UEFA EURO 2020 experience in Glasgow. I would also urge all fans to follow the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 guidelines and ask all who are attending to take the added precaution of a lateral flow test for extra peace of mind before entering Hampden Park. Finally, given the ongoing restrictions caused by the pandemic, I would encourage any Scotland supporter who does not have a match ticket for our game against England on 18 June not to travel to London. Please, stay safe and enjoy the game locally.
For our fans and the nation as a whole, I hope you can savour the occasion and share special memories with friends and family that will last a lifetime. My wish is that the power of Scottish football can endure throughout UEFA EURO 2020 and beyond.