We may have waited an extra year for UEFA EURO 2020 – but it took 30 years for the Frenchman's original dream of a European national team competition to reach fruition.
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“Few men have left such a distinct mark, by the sheer force of their personality, on such a universal activity as football, as Henri Delaunay.” (Fifty Years of UEFA book, 2004)
UEFA’s first general secretary, Frenchman Henri Delaunay, holds a prominent position in the organisation’s history, not only as a pioneering spirit who made a crucial contribution to the birth of the European governing body, but also through his role as the catalyst for the creation of the European Championship.
Born in Paris in 1883, Henri Delaunay was a devoted football enthusiast who made the game his passion from an early age. At the tender age of 20, he was appointed secretary of Etoile des Deux Lacs, a leading French club of the time, and he took the helm as club president when he was 26. Delaunay’s skills as an administrator had already been noticed at national level in the intervening years – in 1906, when he was just 23, he was named as general secretary of the new French Interfederal Committee, the forerunner of the French Football Federation (FFF) which was founded in 1919.
Football in the blood
A man of firm authority, who was also blessed with an innate sensitivity and well-sharpened humour, Henri Delaunay was an expert on football and its laws – a particular help in his role as a referee in France. In 1920, the world football body FIFA asked him to sit on its new consultative committee for the Laws of the Game, which would eventually be renamed the FIFA Referees Committee. He would subsequently compile the first series of decisions concerning the interpretation of the laws.
Delaunay cherished the dream of setting up a European competition for national teams to develop the identity and appeal of the national team game. He also gave impetus to the start of the FIFA World Cup. At the 1928 FIFA Congress in Amsterdam, he was instrumental in the adoption of a decisive resolution “to organise a competition which would be open to the representative teams of all of the affiliated national associations.” The inaugural World Cup finals would duly follow in 1930.
Delaunay would go on to be a seminal figure in UEFA’s founding in June 1954, acting as a key spearhead in moves towards the formation of a group comprising Europe’s national associations. FIFA’s decision in 1953 to authorise continental football confederations paved the way for the birth of the new European body at a meeting of 28 national associations in Basel, Switzerland, the following summer.
Henri Delaunay’s tenure as UEFA general secretary would be regrettably short. His death in November 1955 meant that he would not be on hand to help UEFA take its first faltering steps; nor would he see the fulfilment of his long-standing dream of a European national team competition. Consequently, when the European Championship was finally launched in the summer of 1958, it was fitting that the trophy should carry the name of the man who had fought so tenaciously for the competition’s creation.