Just as the idea for the European Champion Clubs' Cup came to fruition after French newspaper L'Equipe's assertion that Stade de Reims Champagne could be the best club side in Europe, the idea for a UEFA Super Cup came from a Dutch source just when Dutch clubs, and more particularly AFC Ajax, ruled supreme in Europe.
The competition was the brainchild of Anton Witkamp, then a reporter and later sports editor of Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. Witkamp came up with the idea of "something new" to decide definitively the top club side in Europe, and to further test Ajax's ability. "The idea was conceived in the era of total football. Our era – four consecutive European Cups between Feyenoord and Ajax," he explained. "More than money and glory, they were pursuing the right to be called the best.
"But who was the strongest team in Europe, which team ought to have been the strongest? The team that won the European Cup? In principle, yes. Yet football is often a hymn to relativity and, for this reason, can be an imprecise art. So why not pit the holders of the European Champion Clubs' Cup against the winners of the Cup Winners' Cup? Why not throw down a challenge to Ajax?
"Rangers FC had won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972. I put forward my plan to the Ajax boss [Jaap] van Praag, who found it an excellent idea. Consequently, the way was clear, with the patronage of my newspaper." Witkamp and Van Praag travelled to Zurich to meet with then UEFA president, the late Artemio Franchi, to seek official endorsement for the new competition.
None was forthcoming, largely because Rangers were under a one-year suspension from UEFA due to the misbehaviour of their supporters. However, the match went ahead, albeit in an unofficial capacity, as the Scottish club, who were having centennial celebrations that year, willingly obliged. Witkamp decided on a two-legged format to maximise revenue for both clubs.
The games, financially backed by De Telegraaf, the best-selling paper in the Netherlands, took place on 16 and 24 June in Glasgow and Amsterdam respectively. Goals from Johnny Rep, Cruyff and Arie Haan gave Ajax a 3-1 victory in Glasgow, while Alex McDonald scored Rangers' goal. McDonald was on the mark again in the second leg along with Quentin Young, but they were again outgunned with Haan, Gerd Mühren and Cruyff scoring in a 3-2 win.
The first UEFA-sanctioned Super Cup matches took place in January 1974, although it was officially the 1973 final. The first UEFA Super Cup proper took place at San Siro, where Ajax lost 1-0 to AC Milan. Ajax made no mistake in the return leg in Amsterdam and won 6-0.
Though Witkamp's raison d’être of celebrating Ajax had been emphatically achieved, the competition still took time to take off. Indeed, there was no 1974 contest with FC Bayern München and 1. FC Madgeburg unable to find a mutually convenient date. Liverpool FC could not make space to meet FC Dinamo Tbilisi in 1981 and could only find one date to play Juventus in 1984.
This was one of the three times the UEFA Super Cup was played as a single match before the current format began in 1998. The other one-off ties came in 1991, when the political situation compelled Manchester United FC and FK Crvena zvezda to meet only at Old Trafford, and 1986, when FC Steaua Bucureşti and FC Dinamo Kyiv played the first Super Cup at the Stade Louis II in Monaco.
The competition took up permanent residence in Monaco between 1998 and 2012, with the match played to signal the start of the season. After the last UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1999, the UEFA Champions League winners took on the UEFA Cup victors (UEFA Europa League from 2010) and the trophy is now contested in a different European city each year.
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