In 1956 Sheffield became one of the first cities to officially twin with one behind the iron curtain, partnering with a similar steel and mining-rich place then called Stalino, but later Donetsk.
It is the reason that there is a Shefield Square on the banks of the River Kalmius. In Sheffield there’s a long, busy road called Donetsk Way. And it those links that are one reason the Yorkshire city is now bidding to host next year’s Eurovision song contest, which is coming to the UK but, everyone agrees, should really be in Ukraine.
“We are planning to throw the kitchen sink at it,” said Ben Miskell, a city councillor and lead on the Eurovision for Sheffield bid. “It is a great opportunity to profile our city but also an opportunity to show solidarity and celebrate the people of Ukraine.”
The war is the reason the European Broadcast Union (EBU) this week announced that with “great regret”, Ukraine, the 2022 winner, was not being asked to host “the largest and most complex music competition in the world”.
Instead the UK and the BBC will host on behalf of Ukraine, and the contest to be the venue has already started. Contenders include Glasgow, the bookies’ favourite. Previous hosts in the shape of London, Brighton, Birmingham and Edinburgh. And a string of cities rich in cultural and music heritage including Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, Belfast, Leeds, Newcastle upon Tyne, Aberdeen and Sheffield.
“It was something we leapt at,” said Miskell of the competition to be host city. “Our view is that if it was in the UK then we had a responsibility to throw our hat in the ring. We’ve got a large and developing Ukrainian community in Sheffield and hundreds of families have taken in refugees.”
Plus Sheffield has been twinned to Donetsk since 1956, he said. “We want to use the opportunity to demonstrate that shared heritage because really this Eurovision should be Ukraine’s. We are also the UK’s first city of sanctuary, so welcoming people from around the world is something that is very close to out hearts.”
Hosting Eurovision, this year’s event in Turin was watched by a mind-boggling 161 million people, is an immense undertaking. On Thursday the BBC and EBU sent potential venues details of what would be expected, including having a venue that can hold 10,000 people. Plus there is the security, the welcome party, the European “village”, and two semi-finals.
It is a challenge but one Glasgow, fresh from hosting Cop26, could take on, said Susan Aitken, the leader of the city council.
“Ultimately it comes down to the practical concerns of staging an event of this scale and complexity at short notice. Glasgow is the safest of safe hands in terms of being able to do that. We are ready to go,” she said.
All the bidders know that they are hosting by proxy. “It is Ukraine’s Eurovision and we need to be absolutely clear about that,” she said. “We will be providing a venue on behalf of the people in the nation of Ukraine who won Eurovision 2022 fair and square.”
Plus: which other city can say it features in an Abba song? It might sound like Tesco but the verse in Super Trouper is: “I was sick and tired of everything/ When I called you last night from Glasgow.”
Next year’s event will not be the usual Eurovision, but it still has to be fun. “If there is anywhere that can put on a party, then it’s Glasgow,” said Aitken.
The bookmakers William Hill make Glasgow the odds on favourite to secure the song contest. Much longer odds, of 22/1, can be had for Leeds. But the passion and determination to get it is equally evident.
Jonathan Pryor, the deputy leader of Leeds city council, said it started talking about the possibility of bidding on the night of the contest when it looked like the UK’s Sam Ryder could actually win it.
In West Yorkshire there is “the largest and oldest Ukrainian community in the whole of the UK”, Pryor said. “In fact next year will be the 75th anniversary of the West Yorkshire community making their roots here. Connect that to it being Leeds 2023, a year of culture … it just seems to make sense that it comes here.”
Whichever city is chosen will follow in the footsteps of memorable UK contests. None more so than Brighton in 1974 when the British jury, perhaps ground down by the endless strikes, power cuts and three-day weeks of the time, gave nil points to the eventual winners: Abba and Waterloo.
London, which hosted in 1960, 1963 and 1968, is also going for it, with the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, saying the UK capital would welcome the event with “open arms”.
Eyebrows would be raised if yet another international event went to London. Equally, giving it to a less obvious city comes with more risks.
Eurovision is a much bigger and wilder affair than it was in 1982 when Jan Leeming presented from the new Harrogate convention centre and the BBC had an opening sequence with the question ‘where is Harrogate?’ in every language of those participating.
Harrogate will not be bidding this time but one place that will, and with gusto, is Liverpool, which twinned with Odesa in 1957. Claire McColgan, the director of Culture Liverpool, pointed to its Unesco city of music status and said: “We do things of a scale all the time here that not many other cities do.”
It will not be a normal Eurovision, she said, which makes her city such a strong contender. “Liverpool has huge compassion, a huge heart and a personality that is truly international.
“We will put a huge amount of work into this. It’s something that is a real dream for us to be able to do.”
• This article was amended on 18 August 2022. An earlier version suggested that Sheffield was the first UK city to officially twin with one behind the iron curtain. That was in 1956, after the 1944 twinning of Coventry and Stalingrad (now Volgograd).