The UEFA Cup is already well under way, even though it’s only September. Jerry Gardner recounts the history of this once proud trophy.
In the glory days of Seventies and Eighties football, there were three European competitions, all glamorous, all under floodlights, all super top quality (in my memory at least), all with the added thrill of the very real prospect of being knocked out if you didn’t perform over the two legs. No safety net, no lucrative group stage; just proper, European footy as it should be. Wonderful. Those three competitions, in order of standing, were: (1) the European Cup, for the national champions, (2) the European Cup Winners’ Cup for the national cup winners, and (3) The UEFA Cup for the league runners-up.
The European Cup, naturally, was always the main man in Europe, but in some respects, and for most clubs, it was an impossible dream: whereas the UEFA & Cup Winners Cup were well within reach. As Ian Holloway might have said, “You might not get a date with the supermodel, but you could still go out with the good-looking girl from across the street!”
Alas, much of the purity of the UEFA Cup has been lost in recent times. The foundation of the Champions League in 1992 was the first nail in the coffin. Another nail was duly banged in when the European Cup Winners’ Cup was rolled into the UEFA Cup in 1999. And the final sealing of the lid and burial deep underground came with the establishment of the UEFA Europa League (now incorporating the unloved Intertoto Cup), introduced in the 2009/10 season in a vain attempt to replicate the success of its bigger sibling.
FIVE FUN FACTS
In the good old days, all ties, including the final, were played over two legs, home and away. Since the 1997/98 competition, however, the final has been played as a one-off match, at a venue chosen at the start of the season.
The UEFA Cup (UEFA Europa League Trophy) is the portliest of all UEFA’s silverware, tipping the scales at 15kg.
UEFA make it very clear that the players above the plinth who appear to be jostling for the ball are in fact supporting the octagonal cup which portrays the UEFA logo.
Only four English clubs have lifted the trophy: Tottenham Hotspur (1972 & 1984), Liverpool (1973, 1976 & 2001), Ipswich (1981) and Chelsea (2013).
A huge 194 teams compete … or even 196 if the holder does not participate. Ah! for the unfettered simplicity of the olden times!
Extract from “The World’s 50 Greatest Sporting Trophies” by Jerry Gardner, just published, and available from www.publishpromote.com, cost €15 (about £13) including p&p.