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Vienna 1955: UEFA's first general assembly


Vienna enjoys an important and nostalgic place within UEFA’s rich history. The Austrian capital, which hosts the European body’s 46th Congress on Wednesday, provided the setting for the very first gathering of Europe’s football parliament 67 years ago.

UEFA's first president Ebbe Schwartz addresses delegates in Vienna in March 1955.
UEFA's first president Ebbe Schwartz addresses delegates in Vienna in March 1955. Popperfoto via Getty Images

On 2 March 1955, the great city welcomed representatives of 29 European national football associations for UEFA’s inaugural assembly. The gathering turned out to be a crucial event, creating a solid basis for the fledgling European organisation – founded in June 1954 – to take significant decisions and embark on its road into the future.

A united European movement

UEFA was born out of the wish in the early 1950s to form a united European movement that could progress as one body in a spirit of solidarity and give strength to Europe’s national football associations within the world footballing landscape.

The pioneers who set the movement in motion were Ottorino Barassi, president of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC); José Crahay, general secretary of the Belgian Football Association (URBSFA-KBVB); and Henri Delaunay, general secretary of the French Football Federation (FFF).

UEFA's pioneers in the early 1950s: José Crahay, Henri Delaunay and Ottorino Barassi
UEFA's pioneers in the early 1950s: José Crahay, Henri Delaunay and Ottorino BarassiUEFA

June 1954: UEFA’s founding meeting

The trio were key figures in discussions and meetings across Europe in the early 1950s that gathered important allies to the cause of unity. The path towards UEFA’s birth was also smoothed in 1953 when world football’s governing body FIFA authorised the creation of continental confederations.

Consequently, 28 European national associations convened at the Hotel Euler in the Swiss city of Basle on 15 June 1954 to set up a new body and begin formulating a set of draft regulations. The following motion was agreed:

"The European national associations decide definitively on the constitution of a group of the said associations, under a form to be determined. The assembly decides to name a committee representing this group, in conformity with Article XI, paragraph 1, of the draft regulations presented today.

“This committee is entrusted with drawing up, in conjunction with the previous committee, definitive proposed statutes and regulations, taking their inspiration from projects submitted at a previous stage, and to present this definitive project to the next General Assembly."

Inaugural Executive Committee

Ebbe Schwartz - the Dane elected as the first UEFA president on 22 June 1954
Ebbe Schwartz - the Dane elected as the first UEFA president on 22 June 1954UEFA archives

The six-strong Executive Committee established at the meeting in Basel comprised José Crahay, Josef Gerö (Austria), Sir George Graham (Scotland), Ebbe Schwartz (Denmark), Gustáv Sebes (Hungary) and Henri Delaunay – named as UEFA’s inaugural general secretary alongside his role within the FFF.

A second meeting in the Swiss federal capital Berne on 22 June 1954 saw the new Executive Committee of what was known as the ‘Group of European Associations’ elect Ebbe Schwartz as the first UEFA president, and decide to submit a draft set of statutes to the national associations.

On 29 and 30 October 1954, in Copenhagen, the committee proposed Union of the European Football Associations in English, with the initials UEFA, and Union des Associations Européennes de Football in French as the name of the new confederation – replacing an earlier proposal of "Entente européenne".

Draft statutes

The draft statutes fixed the annual membership fee at 250 Swiss francs, laid down objectives, required the holding of an annual assembly, established the principle of one vote per association and stipulated that the Executive Committee should comprise eight members.

The objectives defined were the adoption of a common stance vis-à-vis FIFA; the designation of Europe's representatives within FIFA; the organisation of a European competition every four years; and the examination of all matters concerning European football.

Vienna plays an important role in UEFA's history
Vienna plays an important role in UEFA's historyGetty Images/iStockphoto

UEFA’s draft statutes were drawn up in three languages – French, German and English – and, following their submission to the European member associations, the various responses were analysed at the meeting in Copenhagen. The aim was for the body of rules to be adopted by an inaugural UEFA assembly of member associations, to convene at the Austrian Football Association’s headquarters in Vienna on 2 March 1955

Vienna welcomes UEFA

The assembly met on a day when Vienna was covered in a blanket of snow. Proceedings began with a moment of sad reflection, as the delegates remembered Josef Gerö. The president of the Austrian FA, named as UEFA vice-president during the previous summer’s activities, had passed away in December 1954, and Ebbe Schwartz paid a warm tribute in his role as UEFA president. Following the morning session, delegates paid further homage to Dr Gerö by visiting his grave.

Henri Delaunay: UEFA's first general secretary
Henri Delaunay: UEFA's first general secretary AFP

Henri Delaunay was unable to attend the assembly and carry out his specific duties as UEFA general secretary due to the illness that would eventually take his life a few months later. His son Pierre, general secretary of the French professional league, assumed his duties with the Executive Committee’s blessing.

The roll call in Vienna featured 29 European national associations – Poland were the only addition to the 28 that had been involved in the UEFA founding meeting in Basle the previous summer. Now, the assembly would unanimously welcome another new association into the UEFA fold – the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), bringing the final number of associations represented to 30.

The assembly agreed to the statutory increase in the number of UEFA Executive Committee members. Peco Bauwens (West Germany) and Greece's Constantin Constantaras joined the committee to bring the number of members to eight, while Alfred Frey (Austria) replaced Josef Gerö,

Club competition pushed back

The afternoon’s deliberations centred on an issue that would take on momentous importance over the next months and years – projects and proposals for European competitions for club and national teams.

The written notes for a European club competition, drawn up by L'Equipe journalist Jacques Ferran
The written notes for a European club competition, drawn up by L'Equipe journalist Jacques FerranGetty Images for UEFA

The French newspaper L'Équipe – in particular editor Gabriel Hanot, a former player and national coach, and journalist Jacques Ferran – was campaigning vigorously for a competition for club teams. A blueprint envisaged 16 clubs from 16 different countries – not necessarily champions at this time – playing ties on a home-and-away basis, with the team scoring the highest goal aggregate qualifying for the next round.

However, to L’Equipe’s frustration, the Vienna assembly would send the project back to the drawing board, deciding that it "was not at the present time competent to take an interest in a project directly concerning the clubs".

The situation would evolve rapidly. Deliberations involving UEFA officials and club representatives led finally to the acceptance of the blueprint, the creation of an organising committee, and FIFA’s approval of the project in May 1955, on condition that the competition should be held under UEFA's auspices. On 21 June 1955, just over three months after the Vienna assembly, the UEFA Executive Committee agreed to FIFA's conditions and called the new competition – which would kick off at the start of the 1955/56 season – the European Champion Clubs' Cup.

National team competition judged premature

Following the October 1954 meeting in Copenhagen, Henri Delaunay had written an article entitled Is It Possible to Build a Footballing Europe?, which underlined his long-held dream of a European national-team competition. "… [T]he main focus should be on the idea of a competition open to all of the European associations,” he said. “A three-member committee has been entrusted with examining this difficult problem, which should not lead to the infinite multiplication of international matches, or harm the World Cup…"

But the Vienna assembly was equally reticent towards the project being driven by Henri Delaunay. They decided that such a project was premature and called for further examination.

Pierre Delaunay (left), who succeeded his late father Henri as UEFA general secretary
Pierre Delaunay (left), who succeeded his late father Henri as UEFA general secretaryUEFA archives

Henri Delaunay would pass away in November 1955, but his son Pierre – taking on both of his father’s roles as general secretary of UEFA and the French FA by 1956 – doggedly pursued his father’s dream. Subsequently, delegates at the UEFA Congress in Stockholm on 6 June 1958 voted in favour of launching the European Nations’ Cup – known nowadays as the European Football Championship – which began the same year.

Televised football

The issue of televised broadcasting of football also occupied the attention of the associations present at the Vienna assembly – in particular live transmission of matches. The majority of speakers expressed the view that live TV football could lead to public disaffection with the game, as well as clashes with matches in domestic competitions.

Eventually, a three-point motion was adopted which became known as the Vienna Convention: A national association could not allow the transmission of an international match unless it had the authorisation of the guest association; The host national association also had to ensure that the match was only transmitted within its territory; and could not allow the transmission of the match in another country unless the latter country’s national association had given its consent. From this point on, UEFA would address this question incessantly,

Betting and the match calendar

Ebbe Schwartz turned to the topic of betting in football, calling on the associations to provide UEFA with as much information as possible on the situation in their countries. Alfred Frey then addressed the international match calendar, proposing that international games should be played on several occasions each year on a series of identical dates. This issue was also sent for further examination.

Delegates ratified the staging of a gala match in Belfast between two select teams from Europe and Britain to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Irish Football Association. The match would eventually take place at Windsor Park in Belfast on 13 August 1955, Europe emerging as 4-1 winners in front of a 60,000 crowd.

Statutes ratified

It was left for the Vienna assembly to unanimously rubber-stamp the first edition of the UEFA statutes, confirm the Portuguese capital Lisbon as the venue for the second UEFA Congress on 7/8 June 1956, and congratulate Ebbe Schwartz on his leadership of UEFA as the organisation took its first steps.

The Congress minutes quote Sir George Graham as paying tribute to Schwartz for “the way in which he fulfilled his mission within [UEFA] and led the deliberations at the assembly.” Thoughts were also with the ailing Henri Delaunay, who would not see his national-team competition dream reach fruition three years later. “He would have derived a deserved satisfaction today,” said Graham, “at seeing the success of work on which he had directly been involved.”

That wintery March day in Austria in 1955 ended with UEFA’s future sealed and strengthened. The foundations were in place for the infant organisation to take up its role as an umbrella body of national associations standing at the vanguard of the European football movement.

In 1968, the general assembly became the UEFA Congress – and this week, 67 years later, Vienna and the Austrian Football Association will once more be proud hosts as far-reaching decisions and measures are taken to reinforce UEFA’s eternal mission to promote and develop the beautiful game across the European continent.