The game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan in Istanbul will be the 50th European Champion Clubs' Cup final.
By Adrian Harte in Istanbul
The game between AC Milan and Liverpool FC will be the 50th European Champion Clubs' Cup final.
Although the UEFA Executive Committee formally decided on 21 June 1955 to organise the competition, the European Cup was not a UEFA initiative. Like the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship, the driving force behind the competition was a Frenchman, L'Equipe journalist Gabriel Hanot.
Hanot first proposed the idea of a pan-European club competition on 15 December 1954 in response to an article in the English Daily Mail that had declared Wolverhampton Wanderers FC world champions following victories against Budapest Honvéd FC and FC Spartak Moskva.
Hanot's response set the template for five decades of European club football. He said: "Before we declare that Wolverhampton are invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest. And there are other internationally renowned clubs: [AC] Milan and Real Madrid [CF] to name but two. A club world championship, or at least a European one - larger, more meaningful and more prestigious that the Mitropa Cup and more original than a competition for national teams - should be launched."
His colleagues at L'Equipe took up the challenge and soon the basic tenets of a competition were in place although initially there was no proviso that the champions of each country should appear. Indeed, Jacques Ferran, Hanot's colleague at L'Equipe and another key figure in getting the idea off the ground, later said: "We thought that the greatest chance of success was based on the inclusion of the most prestigious clubs."
Ferran also explained L'Equipe's intention in setting up such a tournament: "Our sole objective was to get the competition off the ground - we never hid this fact - to help us increase our midweek sales. Having conceived our baby, our main concern was to find someone to adopt it."
Eventually, that someone proved to be UEFA. On 6 May 1955, UEFA's Emergency Committee urged FIFA to examine the conditions for organising such a competition and two days later, FIFA recognised the tournament on condition that it was "organised under the authority and responsibility of UEFA".
By the time UEFA decided to take on the responsibility for the competition, the pairings for the first round had already been decided. These were not actually drawn but fixed by the organisers, the only time this has happened in the tournament's history.
The first match took place on 4 September 1955 in Lisbon with Sporting Clube de Portugal drawing 3-3 with FK Partizan at the Estádio Nacional. Nine months and 28 games later, the first final was played, fittingly in Paris, with Madrid defeating Stade de Reims Champagne 4-3.
The trophy that will be held aloft by Steven Gerrard or Paolo Maldini tonight was not the one presented to Miguel Muñoz after that match. The original was handed to Madrid in 1966 and UEFA general secretary Hans Bangerter commissioned a new design from local Berne designer Jürg Stadelman.
The current trophy is the fourth version of that design with UEFA regulations allowing any club that wins the competition fives times or three times in a row to keep the cup. Madrid, AFC Ajax, FC Bayern München and Milan all have originals in their trophy rooms. Liverpool are four-times winners and, should they triumph tonight, the current trophy will find a new home at Anfield.