UEFA Champions League

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Formerly the European Champion Clubs' Cup, popularly known as the European Cup, the UEFA Champions League is a club-based European tournament for the national champions and other top clubs in major national leagues of European football (soccer) associations. It started as the European Champion Clubs' Cup when French newspaperman Gabriel Hanot was provoked by the response of English tabloid newspapers to Wolverhampton Wanderers' defeat of the Hungarian side Honved (of Budapest) in December 1954. Wolverhampton had beaten the Soviet side Moscow Spartak the previous month, and the English team was hailed in the press as champions of the world. Hanot was at the game and wrote that this was an unjustified claim, and called for the launching of a European-wide competition, less episodic than the mid-European initiative the Mitropa Cup, and embracing Milan in Italy and Real Madrid in Spain. The French Football Federation supported the principle of the idea, but offered no formal leadership. World governing body the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) said it was not competent to do it, but the president Rodolphe Seeldrayers offered encouraging words, saying that FIFA dealt only with contests between national associations, but that if match dates could be balanced with the proposed tournament, then the latter ‘would be extremely interesting and would be a great success’.

Hanot turned to the new European association, UEFA, and presented his brainchild to its first General Assembly, in Vienna on 2 March 1955. UEFA said initially through its president Ebbe Schwartz that UEFA was concerned with inter-national competitions, not inter-club tournaments. Nevertheless, a Belgian, José Crahay, picked up the challenge, and on 2 April 1955 at the Ambassador de Paris Hotel, Boulevard d'Haussmann, the cup was born. After this meeting in Paris, FIFA's Emergency Committee met in London and decided to authorize the competition on three conditions: the clubs must be authorized by their federations; the tournament must be organized under the authority and responsibility of the European (football) Union; and the name Europe must be used only for competition between national teams. UEFA then had little choice but to support the initiative and on 21 May decided to organize the competition itself. In response to the third condition, the new competition was called ‘Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens’. For most people this became the European Cup.

Initially, sixteen clubs were invited, not necessarily all champions as the launch needed big names, though in two cases (Holland and Denmark) the actual champions replaced the nominated club. The FA (England) refused to authorize its champion, Chelsea, to participate; and so Gwardia Varsovie (Warsaw, Poland) stepped in to take its place. Real Madrid dominated the first five years of the tournament, which, revamped in 1992, prospered as one of the most lucrative media sport commodities in the world. Fifty years after the launch, UEFA and its partner TEAM (originally ‘The Event Agency & Marketing AG’, and then ‘Television Event & Media Marketing AG’) could describe what was now called the UEFA Champions League (UCL) as a ‘unique property’, and the best football competition in the world, quoting Gazetto dello Sport on the event's contribution to European identity: ‘at these times of European Union expansion, nothing unites the people of Europe like the UEFA Champions League’. By now, the UCL included several clubs—not just champions—from the dominant football nations, and also dominated midweek television schedules—both free-to-air and pay-per-view—throughout Europe and beyond. The UCL global audience reflected ‘the exceptional demand for the product from fans, not only in Europe, but also increasingly in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas’.


Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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