After a pandemic hit the entire world at its core, there were many delays to scheduled events like musical tours, the airing of television and film, worldwide conferences and sports events. One main event that was cancelled in 2020 was the Euro Cup. A championship football series between European teams only occurs every four years, alternating with the World Cup. It was pushed back to 2021, this June, and is currently on its way to successful completion. As Europe is known for rich history, beautiful and historical sites, different cultures and stunning places to visit, football is also at the top of that list. Let’s take a look here at more about the legendary sporting event, such as its history and origin, best moments in history and its best players.
In the early 1950s, the European Champion Clubs’ Cup – an unprecedented tournament between clubs from across Europe – had a significant role in the process of establishing its supremacy in international football. The idea was suggested on December 15, 1955, by French journalist Gabriel Hanot. Nine months later, it was fulfilled, especially due to the help of the French daily newspaper L’Équipe‘s football journalists, who generated strong support for the proposal.
What was European football?
European sports and competitions already existed during the inter-war period, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when the emergence of sports like European football became more professionalized. This new level of professionalism in the industry of sport allowed for lasting establishment of continent-wide competitions. With the history of the Euro Cup comes history of football as a professional job for men at the time and the evolution of the position’s place within professional societal standards:
This concept is spoken about in the literary article “The Origins of the European Champions Club, 1954-1955” by Phillipe Vonnard. He says, “…As was demonstrated in the case of France by Alfred Wahl and Pierre Lanfranchi – and can be extended to several other European countries – footballers’ status at the time was closer to semi-professional. Basically, apart from players taking part in the Italian championship, the top players from the English and Scottish championship and the Danube Basin region championships (Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia), footballers did not live solely off the game and typically had other jobs” (Vonnard 2014). With this being the case, it took some time for players to establish professionalism in order to claim it as a “full time job”. It is an interesting thing to understand because of how far sports players’ professionalism has evolved. Now, sports players can be considered some of the top earning people in society. Later in this piece, we will look at a few football players who not only established professionalism but also are considered celebrities with high-paying incomes even sourced outside of playing their game.
A Question of Professionalism
Taking it back in time, the 1940s were the toughest time for players because of many bans on calling them professionals. For example, The Dutch authorities, who until then had been opposed to the professionalization of sports, only began tolerating such practices around 1955. The Swiss Football Association completely banned professional players in the 1940s and entered a more liberal state as well by the end of the ‘50s. As countries started to recognise football in a different way, they incorporated smaller competitions within each country. In Germany, the best players were already earning relatively high salaries in this decade, and the professional championship, the Bundesliga, was born in 1963. The Lisbon Cups in Portugal also raised the league’s level of play.
Finances became a part of the conversation once professionalism was established within individual countries and their leagues. This meant an increase to payrolls, and teams began touring foreign countries. This search for additional income was not a clear break, but rather the continuation of a process set in motion between the two world wars in countries where football structures were most advanced, such as Austria, Italy or Hungary. These next complications led to a next level of government of the sport: the creation of UEFA.
This creation of a governing body of European football provided new opportunities for setting up a continental competition. The origins to this body can be traced back to a meeting made up of football officials in April of 1954. The FIFA organization was also on the radar of these officials and needed to reach a common understanding between the two organizations of how things will work. There was a belief that FIFA needed to remain the leading governing body while the European Nations Championship emerged as a possible threat to the World Cup. Once everyone was in favour of a more egalitarian model, it set the basis for the establishment of worldwide competitions that included national and international governing bodies.
The Media and Journalism’s Role
Everything in the world is advertised, written about or simply spoken about to get word across borders. Modern day media and propaganda includes technology, but back then, when the EURO and FIFA World Cup were starting out, how was the word going to get around about this new competition? Since the EURO Cup began from the French, there were a particular few French journalists who carved the way for advertising sports to the world.
Jacques de Ryswick: had a thorough knowledge of European football. He worked in sports journalism since the 1930s and provided much work in the field of EURO journalism. He made daring propositions and remarks concerning the world of football, making him a great addition to the marketing team of this organization. L’Équipe was the first French paper to write on football and Ryswick was in charge of a weekly column called ‘Les A-propos de la balle”, in which he commented on a number of selected football highlights of the week. L’Équipe was an extensive network of correspondents who worked hard to gain attention to professional European football and presented its readers with the opinions of several personalities in columns specifically crafted for the occasion. It was a new era for sports journalism.
These correspondents began to stretch in their inclusion of many countries’ support for the paper. A correspondent in Spain called Fernand Sautes indicated that the project launched by L’Équipe had been heard and published in Spain. However, there were still some countries and capital cities who did not support L’Équipe. The reactions that were positive sparked enough intrigue to draft rules of the competition, led by Parisian journalists. A copy of these rules has been located in FIFA’s archives, dating back to February 1955. The journalists had selected 18 teams to participate in a compete-by-knockout over two legs which would finish in a final held in Paris. From February 1955 onwards, the journalists sought out the support of national and international football federations. In this task, they hoped to benefit from the ties that the newspaper cultivated with several officials.
Champions’ League Today
The UEFA Champions League came about as a new version of the European Cup and was played for the first time in the 1992-1993 season. The common confusion included the name change in the 90s when the competition’s predecessor was the European Cup. It became a very prestigious league in England with the introduction of a mini league group stage system. The new concept had a resemblance to the FIFA World Cup with an early phase of group play followed by a knockout phase.
The European Cup Begins
In September 1960, the first ever European Cup would begin, the 16 teams being: AGF Aarhus (Denmark), RSC Anderlecht (Belgium), Djurgardens IF (Sweden), SC Rot-Weiss Essen (Germany), Gwardia Warszawa (Poland), Hibernian (Scotland), AC Milan (Italy), MTK Budapest (Hungary), FK Partizan (Yugoslavia), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), SK Rapid Wien (Austria), Real Madrid (Spain), Stade de Reims (France), 1. FC Saarbrücken (Saarland), Servette (Switzerland) and Sporting CP (Portugal). The first fixture took place in Lisbon as Sporting and Partizan played out an entertaining 3-3 draw. An official trophy was named after The first General Secretary of the UEFA Henri Delaunay. This all makes for the inception of the first European Competition ever to occur a month before the creation of the Champions’ Cup. There was also the Fairs Cup, but it was not as popular because of its stigma of being “unofficial.” The Fairs cup was not organized by UEFA unlike the other competitions which made the limits of its reach only go as far as a few cities. In time, Fairs cup became a tournament reserved for runners-up of domestic championships.
Today, the EUROs are the second most-watched football tournament in the world. It ranks next to FIFA World Cup as the most prestigious competition for national teams. Let’s take a look at some iconic moments in its history as a huge sporting event:
GREECE SHOCKED THE WORLD
In 2004 Greece shocked the world when they pulled off a European Championship victory over hosts Portugal in their opening game. Greece beat the hosts by the same scoreline and claimed their first ever European Championship. It was a moment no one saw coming!
DENMARK BECAME UNLIKELY CHAMPIONS
In a similar manner, the odds for Denmark succeeding in this competition have always been low. No one was betting on them, and 1992 wasn’t any different–except it was. Denmark failed to qualify for the European Competition that year, but group winners Yugoslavia were at war and subsequently disqualified due to the country’s unrest. They went on a magnificent journey to the final where they beat mighty Germany to win the competition.
ITALY’S COIN TOSS VICTORY
In 1968, coin tosses were commonly used to determine matches. No coin toss is perhaps so memorable as the one between Italy and the Soviet Union in that year’s European Championship semifinal. After a 0-0 draw and a goalless period of extra time, the match was decided on a coin toss, which Italy duly won. They took the toss as a huge win for the entire competition.
DAVID VILLA’S HAT TRICK
In Euro 2008, Spain‘s David Villa scored a hat-trick against Russia during a 4-1 rout. He became just the eighth player to achieve such a feat in Championship history and it marked Spain’s position of dominance in international competition.
ANDREA PIRLO AND ENGLAND
This Italian player was all about the mind games in the shootout against England at Euro 2012. He played the game with his mind more than his feet, and in that moment, opted for a cheeky Panenka at the pivotal moment.
MARIO BALOTELLI’S POSE
Balotelli put in one of his best international performances and dominated Die Mannschaft. After scoring an iconic goal that was almost powerful enough to break the net, the player ripped off his shirt and posed ‘Hulk’ style for the fans. Italy brings more than just mouth-watering cuisine…
CRISTIANO RONALDO, AN INJURY AND MOTHS
In the 2016 final, after spraining his left knee ligaments in a challenge with Dimitri Payet after just 25 minutes, Ronaldo faced even worse matters on the field. One moth landed its way onto his face as the soccer player sprawled on the pitch. It made meme and football history.
ATONIN PANENKA THE ORIGINAL
There have been a few high profile examples of players displaying the ultimate in spot-kick cool over the past couple of decades. This iconic style technique was used by few players over the decades. Some include Pirlo (mentioned above) and Franceso Totti. The creator of it was Panenka at the 1976 championship. Winning the trophy for the Czechs, he scored a penalty that later became named the ‘Panenka’ penalty.
The European Cup and European Championship are now different competitions. They started on a similar path, colliding in history before 1960 when the first EURO Cup occurred. The two competitions are iconic in of themselves, creating incredible moments for players and fans over the span of several decades. An interesting thing to note as a final thought is the merging of them in terms of their players sharing skill and participation. Just nine players have ever won a European Cup and the European Championship in the same year! To qualify as ‘double winners’, players must have appeared in both winning finals. Incidentally, no one has won the EURO and the UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup in the same summer since 1996, when Bayern stars Markus Babbel, Thomas Helmer, Thomas Strunz, Christian Ziege, Mehmet Scholl and Jürgen Klinsmann went on to win EURO with Germany (according to UEFA.com).
With the EUROs coming to a finish in the next few weeks, it is an exciting time in history. Pushed back a year and airing ‘COVID’ style with almost empty stadiums, the 2020/21 EUROs are the sport to be watching (at home).