The Story of the Fairs Cup

03 September 2013 09:40

The Fairs Cup was one of the most beautiful trophies in football, reckons Jerry Gardner, as he tells more about the predecessor of the UEFA Cup.

The Fairs Cup was the brainchild of three footballing grandees: Ernst Thommen, Ottorino Barassi and Stanley Rous. They designed a tournament for teams from European cities which held regular international trade fairs. Thus was born the “International Industries Fairs Inter-Cities Cup.” Initially, entry to the tournament was only open to cities which held trade fairs, and had nothing to do with league position. Early competitions also invoked a one-city, one-team rule; thus Chelsea’s inclusion in the 1961 tournament precluded the involvement of other London teams.

The original competition was scheduled to be held over two years, but actually took three. In the first final, in 1958, a Barcelona team beat a London team 8-2 on aggregate.

For the second tournament, the organisers decided that clubs sides, as opposed to representative teams, should participate. The knockout format continued, but the teams still had to come from cities staging trade fairs. Sixteen clubs took part in the 1958-60 tournament; thereafter it was staged on an annual basis. By 1962/63 the number of entrants had risen to 32. Numbers fluctuated over the years, until the 1969/70 season, when the organisers settled on 64 teams for the starting grid.

Towards the end of its life, the stipulation that Fairs Cup places were only open to cities with international trade fairs began to fade, with slots now awarded to the runner-up in the domestic leagues across Europe: and this rule was carried over when the UEFA Cup replaced the Fairs Cup in 1971.


The first British club to reach the final of a European competition was Birmingham City in the 1960 Fairs Cup. They were losing finalists in 1961, too.

The last four Fairs Cups were won by English teams: Leeds United, Newcastle United, Arsenal and Leeds again. Amazingly, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool continued the English trend, winning the UEFA Cup, in the subsequent two seasons.

The first and last winners of the Fairs Cup (Barcelona and Leeds United) played a one-off match in 1971 to decide on a permanent home for the old trophy. Barcelona took the honours 2–1.

The beautiful cup is also known as the Noel Beard Trophy. Noël Béard was a Swiss industrialist whose family firm made dining equipment for hotels. The cup was made in his factory, and hence carried his name.

Players from the winning side received a miniature replica of the Noel Beard trophy.

Extract from “The World’s 50 Greatest Sporting Trophies” by Jerry Gardner, just published, and available from, cost €15 (about £13) including p&p.

Source: DSG