By Jim Wirth
While the UEFA Regions' Cup – which kicks off in Malopolska, Poland this weekend – is only four editions old, the idea of a pan-European amateur football tournament is not a new one.
A tournament for amateur sides was first suggested by the UEFA Amateur Committee in February 1965, and was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee and launched the same year as the UEFA Amateur Cup. However, due to the difficulty in defining what constituted an amateur player, only 12 of the 33 UEFA nations of the time submitted teams.
The original tournament remit insisted that only associations with a professional or non-amateur top division could enter the competition. Thus, the former Eastern Bloc countries - where top sportsmen were still classed as amateurs - and Scandinavian nations, whose top divisions were still amateur, were excluded.
Undeterred, the 12 teams involved played each other home and away in four three-team qualifying groups between February and December 1966 leading to a four-team final tournament in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Austria beat their Scottish counterparts 2-1 on 18 June 1967 to take the title.
The Netherlands triumphed at the second Amateur Cup finals in Forte dei Marmi, Italy, in 1970, while the 1974 final was to prove - literally - a non-event, as West Germany and Yugoslavia agreed to share the title rather than play a final. Yugoslavia would go on to take sole command of the title in 1978, however, as they triumphed in Greece.
With only ten nations having entered the qualifiers, that was to prove the last final until the newly-formed UEFA Committee for Amateur Football decided to resurrect the idea of a continental amateur competition in 1996. This time, the tournament has proved much more successful.
With the Regions' Cup being contested primarily on a regional rather than national basis, Italian representatives Veneto won the inaugural competition on home territory in 1999 with an extra-time final success against Spanish side Madrid. The home side were to be the victors in the 2001 edition of the new tournament too, with the Czech Republic's Central Moravia overcoming Portugal's Braga on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
The 2003 edition saw an Italian team win the title again as Piemonte Valle d'Aosta overcame France's Ligue du Maine in the final in the Württemberg region of Germany. July 2005 sees the fourth edition of the competition being held in Malopolska. With 37 nations having submitted teams at the start of the competition, the Regions' Cup looks set to be the popular success that its unlamented predecessor always wanted to be.
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