The European Champion Clubs’ Cup will return to its roots on Wednesday when Arsenal FC play FC Barcelona at the Stade de France, half a century after the first final took place in Paris. The competition was effectively born in the French capital after Gabriel Hanot, the former editor of French sports daily L’Equipe, first aired the idea in one of his columns in December 1954. The newspaper immediately began championing Hanot’s proposal and within four months detailed plans for Europe’s premier inter-continental club competition were being thrashed out by representatives from 15 leading clubs at Paris’s Ambassador Hotel.
By that time the late Hanot had long been regarded as one of football’s most respected figures. Born in Arras in 1889, he was an outstanding defender and represented Les Bleus eleven times before the First World War, returning as captain for one game in 1919. Hanot later launched himself into journalism, writing initially for the Le Miroir des Sports newspaper on such subjects as golf, aviation and, of course, football. The concise and frank way in which he expressed his views saw him emerge as one of French football’s most authoritative voices.
He remained close to the playing side too, establishing one of France’s first youth training schemes known as ‘le concours de jeunes footballeurs’, and pioneering the switch to professionalism in 1932. Hanot later introduced the Ballon d’Or award, still seen by many as the most prestigious individual honour in the game.
Yet the latter stages of his career were the most remarkable of all. Following the Second World War, he landed the dual role of managing the French national team and working as editor of both L’Equipe and France Football magazine. One of his most celebrated articles appeared in the aftermath of a humiliating 5-1 home defeat by Spain in 1949. Having written a series of withering attacks on his players the following day, an unsigned article was published 24 hours later stating: “
The manager alone has not succeeded this season. If it is enough to condemn one man, we will replace him.” Later that day Hanot resigned.
‘A remarkable man’
Jacques Ferran, who worked alongside Hanot at L’Equipe, is now 86, and still has vivid memories of his former colleague. “Hanot was a remarkable man,” Ferran told uefa.com this week. “He was well educated having studied in Berlin before the war and spoke German and English fluently. But he was also a wonderful journalist who loved to travel and knew so much about so many subjects.”
One of Hanot’s trips ultimately provided inspiration that would change the history of football. “One day Hanot told us he was going to England to see Wolverhampton Wanderers FC play Honved and FC Spartak Moskva,” said Ferran. Wolves won both games and, to Hanot’s surprise, the English newspaper the Daily Mail proudly ran the headline: ‘Hail Wolves, champions of the world now’. Hanot felt that with clubs like Real Madrid CF and Milan AC the claim was farfetched and suggested in L’Equipe that “a European championship be organised between clubs. Then Wolves really could prove they are the best.”
‘They loved the idea’
The next day L’Equipe’s football editor Jacques de Ryswick wrote an article outlining proposals for a European super league, and some vigorous lobbying followed. “Everyone at the paper realised it was a fantastic idea, for the clubs and the supporters,” said Ferran. “Our boss Jacques Goddet also knew that it represented a perfect opportunity to increase sales.” The key would be getting Europe’s biggest clubs to back the plans, but as Ferran explains: “They all loved the idea. Real Madrid’s reaction was the most positive – their president Santiago Bernabéu sent us a letter immediately saying they were behind us. [RSC] Anderlecht didn’t want a league format. They suggested knockout would be better as we could play under lights in midweek and it wouldn’t interfere with domestic leagues.”
Ferran wrote the first set of rules by hand: 16 teams would be invited, each round would comprise of home and away matches, and the final would take place in Paris. Along with Hanot, he boarded a train to Vienna to present the plans at UEFA’s first congress. UEFA wanted to launch a competition between nations, but after L’Equipe succeeded in gathering many of European football’s leading figures in Paris – including Bernabéu, Hungary coach Gusztav Sebes and Switzerland boss Karl Rappan – UEFA agreed to organise the competition.
‘An exhilarating draw’
On 4 September, 1955, Hanot’s visionary idea of nine months earlier became a reality as Sporting Clube de Portugal played FK Partizan in the competition’s opening game, paving the way for 50 years of high drama. “From the first game onwards the competition has been fantastic,” enthused Ferran. “It was an exhilarating 3-3 draw played in front of a packed stadium. We knew at that moment we had created something very special.”
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