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Sixty-five years of European club football

The first-ever match in the inaugural European Champion Clubs’ Cup, which evolved into the UEFA Champions League, took place on 4 September 1955.

The Sporting newspaper reports the first European Cup match
The Sporting newspaper reports the first European Cup match ©Sporting CP

The winds of change swept through football on 4 September 1955 as history was made in the first-ever UEFA Champion Clubs' Cup match. Sixty-five years ago, Sporting CP and Partizan squared off in Lisbon to become pioneers in the inaugural UEFA club competition fixture – a ground-breaking game marked by winds of a far more literal kind.

The opening edition of the competition, long-standing forerunner to the UEFA Champions League, was contested by teams invited to take part, and the very first encounter got under way on a Sunday afternoon in the Lisbon suburb of Oeiras. With the Estádio José Alvalade under construction, Sporting held the match at the Estádio Nacional, a venue renowned for its blustery weather, and the elements would certainly add a dose of unpredictability to what was already a step into the unknown.

The home side were buffeted as much by their opponents as they were by the conditions. Invited to join the fray despite finishing third in Portugal the previous campaign, the Lions could nonetheless claim to be the Liga's dominant force. They had won seven titles in eight seasons between 1947 and 1954 – including an unprecedented four in a row from 1950/51 onwards – and owed much of their success to their legendary forward line known as 'the Five Violins'.

Of that quintet, José Travassos and Manuel Vasques were still at the club, but Sporting took on Partizan having yet to face a competitive game in 1955/56. In contrast, their Yugoslav rivals were well into their domestic campaign and boasted several internationals who had clinched silver at the 1952 Olympics. A large crowd of 'Sportinguistas' turned out to see the likes of Branko Zebec, Bruno Belin, Stjepan Bobek and Miloš Milutinović, and although Zlatko Čajkovski was missing due to his studies, Partizan nearly took an early lead.

Stjepan Bobek found the net for Partizan
Stjepan Bobek found the net for PartizanFK Partizan

Moments after kick-off, Bobek found himself one-on-one with Sporting goalkeeper Carlos Gomes, yet the forward could only fire wide – surrendering the honour of becoming the first scorer in the UEFA club competitions. Instead, with 14 minutes on the clock, Vasques beat centre-back Zebec in the challenge and released João Martins to rifle Alejandro Scopelli's charges in front, a blow compounded for Partizan when it emerged that Zebec had injured his knee in the process. In an era before substitutes, Zebec was obliged to see out the match as a virtual spectator.

"We were unlucky with Zebec's injury because we also conceded the first goal in that move, and those two facts together left us a bit nervous," said Partizan forward Prvoslav Mihajlović afterwards. Coach Aleksandar Tomašević had to act fast, and he switched Zebec to the left to take him out of the firing line, with Belin moving from right-back to central defence and Anton Herceg going from the left flank to the right.

It worked, and not only did Milutinović equalise on the stroke of half-time, the same player put the visitors ahead shortly after the restart. "The second goal we conceded was down to my misfortune," lamented defender Manuel Passos, singling out the elements for blame. "The ball moved in the wind and deceived me."

Madrid won the inaugural edition in 1955/56
Madrid won the inaugural edition in 1955/56AFP

The topsy-turvy affair was far from finished, and Sporting levelled the scores thanks to 19-year-old debutant Quim, recently snapped up by the club. Bobek then struck for the Crno-beli with 17 minutes remaining, but the final word of a frantic second half went to the home side, Martins making the most of an excellent Quim through ball to secure a 3-3 draw.

"The football suffered because of the strong wind on the pitch," noted Travassos, though he was quick to admit the "class" of Tomašević's team. "Partizan are one of the best teams that have ever come here to play," added Passos, while both camps felt they ought to have emerged victorious – proving that some things never change.

"We should get a win in Belgrade," was Bobek's take, and he was shown to be correct on 12 October 1955, when Milutinović helped himself to four goals in a 5-2 second-leg success. That took the victors through to a tie against eventual trophy winners Real Madrid CF, who prevailed despite a 3-0 reverse in Yugoslavia, having won the opening fixture 4-0.

The competition was up and running, and the two trailblazing sides there at the start had served up a fitting taste of what lay in store. Although Europe's premier club tournament has evolved significantly since, both Sporting and Partizan knew they had been involved in something special – and they gathered shortly after their historic first meeting for a joint dinner at the Lisbon restaurant Pôr-do-Sol (Sunset). For the players, an epic day's work was over, but the sun, of course, was only just rising on the European Cup.

Sporting 3-3 Partizan (Martins 14, 78, Quim 65; Milutinović 45, 50, Bobek 73)

Sporting CP's Hugo Sarmento goes close
Sporting CP's Hugo Sarmento goes close©Sporting CP

Estádio Nacional, Oeiras, Lisbon
4 September 1955
17.00 (local time)

Sporting: Carlos Gomes, Manuel Caldeira, João Galaz, Armando Barros, Manuel Passos (cap), Juca, Hugo Sarmento, Manuel Vasques, João Martins, José Travassos, Quim.

Partizan: Slavko Stojanović; Bruno Belin, Čedomir Lazarević, Ranko Borozan, Branko Zebec, Božidar Pajević, Prvoslav Mihajlović, Miloš Milutinović, Marko Valok, Stjepan Bobek (cap), Anton Herceg.

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