Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bit of the Wright Stuff and Two French Editors, the Real Heroes Who Inspired Fifty Years of Europe's Greatest Club Competition; THE ENGLISH FINALISTS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bit of the Wright Stuff and Two French Editors, the Real Heroes Who Inspired Fifty Years of Europe's Greatest Club Competition; THE ENGLISH FINALISTS

Article excerpt

Byline: STUART JAMES

FOR a competition with such an illustrious history, the notion that the European Cup, which tomorrow night celebrates its 50th final, was inspired by a Wolves victory seems more than a little difficult to comprehend.

Today, Wolves results rarely register with anyone outside the Midlands but when Stan Cullis's team, skippered by Billy Wright (right), defeated Hungarian champions Honved 3-2 in 1954 it prompted a reaction in France that had far-reaching implications for the future of European football. Indeed, a damp winter's evening at Molineux was in a way the birthplace for the concept of Europe's best club competition.

Gabriel Hanot, editor of the French sports paper L'Equipe, had long campaigned for European competition at club level, though his foresight was not always shared by national associations, many of whom feared their own league would be undermined. However, when the British press proclaimed Wolves "champions of the world" following their victory over Honved, which was prefaced by a 4-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow - both friendlies - Hanot acted.

The former France international wrote in L'Equipe: "Before we declare that Wolverhampton Wanderers are invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest.

And there are other internationally renowned clubs: Milan and Real Madrid.

The idea of a club World Championship, or at least a European one - larger, more meaningful than the Mitropa Cup and more original than a competition for national teams - should start. Let us take such a risk."

Hanot's vision galvanised the staff at L'Equipe's Paris headquarters to support his plan. Having set up a basic format, which included home and away midweek matches, L'Equipe began to court the interest of some of the continent's leading clubs and national associations.

It was with their assistance that Jacques Ferran, the editor-in-chief at L'Equipe, drew up a first set of rules more than 50 years ago.

Ferran, however, was mindful that overseeing a competition of such magnitude required support well beyond that which L'Equipe could provide. He said: "L'Equipe didn't envisage organising the competition itself, as it did the Tour de France.

We had neither the resources to manage such a large event nor the desire to come into conflict with the national and international associations, who were keen to guard their authority."

Thus, Hanot and Ferran travelled to Vienna for UEFA's inaugural congress in March 1954. However, European football's newly formed governing body were circumspect about a competition that had the potential to conflict with national associations.

UEFA president Ebbe Schwartz remarked at the time: "It is up to the associations to give their clubs permission to participate in such an event."

UEFA's indecisiveness left Hanot and Ferran frustrated. They were already aware that it was crucial they had the national associations' support, though UEFA's backing would have gone a long way to achieving that aim. Indeed Ferran, somewhat prophetically, later wrote: "Once [the European Cup] has existed for a few years, we will probably be wondering why it was not created earlier. Maybe then this young, timid UEFA, might take responsibility for a competition, which would provide it with its raison d'etre. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.