The European Cup and subsequently the Champions League are the ultimate prize in European club football. To become champions in your own country is a feat which clubs are rightly proud, but to become a member of a Champions League winning team is something that most footballers dream of. For British clubs it was a long hard journey and it was not until the mid 1960s that a British team would be crowned European champions.
Club competitions between European teams go back as far as 1897, although it would be 1930 before a tournament for national champions became a reality, but even then, this lasted only one season for financial reasons. Although the idea was raised several times it was not until 1955 that the UEFA Congress approved a proposal that saw the European Cup start the following season.
The competition was dominated in the first five seasons by Real Madrid. With legendary stars Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano and Gento, ‘Los Blancos’ were almost invincible in that era. At Hampden Park in 1960, 135,000 people, still the largest attendance for a European or Champions League final, saw Real Madrid demolish Eintracht Frankfurt of West Germany 7-3. The match, played in front of Europe’s television cameras is still remembered as one of the greatest matches ever played.
The first British success came in 1967 with Celtic becoming champions. In 1968, ten years after the Munich air disaster when a young Manchester United team were decimated in a plane crash as the team left Munich after a stop over following a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade, Manchester United containing players such as Bobby Charlton and George Best, became European champions.
Over the following seasons teams from different countries, Holland, Germany, Italy and England have had periods of dominance. However some of the big clubs, in particular Milan, Real Madrid and Marseille were becoming increasingly unhappy that some of their tournaments were only lasting for two games if their teams got knocked out in the first round of what was then a knock out competition. So, the format was changed to a league format in the early stages, and the competition would be renamed the Champions League for the 1992-93 season which French club Marseille won before being stripped of the crown for match fixing allegations. In that year Leeds United, Stuttgart, Rangers, Marseille, Glentoran, Dinamo Bucharest, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona and Viking of Norway made up Group A. Group B contained other famous clubs, Milan, IFK Gothenburg, PSV Eindhoven and Porto.
The competition was further extended to include the runners up from the top European leagues in the 1997-98 season. Today the competition still attracts huge interest. If you would like to keep up with Champions League news go to football blog.