Sixty years ago at a UEFA Executive Committee meeting in Paris, the organisation of a first European competition for club teams came under the aegis of European football's governing body.
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21 June 1955. Sixty years ago – an historic day for European football. Moves to launch the first European club competition took definitive shape as the much-anticipated project came under the aegis of UEFA.
European football's governing body would go on to organise what has become the most prestigious of club competitions, firstly as the European Champion Clubs' Cup and then, from the early 90s, the UEFA Champions League. Legendary teams, superb footballers and brilliant coaches have left their mark on European football, and the competition's annals have provided an endless catalogue of memorable matches, marvellous goals and unforgettable individual displays for us all to savour.
UEFA was not responsible for the original idea of organising a European competition for clubs. The initial impetus came from the renowned French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe and its editor Gabriel Hanot, a former footballer who won 12 caps for France between 1908 and 1919 before turning to journalism.
In 1954, English club Wolverhampton Wanderers FC had defeated celebrated Hungarian side Budapest Honvéd FC, prompting the English press to claim that Wolves were champions of the world. Hanot queried that claim in an article in L'Equipe in December 1954 – and went on to announce that the paper had a big idea of its own …
"The idea of a world, or at least European championship for clubs … is worth putting out and we are going to venture it," wrote Hanot. The idea had the full backing of the publication's owner and director Jacques Goddet. Jacques de Ryswick, head of L'Equipe's football section, was soon writing about a "plan for a European club championship". His colleague Jacques Ferran was instructed to draw up regulations and the project gathered momentum.
The proposed competition would feature 16 clubs, chosen by the organisers rather than being domestic champions in their country, with a format of home-and-away ties. The clubs greeted the project with enthusiasm, so L'Equipe took the idea to world football's governing body, FIFA. The response was again positive, but FIFA pointed out that the organisation of such a competition was not within its remit.
The paper's next stop was the nascent European confederation UEFA, which had been founded in June 1954. UEFA held its inaugural Congress in Vienna in March 1955, and Hanot and Ferran were there to present the project to Europe's national associations. The latter responded that it was up to the "associations to give their clubs permission to participate in such an event". L'Equipe brought the clubs involved together for a meeting in Paris on 2 and 3 April 1955. The draft regulations were approved, and an executive organising committee was established.
Given the impetus, UEFA felt it necessary to respond. At a meeting of its Emergency Committee in London on 6 and 7 May 1955, it was decided that a letter should be sent to FIFA, whose Executive Committee was meeting nearby the following day. UEFA requested FIFA to "examine the conditions for the organisation of such a competition, in order to ensure that it complied with the international rules governing the responsibilities of the national associations".
FIFA reacted favourably to UEFA's request, and an invitation was made to UEFA to organise the competition – provided that the national associations concerned gave their consent. UEFA's Executive Committee next met in Paris on 21 June 1955. In the minutes of that meeting, it is stated: "Firstly, it is recognised that this Cup [competition] will indeed be organised by the European Union [i.e. UEFA] itself."
The original regulations drawn up by Ferran received the green light with a small number of changes. UEFA invited its associations to enter their champion clubs, as well as giving priority to the clubs invited by L'Equipe, and a UEFA organising committee would be founded to succeed the original organising committee.
By 4 September 1955, the European Champion Clubs' Cup was off and running on the field as well – Sporting Clube de Portugal and Yugoslavia's FK Partizan battling out a 3-3 draw in the inaugural match in Lisbon.
The teams which set out in the first round were AGF Aarhus (Denmark), RSC Anderlecht (Belgium), Djurgårdens IF (Sweden), SC Rot-Weiss Essen (Germany), Gwardia Warszawa (Poland), Hibernian FC (Scotland), AC Milan (Italy), MTK Budapest (Hungary), FK Partizan (Yugoslavia), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), SK Rapid Wien (Austria), Real Madrid CF (Spain), Stade de Reims (France), 1. FC Saarbrücken (Saarland), Servette FC (Switzerland) and Sporting Clube de Portugal (Portugal).
The original mixture of L'Equipe's vision and UEFA's understanding of the moment has led to six decades of football magic. "I think that the European Cup, alongside the championship, is the most important target for a club," said Francisco 'Paco' Gento, the only player to win the trophy six times, all with Madrid. "It's the one that makes you a great. Winning it means you're the talk of the town all over the world."