Is Stewart Milne Telling Dons Fans the Truth about ‘No European Football’ at Pittodrie?
Aberdeen FC Chairman Stewart Milne has repeatedly warned that the club faces playing European games in Glasgow or Edinburgh in future.
In a recent interview, he stated that AFC “will soon not meet the criteria to host UEFA games.”
Is that ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’?
We have put together this article to look into the facts (supported by source reference links), and to help you decide the answer to the question we have posed, “Is Stewart Milne Telling Dons Fans the Truth about ‘No European Football’ at Pittodrie?”
First: a look at the UEFA categories
Pittodrie Stadium has been described as ‘caught in the boundary’ between a UEFA Category 3 / 4 football Stadium. Category 4 is also known as ‘Elite’
UEFA stadium categories are categories for football stadiums laid out in the UEFA Stadium Infrastructure Regulations. Using these regulations, stadiums are rated as category one, two, three, or elite (in order going up). These categories replaced the old method of ranking stadiums as four or five star in 2006. A stadium must be categorised as elite to host the final of the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Europa League (source: Simple Wikipedia, see also Table at the end of this article).
Since UEFA do not produce a list of compliant and categorised stadia, there is some confusion about which stadia comply with which category. It can be very useful to predicate an argument on a confused basis. That way the ‘goal posts’ (pardon the pun) are easier to move.
According to World Stadium Database, at present the only stadium in Scotland which meets UEFA Category 4 (Elite) standard is the national stadium, Hampden Park (52,025 capacity). From the same source, England has two Category 4 stadia: Wembley (90,000) and Old Trafford (75,957), but we all know that England has had between 4 and 6 teams playing every year in European competitions (particularly UEFA Champions League).
On the other hand, for Scotland, Wikistadiums.org adds Ibrox Stadium (51,082) to the ‘Elite’ list but curiously not Celtic Park, which has a higher capacity (60,832).
To bring some realism into this examination the stadia mentioned above have capacities around 2.5 to 4.5 times that of either Pittodrie or the proposed Kingsford Stadium. Clearly the stadia mentioned above are of a different order.
The SFA position
According to the Scottish Football Association, their UEFA Club Licensing Criteria (Article 24, Minimum UEFA Requirement) states: “The stadium must be approved by the Scottish FA and fulfil all minimum requirements defined in the “UEFA Stadium Infrastructure Regulations” at least to Category 2 level and any exceptions as agreed between UEFA and the Scottish FA.”
Did you read that? We will repeat it. Stadia which comply with Category 2 level can be used for UEFA competitions!
So, it’s all about seating capacity, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
We’ve reproduced Table 1 at the end of this article. Note that the minimum seating capacity for each UEFA Category is as follows):
- Category 2 1,500
- Category 3 4,500
- Category 4 8,000
Clearly Category 2 is designed to allow smaller clubs
(and from ‘lesser leagues
’ like the Faroes, Gibraltar, Ireland, Luxembourg and Wales) to play in UEFA competitions.
Across the whole sphere of European football there are many different types of stadia available to clubs and used each season. Some are old, some upgraded, some new, and some well past their ‘sell-by’ date. But essentially a stadium has to be pretty run down (broken seats, crumbling standing terraces, dangerous stadium accesses) for UEFA to state ‘you cannot play UEFA football here’. In fact, UEFA have to have such ‘low’ standards to enable these clubs to take part in the European tournaments.
Other Scottish clubs who’ve played in Europe
From Scotland, since 2006 (when the current rules were introduced), the following clubs (with their respective stadium capacities) have taken part in UEFA competitions:
Could other Scottish clubs play European football at their own grounds?
- Dundee United (14,209)
- Dunfermline Athletic (11,904)
- Falkirk (9,706)
- Heart of Midlothian (17,420)
- Hibernian (20,420)
- Inverness Caledonian Thistle (7,500).
- Motherwell (13,750) and
- St Johnstone (10,673).
In terms of its 20,961 capacity, Pittodrie has sufficient seating for UEFA Category 4 (Elite).
Indeed, all SPL clubs, and a number of lower-league clubs, including St Mirren and Clyde (with capacities of 8,023 and 8,006 respectively) would qualify for Category 4 under the same test.
But the minimum requirement (Category 2, which the SFA impose) is 1,500. Thus, on the ’capacity test’, for example, UEFA football could be played at the grounds of:
Only other minor changes
Before a UEFA tie, adjustments need to be made by the club with regard to factors such as adjusting the pitch line size, making satisfactory media room facilities available inside the stadium, and having suitable VIP areas for visiting delegates and guests. These are detailed in Table 1. At Category 2 these adjustments (indeed, if needed beyond normal match practices) are not onerous.
Thus, Pittodrie at the current time is able to host UEFA Europa League matches and (assuming that the club are targeting the Group Stages of the UEFA Europa League) the stadium can host UEFA football matches for the foreseeable future.
This article is not about whether the club should remain at Pittodrie, although redeveloping the stadium there, and the availability of adjacent Kings Links is clearly an option for Aberdeen FC.
No, we are simply seeking to explore the elements of question we asked at the outset, “Is Stewart Milne Telling Dons Fans the Truth about ‘No European Football’ at Pittodrie?”
We know from the many Aberdeen supporters who ‘know the score’ (yes, another pun requiring a pardon) and are in contact with us, that Pittodrie is not ‘incredibly run down’, as has been claimed by the club’s directors.
It may not currently have state of the art media zones but this does not infringe on football taking place. Pittodrie has good access from Aberdeen Airport, the train station and via roads. It has good turnstile entry, is all seated, has corporate facilities in the RDS as well as media areas inside the stadium. It is able to host live TV and multimedia broadcast. The dressing rooms for the players appear to have been upgraded recently.
UEFA club competition would never be able to happen logistically in the early rounds if UEFA deemed the stadia of clubs ‘unfit’ for purpose. There is a huge difference between the type of facilities needed for Champions League football and Europa League matches.
Likewise, there is a huge difference between crumbling stadiums in Eastern Europe (which UEFA often deem unsuitable) and Pittodrie Stadium which has hosted both club and international UEFA football in recent years.
Over the past 3 seasons only two of Aberdeen’s away fixtures in Europe have been played in reasonably new ‘stadia’, and these were away in Groningen and in Maribor. Indeed, in the case of Maribor’s Ljudski Vrt Stadium despite upgrades, it has a capacity of only 12,500 and has roots in the 1950s. This has not prevented that club competing successfully at the highest level of both UEFA Champions League and Europa League Group Stage football.
So what else could be the problem with Pittodrie?
Keep in mind that all we are doing is analysing the question, “Is Stewart Milne Telling Dons Fans the Truth about ‘No European Football’ at Pittodrie?”
If the stadium capacity can’t be the problem, and the minor adjustments needed don’t appear problematic, what else could be the problem.
Perhaps a clue can be found in the ‘Aberdeen Community Arena Full Business Case’. This was part of the AFC application for the Loirston development (for which the club received permission to build a stadium in 2011, then later withdrew, although could still do so there.)
On the section on “Existing Stadium” (i.e. Pittodrie), the report stated (emphasis ours):
“The pitch width and run off areas currently do not meet UEFA standards (at present there is a maximum pitch dimension of 105 x 66m as opposed to the requirement to have 105 x 68m
). In addition, a track area of 5m is required
, Pittodrie has 1½m. The pitch fails to comply with International Rugby Board (IRB) specifications
in terms of width and track area
. Pittodrie can therefore only host low-key internationals
. These issues could be accommodated with redevelopment of the Main and south stands to a smaller footprint within the confines of the existing boundaries, however the impact on the day-to-day running of the Club would be severe and the solution would be an extreme compromise.”
The Pittodrie pitch complies with UEFA Category 2, which allows a width from 64 to 68 metres. So that can’t be the problem.
There are 5 metres… and then there are 5 metres!
So what of this ‘track area of 5m’. Is that a UEFA requirement? Well, kind of.
Article 8 of the UEFA Stadium Infrastructure Regulations
.is about ‘substitutes’ benches’. It states “The stadium must be equipped with two covered benches at pitch level, each with seating room for at least 13 people and positioned at least 5m from the touchline
Problem apparently solved. But hang on. What about the ‘track’? What do the UEFA regulations say about that? Actually, they don’t say anything.
But the other ‘specifications’ mentioned do.
Warning – you are now entering another ‘sporting experience’
People talk of ‘parallel universes’ or ‘alternate realties’. Both terms relate to a topic that encourages much head-scratching amongst astronomers and particle physicists – and sometimes those of us evaluating AFC statements.
Continuing along that vein, according to World Rugby’s Laws of the Game
, and on the subject of pitch dimensions we read: “The field of play does not exceed 100 metres in length….The playing area does not exceed 70 metres in width….The length and breadth of the playing area are to be as near as possible to the dimensions indicated.”
Then, with regard to ‘International seven-a-side matches’: “the dimensions should be as close to the maximum sizes as possible, and not less than
94 metres in length for the field of play, 68 metres in width
, and with a minimum in-goal length of 6 metres. Unions wishing to vary minimum or maximum dimensions should apply for dispensation to World Rugby.”
This seems to make rather more sense in terms of the statement above: “Pittodrie can therefore only host low-key internationals.” Not football internationals, rugby internationals.
But what about this ‘track area of 5m’?
From the Rugby’s Laws of the Game, we read that it requires a ‘perimeter area’. This is “a strip of ground
surrounding the playing area, if possible at least 5 metres wide
. This area is there to prevent injury when players are tackled into touch or end up running off the pitch.”
So the 68 metre width has as much to do with Rugby and Rugby Sevens
, as it has with UEFA Category 3 and 4 stadia (which AFC don’t need to comply with). The 5 metre perimeter area is purely for rugby
The problem is that there is hardly a hint of rugby in the club’s planning application, and certainly nothing relating to rugby or rugby internationals in the various transport assessments within the application.
We have no idea how many rugby games they plan to host, what the attendances will be, what the transport arrangements will be ore any other aspect of theses matches.
What, then, of the other 5 metres?
Back to football that refers to “two covered benches at pitch level, each with seating room for at least 13 people and positioned at least 5m from the touchline
It has nothing to do with a ‘track’. Other clubs with stands quite near the playing pitch have simply built this area into the stand itself (for example, Old Trafford). If this really is ‘THE
UEFA issue’ a competent bricklayer (and the Chairman must surely know one), could solve the problem quickly, and at minimal cost.
And what about ‘UEFA dispensations’?
Often conflated with the ‘5 metre issue’ is that AFC is currently operating under a ‘UEFA dispensation’. A ‘dispensation’ is simply another term for an ‘agreed exception’. Who obtains these? As the national football association within a supranational framework, it is the SFA
which negotiates any agreed exceptions or ‘dispensations’ from UEFA
, as their UEFA Club Licensing Criteria
makes clear. And they do so on behalf of all Scottish football clubs
Pittodrie is compliant with UEFA regulations
Why are AFC promoting this ridiculous myth about UEFA? Because it can be declared as a “fact” and used as a commercial reason for moving the club. If UEFA prevent European Football at Pittodrie then that would mean the end of European Football for the majority of qualifying clubs in Europe. It simply isn’t going to happen.
| Table 1: UEFA stadia categories and criteria
|Field of play
||100 to 105 m long,
64 to 68 m wide
||105 m long, 68 m wide
|Minimum size of referee’s dressing room
||to suit broadcaster
||800 lux, to fixed cameras
||1400 lux, to fixed cameras
||1400 lux, all directions
|Spectator standing allowed
|Minimum Seated capacity
|Minimum total VIP seats
|VIP seats for visiting team
|VIP hospitality area
|Minimum media working area
||100 m2 for 50 people
||200 m2 for 75 people
|Minimum number of photographers
|Minimum space for main camera platform
||4 m2 for at least 1 camera
||6 m2 for 2 cameras
||10 m2 for 4 cameras
|Minimum number of seats in the press box
||20, 5 with desks
||20, 10 with desks
||50, 25 with desks
||100, 50 with desks
|Minimum number of commentary positions
|Minimum number of TV studios
that can be converted
||2, at least 1 with a view of the pitch
|Minimum post-match interview positions
|Minimum outside broadcast van area
|Minimum number of seats in press conference room
||at least 1
Note: Aberdeen FC claim to currently be ‘between categories 3 and 4’. Source: Wikipedia