How the European calendar took shape

In UEFA's magazine UEFA Direct, Hans Bangerter, who served as UEFA General Secretary from 1960 to 1988, recalls how UEFA was run at the time - and how fixed match dates in the UEFA club competitions came into being.

Manchester United (in red) take on Real Madrid in the 1968 European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final
Manchester United (in red) take on Real Madrid in the 1968 European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final ©Getty Images

Ever since the European Champion Clubs' Cup was created in 1955, the format of the UEFA club competitions has constantly been revised and adjusted. As Hans Bangerter, then UEFA General Secretary, recalls, the establishment of fixed match dates 50 years ago was an important milestone.

Previously, the clubs were expected to agree match dates between themselves within a generous two-month window. This system was not without its problems, since the two opposing clubs often had very different agendas, depending on their domestic fixtures, traditions or even the wishes of their sponsors or the media.

Hans Bangerter
Hans Bangerter©

"When the clubs couldn't agree, they turned to UEFA and their letters started piling up on my desk. I was soon swamped and it had to stop; something had to change," remembers Hans Bangerter, 93. 

After much thought and discussion, the then UEFA General Secretary took action, proposing that clubs be required to play on fixed dates, initially in the rounds of 32 and rounds of 16, when the number of matches was at its highest. Not everyone liked the idea, but after consulting the Champion Clubs' Cup and Cup Winners' Cup organising committees, the Committee for Non-Amateur and Professional Football and the national associations, the Executive Committee approved the plan at its meeting in Vienna on 20 March 1967. It also fixed the round of 32 dates for the following three seasons, i.e. until the 1969/70 season, a step that fitted well with its desire to streamline the organisation of the two club competitions by combining their respective regulations.

It was quite clear that the proposed change would require some fine-tuning. The Executive Committee merely recommended the dates for the 1967/68 season before making them compulsory from 1968/69 onwards. Although a few exceptions were granted, the change proved a success, as Hans Bangerter noted in his general secretary's report for 1968 and 1969: "The introduction of a European fixture list for the UEFA club competitions and the concentration of the matches on the same dates allow a much better overall picture, and thus the football fan is in a much better position to follow the competitions. The press has already found the right denomination for the days of the matches: they simply speak of the 'European Cup Wednesdays'."

Meeting in Lisbon on 5 March 1969, the Executive Committee therefore decided to go a step further by fixing the dates of the quarter-finals and semi-finals as of the 1969/70 season, a decision that received unanimous support at the conference of presidents and general secretaries held in Burgenstock, near Lucerne in Switzerland, in June that year.

A sense of initiative
The greater clarity that Hans Bangerter brought to the European football calendar – aided by another of his innovations, the rule that away goals count double if the aggregate score is level – is undoubtedly a significant part of the former General Secretary's legacy.

However, it only represents a small fraction of the work that he carried out during his 29 years as head of UEFA's general secretariat. Even at a very young age, the Swiss was never afraid to take the initiative. "There were no junior teams in my village because we didn't have any pitches. So I asked the chairman of the local council to let us play on a piece of land that I had found. He agreed, so I set up a junior club and became president, secretary, treasurer, coach and player all at the same time. When we played away matches in the neighbouring villages, we always travelled by bike."

Hans Bangerter became UEFA's first full-time General Secretary on 1 January 1960, when he replaced Pierre Delaunay, who had combined the role with a similar function at the French Football Federation (FFF). It was thanks to Hans Bangerter that UEFA moved its headquarters to the Swiss capital, Berne.

In his new post, he was also the main driving force behind UEFA's consolidation and growth at a time when the president's role was honorary and neither he nor the Executive Committee members had time to keep a close eye on UEFA's increasingly numerous and varied affairs. The general secretary was therefore largely responsible for the smooth running of the organisation.

With seven years' experience as FIFA deputy general secretary under his belt – he helped to organise the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland and the 1958 edition in Sweden, for example – Hans Bangerter oversaw the steady growth of UEFA's administrative machinery. Having started with two secretaries, the same number as at FIFA, Bangerter had built a 25-strong team by the time he retired in 1988 – an administrative structure capable of adapting to the increasingly complex challenges faced by European football at the time.

A positive mentality
It is true that the economic stakes were not as high as they later became when commercial television and advertising sent the market into orbit, and that UEFA's legal affairs were on a completely different scale to the one that we know today, but there was no shortage of tricky issues to deal with.

"International politics caused me numerous headaches, and a lot of work. We were right in the middle of the Cold War and political tensions could have a detrimental effect on our competitions. I remember, for example, the 1961 International Youth Tournament in Portugal. I was already on the plane to Lisbon when we discovered that the Yugoslavian FA had been forced to pull out of the tournament by the political authorities. My plane had barely touched down when, with the tournament about to kick off, I had to rewrite the whole match schedule!"

Visa problems affecting both teams and officials were also commonplace. It is perhaps worth pointing out that, in those days, telephone, telex and then fax were the only forms of communication and there were no computers whatsoever.

However, the former head of the UEFA administration has a strong 'can-do' mentality, which is summed up in his philosophy: "Problems are there to be solved."

The same positivity shines through as he calmly sums up his long career as a leading international football administrator: "Problems were always sorted out in a way that was acceptable to everyone. It was, on the whole, a very pleasant and positive time."

Born in Studen, around 30km from the Swiss capital, Berne, on 10 June 1924, Hans Bangerter obtained a diploma in public administration from the Bienne technical college. After initially working for the postal administration, he was employed by the Swiss federal school of gymnastics and sport in Macolin, where his linguistic knowledge made him the ideal person to look after foreign guests.

It was in this role that he welcomed some of FIFA's senior officials, who approached him in 1953 when they were looking for an assistant for their General Secretary, Kurt Gassmann. In 1959, it was UEFA's turn to come knocking on his door, inviting him to become General Secretary, a position he held from 1 January 1960 until his retirement on 31 December 1988.

He was made a UEFA honorary member at the UEFA Congress in Gothenburg in June 1992 and, as such, still regularly attends the UEFA Congress and major UEFA competition finals, having lost none of his passion for football. He is also an honorary member of the Swiss Football Association (SFV/ASF) and holds the FIFA Order of Merit.

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 176