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'No flash in the pan'

Sixty years ago, the inaugural European Champion Clubs' Cup got under way. We look at how UEFA prepared for the big kick-off on 4 September 1955.

UEFA's first President Ebbe Schwartz (centre) and the European Champion Clubs' Cup organising committee at a meeting soon after the competition's birth
UEFA's first President Ebbe Schwartz (centre) and the European Champion Clubs' Cup organising committee at a meeting soon after the competition's birth ©UEFA archives

UEFA's Executive Committee had seized an important moment at its meeting in Paris on 21 June 1955, when it agreed that UEFA – founded a year earlier – would take on the organisation of a new European club competition, which would become known as the European Champion Clubs' Cup.

The initial blueprint for such a competition had come from the French daily newspaper L'Equipe the previous winter, and a group of European clubs confirmed their backing for the plan by the spring. FIFA and UEFA became involved in the consultations, and in May 1955 the world body authorised UEFA to take up the baton and assume the running of the new competition.

The original regulations drawn up by L'Equipe journalist Jacques Ferran were approved with a few amendments. UEFA invited its national associations to enter their champion clubs, while also giving priority to the clubs first invited by L'Equipe to take part – some of these were not actually domestic champions – and a UEFA organising committee was to succeed the original committee set up by L'Equipe and the clubs.

The next stage in launching the fledgling club competition came when the UEFA Emergency Panel, which dealt with pressing matters between UEFA Executive Committee meetings, convened in Paris on 17 July 1955. The panel identified those clubs originally involved in the plan to set up a European club competition, who had now been officially proposed by their national associations upon UEFA's invitation, awaited confirmation for other entries and took note of late participation requests from across Europe.

"After an exchange of views, the [panel] decided to accept the participation of [clubs] confirmed by their respective associations within the deadline," says the panel meeting's minutes. "It invited [those associations] who had not yet definitively confirmed the participation of their clubs to do so by a week's time.

"With regard to the participation of [other clubs from associations] not originally considered, the panel decided to take note of their desire to take part in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup." If UEFA had not received the above entry confirmation from associations within the week, it said that would consider calling up replacement clubs from among the late requests.

No drawing of lots took place for this inaugural first round. The original organising committee had drawn up fixtures and, after assuming the organisation of the competition, UEFA went on to confirm the pairings.

The panel asked the clubs to contact each other urgently to fix the dates of their home-and-away first-round legs, which would have to be played before 1 November 1955, and to communicate the agreed dates to UEFA by 10 August 1955 to enable a definitive fixture list to be finalised.

The first-round field was to remain at 16 as originally planned back in the spring. The Emergency Panel minutes of 17 July 1955 state: "It appears ... that given the shortness of the deadlines before the start of the competition, it is unfortunately not possible to increase the number of participating clubs.

"Consequently, the [panel] regrets that it cannot give a favourable response to the latest requests to take part. However, it wishes to thank these national associations for their eagerness in taking an interest in this competition, and undertakes to consider their applications for the following season."

By 14 August 1955, when the UEFA Executive Committee gathered in London, there was one notable absentee from the first round. Although the reigning English champions Chelsea FC had been included in the list of matches, and were scheduled to play Swedish club Djurgårdens IF, the London club would eventually not take part in the inaugural competition as English football authorities are said to have to have expressed concerns about fixture congestion.

The UEFA Executive Committee decided to send a telegram to Djurgårdens, asking if they would agree to meet Gwardia Warsaw instead over two legs. Depending upon Djurgårdens' response, an offer would be made to Gwardia, and the Polish club would be invited into the competition.

One team that would certainly be on the starting grid were 1. FC Saarbrücken who, for one time only, would represent the French protectorate of Saarland, which had been separate from Germany in the post-war years. Saarland had its own national football association and national team from 1950 to 1956 – the team participated in the 1954 FIFA World Cup qualifying competition – and the association attended UEFA's founding meeting in Basel, Switzerland on 15 June 1954. Saarland would not become part of West Germany until 1 January 1957 following a public plebiscite, and West Germany's representatives in the 1955/56 Champion Clubs' Cup were SC Rot-Weiss Essen.

The definitive first-round lineup fell into place after various confirmations, withdrawals and replacements had been completed: AGF Aarhus (Denmark), RSC Anderlecht (Belgium), Djurgårdens IF (Sweden), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Gwardia Warszawa (Poland), Hibernian FC (Scotland), AC Milan (Italy), MTK Budapest (Hungary, then named Vörös Lobogó SE), FK Partizan (Yugoslavia), SK Rapid Wien (Austria), Real Madrid CF (Spain), SC Portugal (Portugal), SC Rot-Weiss Essen (West Germany), 1. FC Saarbrücken (Saarland), Servette FC (Switzerland) and Stade de Reims (France). UEFA was able to finalise the fixture list, only making adjustments owing to Chelsea's withdrawal and a couple of other changes of entrants at national level.

UEFA deemed that each club would keep its home-match receipts and bear the organisation costs, as well as those of the referees – travel and accommodation, and a daily allowance of 25 Swiss francs. The clubs were reminded to pay their participation fee of 100 Swiss francs to UEFA as soon as possible.

The stage was duly set for the kick-off of the very first European Champion Clubs' Cup, with the curtain opening on 4 September 1955 – a Sunday. Lisbon's Sporting Clube de Portugal would entertain Belgrade's FK Partizan at the Estádio Nacional in the Portuguese capital.

Thus began an enduring European football adventure that continues to write its own unforgettable history. Few people really knew quite what to expect 60 years ago this week – but, as former UEFA publications editor André Vieli writes in his book UEFA – 60 years at the heart of football: "Although no one could have imagined the phenomenal success the competition would enjoy, clearly UEFA knew it would be no flash in the pan…."