As Wembley Stadium prepares to host the final act of EURO 2020, we talk to the UEFA venue manager responsible for ensuring the show runs smoothly.
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UEFA venue manager for Wembley at EURO 2020
EURO 2004 (Portugal)
EURO 2008 (Austria and Switzerland)
• Gap-closer and troubleshooter
• Coordinator, keeping the bigger picture in mind
• Manager who adapts to new cultures
How would you describe the role of a UEFA venue manager at EURO 2020?
In the preparation phase, it's our job to make sure that all the pieces of this giant puzzle fit together, that there is no overlap and that all local regulations are respected in terms of health, safety, authorisations, etc. Coordination and cooperation with the local organising structure is of utmost importance. Building a trustworthy relationship is key to the success of the event.
During the final set-up and tournament phase, our role changes into venue team management, with a focus on personnel and coordination. There are 100 people on my organisational chart, including 24 direct reports, covering a range of operational roles: from commercial rights' protection and logistics to hospitality, television, and venue signage.
What does your day look like, from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed?
Every matchday starts quite early with a venue team meeting, involving about 30 people. These include updates from the other ten venues or from UEFA's EURO 2020 Hub in Nyon (Switzerland), weather checks, key timings, and operational changes. It's followed by official meetings with all stakeholders.
Venue managers spend an average of seven hours at the venue coordination centre (VCC) – from five hours before kick-off to two hours after the final whistle. During this time, the VCC team is the central point for escalating any issues.
At Wembley, we are based in the stadium control room, where we monitor everything via screens. It's very isolated – there are no windows! – but we can escape to a gantry. During the tournament, we have created a little routine by lining up together on the gantry to watch the opening ceremony.
For a moment, we can taste the atmosphere and remind ourselves why we do all of this – the long hours, the stress, not seeing family and friends as much as we would like, and the endless packed lunches. And you know what, it's worth it! Our venue team is fantastic and has produced a great show for every single matchday.
The EURO is a five-week marathon – how do you pace yourself and your team?
From the start of the set-up phase, ahead of the tournament, until the second round of matches, it's non-stop. After that, we get into a routine, giving members of the team more time to recuperate by taking a day or half-day off. That could mean going into the city, taking a walk in a park. Not coming to the stadium is a favourite downtime activity.
How has the pandemic changed your job?
It's completely different; we could not organise any social events. Building a team spirit required much more creativity. The length of the lockdown brought another level of difficulty. Staff members arrived at the event after enduring months of mental and physical fatigue. This meant taking emotional factors into consideration more than normal.
I would like to make a special reference to our volunteers, as they have been impacted most of all. In normal times, UEFA organises lots of activities to thank the volunteers for their invaluable support during the tournament: parties, games, giant screens to watch football together, etc. Unfortunately, to protect health and safety during EURO 2020, these events had to be cancelled.
Similarly, most training sessions took place online. This took some of the fun out of being a volunteer. Despite this, they have remained committed and performed incredibly well. A massive thanks to all of them!
What was the immediate impact of EURO 2020's 12-month postponement?
The workload exploded for many projects because everything had to be redesigned to incorporate new mitigation measures. Operations had to be reviewed and all venue layouts had to be redesigned. This was a massive job, done in a couple of months.
Strangely enough, preparing an event while working from home did not create too many difficulties. Rather than slowing down projects, online meetings were more efficient. People were more focused and better prepared. Technology like VISTA enabled us to see the Wembley venue without being present!
The biggest positive has been people's resilience and passion for the EURO 2020 project. Not letting go, despite doubts about playing matches in Wembley and having fans present. We have always prepared for the best-case scenario – staging the climax of EURO 2020 in a packed stadium!