The UEFA cup is one of the most widely recognized prizes in European football. Its origins go back to 1955 when three high ranking officials of the UEFA (Governing body of all European football, club and international, amateur and professional) have come with the idea of organising a cup competition for representative sides form a number of prominent cities in Europe. They decided on a number of cities which housed international trade fairs on a regular basis. The three officials were: Switzerland’s Ernst Thommen, Italy’s Ottorino Barrasi - both future FIFA vice-presidents - and England’s Sir Stanley Rous, the future president of FIFA. They have finalized their early concepts and the forerunner to the UEFA Cup, namely the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was founded on 18 April 1955, two weeks after the founding of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. The first Fairs Cup involved teams from the following cities:
It was originally conceived as a two-year tournament, whereby fixtures would be set at regular intervals without interfering with the domestic competitions. It deserves noting that the teams were city representatives and not actual clubs. This means that Barcelona was allowed to use players from FC Barcelona and Espanyol, Milan could use players from AC Milan and Internazionale and London could use one of its zillion professional clubs. In the end Barcelona won the cup by beating a London representative side 8-2 on aggregate in the final. Incidentally Barcelona only used FC Barcelona players.
The second edition reverted to the use of club teams and the cup was still held in a simple knockout fashion. The teams still had to hail from the trade fair staging cities though. The second edition was the last to be held bi-annually; after that the tournament was held each year. 16 club teams participated in the second tournament. The participation grew steadily; in 1962 the number of entrants had risen to 32; there were 48 in 1967; 60 in 1968; and as from the 1969-1970 season there were 64 participating. This number was fixed for a long time until the former Cup Winner's Cup was removed from the schedule and now the number of entrants exceeds 100.
In its early years teams from southern Europe, especially Spain, tended to dominate the Fairs Cup, most notably Barcelona, who won it three times, and Valencia CF who won it twice. In 1968 Leeds United AFC became the first northern European club to win the trophy, heralding a run of six successive wins by English clubs. The fifth of these was the 1971/72 tournament, won by Tottenham Hotspur FC, and the first to be known as the UEFA Cup. The change of name was recognition of the fact that the competition had cast aside its ties with the international trade fairs, leaving UEFA as the only organisation with enough administrative and sporting know-how to run it.
During the 1970s German, Dutch and Belgian sides began to compete with the English for places on the podium and IFK Göteborg raised the Swedish flag by winning in 1982 and 1987. In fact between 1968 and 1984, only one team from the south – Juventus FC in 1977 - managed to disrupt the dominance of the northern Europeans with Leeds, Liverpool FC, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Tottenham all winning twice during this period.
But following back-to-back victories by Real Madrid CF in the mid-1980s, Italian clubs came to dominate the tournament in the 1990s. Starting with SSC Napoli’s (led by the divinely insipred Maradona) victory in 1989, Italian clubs won the UEFA Cup eight times in 11 seasons, with Internazionale FC winning it three times, before Galatasaray SK claimed it as Turkey’s first European club prize during the 2000/2001 season.
With the exception of the 1964 and 1965 finals, held in Barcelona and Turin respectively, the final had, like the previous rounds, always been a two-legged, affair. The format changed permanently to a one-tie final in 1998 when, in an all-Italian final, Inter beat S.S. Lazio 3-0 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The following season, at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, Parma AC beat Olympique de Marseille, only the third time a French club had reached the final and the third time they had lost.
The competition is now open to each national association's domestic cup winners and clubs that finish directly below clubs that participate in the UEFA Champions League according to the UEFA coefficient ranking list. In addition, three Fair Play representatives, three UEFA Intertoto Cup 'winners', some domestic league cup winners, the 16 clubs eliminated from the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round and the eight clubs that are ranked in third position in the UEFA Champions League first group stage contest the competition. As with other club competitions, the number of clubs that can be entered by an association and their entry point in the competition depends on the association's position in UEFA's coefficient ranking list.
The tournament is played following the simple knock-out format. Two legs are played each round. Each team plays one home game and one away game. The final is a one-tie round. The location is allotted by a draw prior to the start of competition.
Inter, Juventus and Liverpool share the record of three UEFA Cup final successes apiece. Real Madrid CF, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Parma AC, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, IFK Göteborg and Feyenoord (the current holders as of this writing) have all won the competition twice.
As for the Bertoni designed trophy itself, the winning captain never has problems finding enough strength to lift the 15kg of silverware high in the air. And if you want to calculate how much champagne it holds, the measurements are 65cm high, 33 wide and 23 deep. The trophy, which is silver on a yellow marble plinth, was designed and crafted by the Bertoni workshops in Milan for the 1972 final at a cost of €23,000. Unlike the Champions Cup, the UEFA Cup has no handles. It looks simple. Just above the plinth, a group of players seem to be jostling for the ball. In fact they are supporting the octagonal cup which is emblazoned with the UEFA emblem. The tournament regulations state that the UEFA Cup is handed to the winners to keep for one year and that each champion is entitled to keep a four-fifths size replica. The regulations also state that the original trophy will be handed to any club which wins the UEFA Cup three times in succession, or five times overall. This, of course, has not happened – yet.
Incidentally last season's (2001/2002) final was held at the Feyenoord stadium in Rotterdam. Better yet the final involved Feyenoord themselves facing the German side Borussia Dortmund. It is very rare to have a European final be played in the home stadium since the location is determined prior to the competition's start. Joyously I have managed to get my hands on a ticket to that game (the tickets sold out in 2.5 minutes!). Additionally Feyenoord managed to take the cup!!!!!!!! Yes I have red and white blood in my veins. My next year's season tickets are in the mail!