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Pierre Delaunay – a unique witness

Pierre Delaunay, UEFA's General Secretary between 1956 and 1959, and an important figure in the body's early development, has died at the age of 99. In an article published in September 2005, UEFA Direct highlighted key moments in his time with UEFA.

Pierre Delaunay, second general secretary of UEFA in the 1950s
Pierre Delaunay, second general secretary of UEFA in the 1950s ©

Celebrations have been coming thick and fast for UEFA: after its own 50th anniversary and the 50th Champion Clubs’ Cup/UEFA Champions League final, the season just starting will commemorate 50 years of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.

“It’s hard to find the energy for going to football matches now,”, says Pierre Delaunay who, though he might not be present at the crowning moment of this commemorative season, the UEFA Champions League final, at the Stade de France in Paris next May, was one of the prime movers behind the first edition of the Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1956, also held in Paris but at the Parc des Princes. "Paris was the obvious choice for the first final, since the competition was created in France, thanks to journalists from L'Equipe."

Pierre Delaunay is a unique figure in UEFA's history: he is the only general secretary to have also sat on the Executive Committee, and, what is more, the only one to have succeeded his father as general secretary, not only at UEFA but also at the French Football Federation (FFF).

“Because of my family’s links with Germany, I had an awareness of international relations, and my father showed me the way in the world of football. So I was well prepared for taking on this role."

Pierre Delaunay (left) at a UEFA meeting in 1959
Pierre Delaunay (left) at a UEFA meeting in 1959©UEFA archives

At UEFA, the handover from father to son took place in two stages: informally at first, since Pierre, with the agreement of the Executive Committee, assisted his father Henri during his illness and took over his duties on his death in November 1955. Then, in Lisbon on 8 June 1956, the 2nd Ordinary UEFA Congress officially appointed him general secretary.

“Above all, UEFA was founded to reinforce Europe’s position within FIFA and to create a balance vis-à-vis the South American Confederation, which had already been in existence for nearly 40 years,” he recalls. But this was not the end of the matter. “So we now have a Union of European Football Associations, and this is all very well but, in my opinion, it has not yet entirely fulfilled its objective,", wrote his father Henri in France Football Officiel on 20 September 1955. "It has become a grouping in the legal sense but not yet in sporting terms. And yet I’d say that this sporting aspect is as essential to it as a national competition is to an association, the South American Championship is to the South American Football Confederation or the World Cup is to FIFA."

Pierre Delaunay's father Henri Delaunay
Pierre Delaunay's father Henri Delaunay©AFP

In the same article, Henri Delaunay hailed the birth of the Champion Clubs’ Cup: “The European Champion Clubs’ Cup is a wonderful new initiative, but there is an even greater need for a European cup for national teams."

Lack of enthusiasm
The idea of a European competition for national sides had already been put to the Vienna Congress in 1955, but without success. “Maybe it was a lack of preparation which led to this rejection …,” reflected Henri Delaunay, “but in particular it stemmed from the indecisiveness of the national associations because of the many international matches and competitions with neighbouring countries in which they are already taking part."

In 1958, at the Stockholm Congress, enthusiasm was still not widespread. “Even then, clubs weren’t very keen on releasing their players,” remembers Pierre Delaunay. After the Hungarian Gustav Sebes had presented plans for a European Nations’ Cup, the decision was postponed until the afternoon of that day. Firm support from the UEFA president, Ebbe Schwartz, and resolute intervention from Pierre Delaunay, spokesman for the project study group, was needed for the project to be accepted. With enormous foresight, the general secretary had written a little earlier in France Football Officiel: "Whether we like it or not, the momentum is uncontainable ... the European international competition will take off in the end, and sooner or later it will have the virtually unanimous backing of the associations.”

The EURO trophy is named after Henri Delaunay
The EURO trophy is named after Henri Delaunay©Getty Images

In recognition of the creative role played by Henri Delaunay, Ebbe Schwartz proposed that the competition be named the Henri Delaunay Cup. And the FFF president, Pierre Pochonet, announced that his association was going to offer the trophy, entrusting Pierre Delaunay with the task of arranging its manufacture.

“Europe is a word of Greek origin; Europe certainly originated in the Mediterranean Basin, and Greece invented the Olympic Games, so I thought it would be a good idea to find an ancient Greek artefact, depicting a ball if possible – something which was not particularly common – and reproduce this in the form of a trophy. A Greek journalist who was a friend of Constantin Constantaras, a member of the Executive Committee, found a sculpture of an athlete controlling a ball at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The Parisian silversmith Chobillon, who was commissioned to make the trophy, reproduced it on the cup, on the opposite side to the title."

Modest means
During its early years, UEFA did not have its own headquarters. When he was general secretary, Pierre Delaunay shared premises and staff (usually just one person) with the French Football Federation, dividing his time between UEFA business and the work of the FFF. With no financial resources to its name, UEFA's first income came from a share of the receipts from the match between a British side and a team from the rest of Europe played in Belfast in August 1955. The general secretary had to be content with a modest wage (“about 2,000 French francs a month,” Delaunay remembers).

Pierre Delaunay pictured in 2005
Pierre Delaunay pictured in 2005©Flash Press

By 1959, however, the European football union had grown up and some considered it was time it had its own headquarters. "A delegation from UEFA, headed by Stanley Rous and Peco Bauwens, approached me with the proposal to move to Geneva. Talks and negotiations took place, but in the end I declined.”.

From Paris to Berne
So Pierre Delaunay stayed in Paris as FFF general secretary and UEFA moved in January 1960 from the French capital to Berne, where Pierre Delaunay presented his successor, Hans Bangerter from Switzerland, with the archives of the young European football union. "Everything fitted into two suitcases,” recalls Delaunay.

However, the Frenchman continued to give UEFA the benefit of his experience and knowledge. In December 1959, an additional seat was created for him on the Executive Committee, with a two-year term of office. For a number of years he was also on the Committee for the European Football Championship, the competition with which he has kept the closest links.

Pierre Delaunay at home in Versailles
Pierre Delaunay at home in Versailles©Flash Press

In his search for the right design for the Henri Delaunay Trophy, Pierre had unwittingly taken the first steps into what would later become his new profession. In 1969, marked by the occupation of the FFF premises and his confinement there during the events of May 1968, and pessimistic with regard to future prospects implied by the new FFF statutes, Pierre Delaunay changed direction completely in his professional life ... starting an antiques business in Versailles, where he still lives, not far from the château. With antiques and history going hand-in-hand, he also accepted an offer from the new FFF president, Fernand Sastre, and spent a year studying the history of football in France, the book "100 ans de Football en France” (100 years of French football) being the fruit of his research.

It was also in 1969 that Pierre Delaunay ended his duties at UEFA. Although he still belongs to the “Amicale des anciens” circle of former UEFA committee members, he is no longer so involved in the world of football and its competitions. But his interest remains, as borne out by some of the regular letters he writes clarifying points in UEFA publications or his great willingness to supply information – as was the case during the writing of UEFA’s jubilee publication – on the organisation’s early years. Apart from being deeply involved, he is also a unique witness to that period.