A Championship of Europe for Clubs and a Cup of Europe for Clubs: the Vision of Jean-Bernard Lévy

On 11 December, 1934, in the French, weekly newspaper, Le Miroir des sports, Gabriel Hanot, a journalist and former footballer who had represented France on a dozen occasions on the field of play, suggested that each year there should be “international exchanges” in which two clubs from each of the great, European nations would participate in the championship of a different nation.

In response to this suggestion, Jean-Bernard Lévy, the President of the Racing Club de Paris, proposed instead that there should be simply a “Championship of Europe” for clubs, which would be composed of two divisions, and a “Cup of Europe” for clubs, the competition for which would take place as a prelude to the competition for the continental championship. The advent of travel by aeroplane and the consequently shorter duration of journeys between the cities of Europe, Lévy argued, would facilitate the holding of such multinational competitions. However, he conceded, there would be a problem, albeit one which would not be insurmountable:

“The great difficulty would be, of course, the participation of the English teams”.

Twenty years later, on 13 December, 1954, in Wolverhampton, England, Gabriel Hanot, who was working by that time for the French, daily, sports newspaper, L’Équipe, watched the champions of England, Wolverhampton Wanderers, defeat the champions of Hungary, Budapest Honvéd, by 3 goals to 2 in a challenge match played at the home of the English champions, a victory which led another journalist, David Wynne-Morgan, to report in the following day’s edition of the Daily Mail that the Manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Stan Cullis, had claimed after the victory over Honvéd that his team were now “the champions of the world”.

Wolves v Honved December 1954. The players pictured leaving the field.

In response to this controversial claim and in accordance with the proposals made by Jean-Bernard Lévy twenty years beforehand, Hanot called in L’Équipe on 15 December, 1954, for the establishment of a “Championship of Europe” in order to determine beyond question which club was in fact the champion club of Europe; and over the following months, with the support both of the owners of his newspaper, who were eager to boost its sales and revenues, and of his fellow journalists, most notably, that of Jacques de Ryswick and Jacques Ferran, Hanot promoted the idea of a continental competition for the football clubs of Europe.

On 21 June, 1955, after several months of campaigning by the journalists of L’Équipe and in accordance with the advice of the Fédération internationale de football association (F.I.F.A.), the Executive Committee of the Union of European Football Associations (U.E.F.A.) abandoned its initial policy of opposition and undertook to organise the new, continental competition for which the French journalists had been campaigning, albeit in the form of a knockout competition rather than that of a league championship.

Consequently, on 4 September, 1955, in the National Stadium in Lisbon, a team of players representing the Sporting Clube de Portugal competed against a team of players representing F.K. Partizan from Belgrade in Serbia in the first ever match in what was to become an annual competition among continental clubs for the glorious prize of the U.E.F.A. European Champion Clubs’ Cup and the concomitant recognition as the best football team in Europe.

Sporting Lisbon versus Partizan Belgrade in the first European Cup fixture.

Nine months later, on 13 June, 1956, in the Parc des Princes in Paris, this glorious prize was awarded to Real Madrid C.F. from Spain after its team had defeated that of the Stade de Reims from France by 4 goals to 3 in the final match of this first ever, continental competition for European clubs.

However, although Real Madrid had been the champions of Spain in both 1954 and 1955 and had then meritoriously won this first competition for the U.E.F.A. European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1956, in view of the fact that only 7 of the 16 clubs which accepted an invitation to participate in this first competition were the champions of their own country and in view of the fact that some, European countries — such as Russia and England — were not represented in this first competition, it cannot be asserted beyond question that the former champions of Spain were worthy of recognition in 1956 as the best football team in Europe.

Real Madrid – the first European Cup winners.

An invitation sent to F.C. Dynamo Moscow, the champions of the Soviet Union in 1954 and 1955, had been declined, apparently on account of the impossibility of fulfilling fixtures during the winter in Russia; and one sent to Chelsea F.C., the champions of England in 1955, had also been declined under pressure from the Management Committee of the Football League which, it has been claimed, was seeking both to avoid a congestion of its own fixtures and to maintain the prestige of its own competition.

As Lévy had foretold in 1934, the question of the participation of an English team in a continental competition for European clubs had proved to be a difficult one in 1955. But, as was also foretold by Lévy and demonstrated by the defiant entry of Manchester United into the competition for the U.E.F.A. European Champion Clubs’ Cup during its second season, 1956-1957, the difficulty of this question had not been insurmountable.

Perhaps Lévy was right about something else too ?

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