The history of UEFA

Formed in Basel on 15 June 1954, UEFA has become the guardian of football in Europe by working closely with its member associations and other stakeholders to promote, protect and nurture the sport at all levels.

The House of European Football, Nyon, Switzerland
The House of European Football, Nyon, Switzerland ©UEFA.com

Overview

The Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) was founded in Basel, Switzerland, on 15 June 1954, bringing to fruition the pioneering vision of a handful of key football administrators of the time.

Since then, the parent body of European football – one of six continental confederations of world football's governing body FIFA – has grown into the cornerstone of the game on this continent, working with and acting on behalf of Europe's national football associations and other stakeholders in the game to promote football and strengthen its position as the world's most popular sport.

The guiding principle of the initiators in the early 1950s was the fostering and development of unity and solidarity among the European football community. Now, more than six decades later, UEFA's mission remains very much the same. But it has also become the guardian of football in Europe by working closely with its 55 member associations, other stakeholders and partners to promote, protect and nurture the sport at all levels, from the elite and its stars to the millions who play the game as a hobby.

UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, the House of European Football
UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, the House of European Football©UEFA.com

In 1960, UEFA had a full-time staff of just three people. That figure has risen steadily through the years as the organisation has reacted to changing circumstances. Today, 622 permament and fixed-term contract staff (as of December 2018) – administrators, secretaries, lawyers, IT and media specialists, coaches, translators – are employed at UEFA's administrative headquarters located in the town of Nyon, on the shores of Lake Geneva in western Switzerland. The body has resided in Nyon since 1995 after beginning its life in Paris, before moving to the Swiss federal capital Berne, where UEFA stayed for over three decades from 1960.

Over the decades, UEFA has developed from a mainly administrative body into a dynamic sports organisation that is in tune with the vast requirements of modern-day football. UEFA is a sporting authority which does not have the powers of a government; it represents Europe's national football associations, and can only act in accordance with the wishes of these associations.

When UEFA was founded, the body comprised 31 national associations. The number of member associations rose gradually, especially in the 1990s, when political developments in eastern Europe and the fragmentation of the USSR led to a rapid growth in the number of new nation states, each with its own football association. Further associations would join UEFA in the ensuing years, and by 2018, 55 associations were under UEFA's wing.

1954–1980

The Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) was founded in Basel (Switzerland) on 15 June 1954. Since then, the parent body of European football – one of six continental confederations of world football's governing body FIFA – has grown into the cornerstone of the European game, working with and acting on behalf of Europe's national football associations and other stakeholders to promote football and strengthen the game's position.

UEFA President Ebbe Schwartz presents Real Madrid with the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1960
UEFA President Ebbe Schwartz presents Real Madrid with the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1960©UEFA.com

The period leading up to the 1954 FIFA World Cup final round in Switzerland, when the world body FIFA celebrated its 50th birthday, was crucial in moves towards the foundation of an umbrella body for European football. In the early 1950s, a number of visionary football administrators, including the former Italian Football Association secretary and president, Dr Ottorino Barassi, and his counterparts within the French Football Federation and Royal Belgian Football Association, Henri Delaunay and José Crahay, pursued the idea of forming a united European block. However, the movement supporting a body uniting Europe's national football associations gathered pace after FIFA had approved the statutory basis for the creation of continental football confederations in 1953.

It was clear in the early 1950s that continental authorities, rather than just one central worldwide body, were needed to supervise and direct football's constant growth. Discussions and proposals behind the scenes finally culminated in the calling of an official meeting for 15 June 1954 in the Swiss city of Basel, and the official founding of UEFA. The body's first statutes were approved at the inaugural UEFA Congress in Vienna on 2 March 1955. From then on, UEFA was at the vanguard of every decisive step forward in European football. The early figureheads were Ebbe Schwartz (Denmark), who became the first UEFA President on 22 June 1954, and Henri Delaunay, who was UEFA's first general secretary from the official founding meeting until 9 November 1955, when he was succeeded by his son Pierre Delaunay (France), first on an interim basis, and then officially from 8 June 1956.

The European Champion Clubs' Cup, Europe's flagship club event then featuring the continent's domestic champion clubs, was founded in April 1955,  and a new European competition for senior national representative teams, the European Nations' Cup, got under way in 1958 after two years of groundwork. UEFA also took over responsibility from FIFA in 1956 for staging the International Youth Tournament, an event which had been staged since 1948.

The Soviet Union were the winners of the first European Nations' Cup, in 1960
The Soviet Union were the winners of the first European Nations' Cup, in 1960©UEFA.com

UEFA's initial steps as a parent body for European football were followed by expansion during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The UEFA Executive Committee was its initial sole decision-making authority, but additional expert committees were gradually introduced to deal with the various aspects of the game, and UEFA's range of activities continued to grow. UEFA President Ebbe Schwartz led this period of expansion until April 1962, when he was succeeded by Gustav Wiederkehr (Switzerland). On 1 April 1960, Hans Bangerter (Switzerland) succeeded Pierre Delaunay as general secretary – a position he was to hold for nearly three decades.

At the same time, the number of competitions increased. The UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (then titled European Cup Winners' Cup), open to domestic cup-winners, was staged for the first time in 1960/61, and the inaugural European/South American Cup, contested by the winners of the champion clubs' competitions on the two continents, took place in 1960.

UEFA's duties and role developed further as the 1960s wore on. In addition to the formation of even more expert committees, UEFA diversified as it gained in stature, promoting constant dialogue and a continual search for improvement within the European game. Regular instruction courses for coaches and referees were introduced, as well as conferences for general secretaries and presidents of the national associations. More comprehensive agreements with the media and broadcasting organisations became essential, in particular concerning regulation of television transmissions of football matches.

The European Nations' Cup was given the grander title of the UEFA European Football Championship in time for the 1968 final round. Considerable emphasis was placed on the development of young footballers, and a national-team competition for players under the age of 23 was launched.

UEFA President Gustav Wiederkehr (left) with Manchester United's victorious 1968 European Cup team
UEFA President Gustav Wiederkehr (left) with Manchester United's victorious 1968 European Cup team©Hulton Archive

By the 1970s, football was enjoying tremendous mass public appeal, and UEFA kept pace with developments. The Inter-Cities' Fairs Cup, established in 1955, came under UEFA's full control and was renamed the UEFA Cup in 1971. The UEFA Super Cup, involving the winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, officially came into being in 1973. Three years later, a European Under-21 competition replaced the Under-23 competition and the number of UEFA European Football Championship final round participants doubled from four to eight teams for the 1980 final round in Italy.

A multitude of other important decisions were taken. Binding recommendations were issued on the maintenance of stadium order (1976); the disciplinary bodies (Control and Disciplinary Committee and Board of Appeal) were separated from the rest of UEFA's administration and guaranteed independent status (1972); standard regulations were adopted for all UEFA club competitions (1972); and subsidies were paid for the first time to clubs suffering deficits after early elimination in the club competitions (1971). On 7 July 1972, UEFA President Gustav Wiederkehr died suddenly. His successor from 15 March 1973 was Artemio Franchi (Italy).

By the start of the 1980s, the International Youth Tournament had mutated into separate European competitions for Under-18 and Under-16 teams. The women's game also began to forge its own identity – 1982 saw the inaugural European women's competition.

UEFA President Jacques Georges (left) with Hans Bangerter, who served as General Secretary for almost three decades
UEFA President Jacques Georges (left) with Hans Bangerter, who served as General Secretary for almost three decades©UEFA

Away from the competition scene, UEFA was no less active. It was at the forefront of safety and security improvements at football matches in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium in 1985, with stringent security requirements and provisions for all-seated spectators put into place at UEFA matches. By doing this, UEFA made a key contribution in the development of modern, multi-purpose venues in which fans can watch football matches in total comfort and safety.

In 1983, Artemio Franchi was tragically killed in a car accident in Italy. Jacques Georges (France) took over the role of UEFA President for the rest of the 1980s – a period which heralded the start of dramatic changes within European football and saw UEFA adapting to challenging new times ahead.

1990s and new millenium

In the 1990s and new millenium, European football experienced explosive growth and development. Aspects such as television, business and finance, marketing, sponsorship and global communication changed the face of the game, and political upheavals altered the map of Europe.

Lennart Johansson was UEFA President for 17 years
Lennart Johansson was UEFA President for 17 years©UEFA.com

Once again, UEFA was able to stay in tune with the times, and initiated or was involved in a variety of innovative measures. The figureheads during this period were UEFA President Lennart Johansson (Sweden), who was elected to office in 1990, and Gerhard Aigner (Germany), who succeeded Hans Bangerter (Switzerland) as UEFA General Secretary in 1989.

For the first time, 16 teams took part in a UEFA European Football Championship final round in England in 1996. On the club competition front, UEFA made wholesale changes to the European Champion Clubs' Cup from 1992. The competition became the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in the world.

In another important move to adapt its club competitions to changing circumstances on the European football scene, the decision was taken in 1999 to abolish the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup competition, and to expand the UEFA Cup. From 2004/05, the latter competition featured a group phase and knockout rounds. Both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup – from 2009, renamed the UEFA Europa League – proved to be powerful commercial and sporting entities which not only generate revenue for European football's well-being, but also captivate football enthusiasts.

The European Champion Clubs' Cup was rebranded as the UEFA Champions League in 1992
The European Champion Clubs' Cup was rebranded as the UEFA Champions League in 1992©Getty Images

The women's game took major strides forward – 1982 saw the inaugural European women's competition, which evolved into the UEFA European Women's Championship by 1989 – and the inaugural European women's club competition was launched in 2001/02. European national-team and club competitions for futsal players were also introduced in the latter period.

New countries emerged in eastern Europe from the start of the 1990s, bringing the birth of new associations, national and club teams, and the subsequent expansion in size of the various UEFA competitions. This was reflected in the continued introduction of new competitions (the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1995, a women's Under-18 championship in 1997/98, and the UEFA Regions' Cup for amateur footballers in 1999).

As football became more commercially-driven, UEFA continued to give vital emphasis to reinvesting the funds generated by its activities back into the game at all levels. Away from the competition scene, UEFA was constantly proactive in helping to shape European football's future.

It was at the forefront of moves to improve safety and security at football matches in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium in 1985, with stringent security requirements and provisions implemented for all-seated spectators at UEFA matches.

Germany celebrate winning the 1989 UEFA European Women's Championship
Germany celebrate winning the 1989 UEFA European Women's Championship©Bongarts

During the 1990s, the integration process within western Europe brought about the intensification of contacts between UEFA and the European Union (EU) on a host of matters, including cross-border TV broadcasts. The Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1995 obliged UEFA (and European football as a whole) to make wide-ranging changes to regulations and policies on international transfers, as well as on the fielding by clubs of foreign players.

From 1987 onwards, UEFA experienced dramatic growth in terms of staff and budget. There were also the effects, particularly from a legal point of view, of a Europe without borders; TV rights matters and the rise of more sophisticated and aggressive marketing techniques; football clubs being quoted on the stock market; increasing involvement of political bodies in football; and the growing influence and power of Europe's leading football clubs. Football's commercial growth, as well as the resultant legal and political challenges, increased the pressure on UEFA to adapt without delay and question its role within the game's new realities. A particularly significant decision saw UEFA decide to move to the western Swiss town of Nyon in 1995 after three decades in the Swiss federal capital, Berne, and open a new headquarters – the House of European Football – on the banks of Lake Geneva in autumn 1999.

In December 1999, the UEFA Executive Committee decided to go ahead with the revamping of the European body. The administrative set-up underwent an overhaul, new priorities were set, and UEFA General Secretary Gerhard Aigner became chief executive to lead the UEFA administration, which continued to work alongside committees and expert panels on every facet of modern-day football.

TV rights have been a key part of the commercial growth of the game in the last 20 years
TV rights have been a key part of the commercial growth of the game in the last 20 years©Sportsfile

Around this time, it was also recognised that the clubs and professional leagues should be given greater representation within UEFA's activities. UEFA pursued an intensification of dialogue with the top clubs and leagues, while maintaining its long-standing bond with its member associations. It was evident that to maintain its credibility, in both sporting and commercial terms, UEFA had to represent the entire spectrum of the football family – including the elite clubs, who generate considerable revenue in the major European competitions.

Lennart Johansson was elected for a fourth term of office as UEFA President at the Stockholm Congress in April 2002, and Lars-Christer Olsson's appointment as chief executive to replace the retiring Gerhard Aigner meant that two Swedes were at UEFA's helm from the start of 2004. The Scandinavian duo were in place to lead UEFA through its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2004, in which a host of events and special activities took place over a special year.

The following period saw UEFA continue to pursue its quest for greater legal certainty for sport and the recognition of sport's specific nature within the framework of future EU legislation, to ensure sport's well-being in the future. Dialogue with the EU focused on concrete issues facing sport and on how the EU institutions, the EU member states and the European football authorities could provide a comprehensive and robust legal framework for European sport in general and football in particular.

Greece sprang a major surprise at UEFA EURO 2004
Greece sprang a major surprise at UEFA EURO 2004©Getty Images

In club competitions, the UEFA Champions League – previously the European Champion Clubs' Cup – celebrated its 50th anniversary, with media and marketing successes going hand-in-hand with memorable football. A new format was introduced for the 2003/04 season – one group stage and a knockout phase beginning with 16 teams. At the same time, work to enhance the UEFA Cup's image was ongoing, with the introduction of a 40-team group stage a key step forward. On the national-team scene, UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal broke records across the board, and the glorious unpredictability of football was confirmed when the outsiders Greece took the title.

Within UEFA, a fully-owned affiliated company, UEFA Euro 2008 SA, was set up to implement the organisation of UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. The fight against doping was stepped up, with a new anti-doping unit created within the UEFA administration.

The UEFA club licensing system was in place in time for the 2004/05 season, with the aim being to provide a framework for clubs to run themselves more efficiently. The system aimed to improve quality standards in European football, including improvement of clubs' economic and financial capabilities, through the installation of appropriate financial tools, as well as the adaptation of their sporting, administrative and legal infrastructures to meet UEFA's requirements.

UEFA has undertaken untiring campaign work in various social and humanitarian areas, including the fight against racism
UEFA has undertaken untiring campaign work in various social and humanitarian areas, including the fight against racism©Getty Images

UEFA also undertook untiring campaign work in various social and humanitarian areas, including the fight against racism. Partnerships were forged with other specific bodies as UEFA looked to support the belief that football could be used as a force to benefit society. In the new millennium, UEFA kept pace with the rapid development of new communications outlets with the launching in 2001 of a subsidiary company dealing with new communications, UEFA New Media – eventually to be renamed UEFA Media Technologies SA – and further developed the UEFA.com website.

In January 2007, Michel Platini (France), one of the world's top players from the 1980s, was elected as UEFA President at the 31st Ordinary UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf. Lennart Johansson was named honorary president after 17 years of outstanding service to European football.

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