Defunct European Football Club Competitions

football with european flags as panels eurosFootball is an ever-evolving sport. Speak to an average football fan in the 1980s and they wouldn’t have seen any reason for things to change, believing that the Football League was as good as it could get. By 1992, the Premier League had been launched and the sport of football had been changed forever.

Similarly, few people would’ve thought that the European Cup was in desperate need of a revamp, yet nowadays the Champions League is the gold standard for club competition. Indeed, that itself is undergoing changes in 2024 that will make it look entirely different to how it looked before.

The point is that football is a sport that is always swimming forward, like a shark, so as not to die. As part of that, competitions either change or are removed from the roster altogether, with the theory being that this will keep things fresh for supporters and players alike. So it is that there are some tournaments that once existed but no longer do, instead being consigned to the dustbin of history.

Such competitions are always worth remembering, though, if for no other reason than it tells us what football fans of the past spent their time enjoying like modern fans watch the Europa League.  For defunct international competitions click here.

Intertoto Cup

intertoto cup in rc celta de vigo store
Intertoto Cup in RC Celta de Vigo club store – Pepe el guapo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The UEFA Intertoto Cup was originally called the International Football Cup and began life in 1961. It was the brainchild of Eric Persson, the then-Chairman of Malmö FF, as well as the future Vice-President of FIFA, Ernst B. Thommen, and the coach of the Swiss national team at the 1938 and 1954 World Cups, Karl Rappan. It takes its name from the Latin word Toto, which means ‘between’, and the German word ‘Toto’, which stands for ‘pools’. Thommen had set up football betting pools in Switzerland and had an interest in football matches being played in the summer.

Initially, UEFA were against the idea of the Intertoto Cup, finding its link to the world of betting to be distasteful. They allowed it to take place, but weren’t officially involved in it. It was specifically aimed at clubs that didn’t qualify for the likes of the European Champions Cup or the Cup Winners’ Cup, with clubs participating in such competitions not allowed to participate. When the first tournament was held in 1961, it boasted a group stage before knockout matched and a final. Within six years, however, it was difficult to organise the matches and so the knockout rounds and final were scrapped.

UEFA had taken official control of the competition by 1995, changing its format. Two winners of the groups were given places in the UEFA Cup, with Bordeaux going on to reach the final in 1996. As a result, a third UEFA Cup place was added from that year onwards. Many of the clubs that qualified to take part in it didn’t like it, believing it to be disruptive to their league preparations. The result of this was that few nominated themselves to take part in it, even if they were entitled to do so, with English clubs being especially sceptical.

UEFA threatened English clubs with bans from all competitions if they didn’t participate, so three did, often putting forward weakened teams, with none qualifying. It did lead to slightly farcical circumstances, such as when Crystal Palace qualified in 1998 despite having finished at the bottom of the Premier League. For their part, the European governing body rejected the idea that it was disruptive to league preparations and pointed to the summer of 2004. During that Intertoto Cup, two winners went on to qualify for the Champions League, with a third also making it in.

When Michel Platini won the Presidency of UEFA, it was announced that the Intertoto Cup would be abolished from 2009 onwards. It was part of a range of changes that were made to both the UEFA Cup and the Champions League, with a restructuring of European football in general taking place. Instead of making it into the Intertoto Cup, teams would qualify for the qualifying stages of the Europa League, which had been expanded to include four rounds in order to accommodate the Intertoto Cup teams into the competition.

Cup Winners’ Cup

Cup Winners' Cup trophy Manchester National Football Museum
Cup Winners’ Cup trophy Manchester National Football Museum – Ank Kumar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the 19th century, teams from Scotland and England that had won cups met to go up against one another in what were termed ‘world championships’. These matches were the pre-cursor to the Cup Winners’ Cup, with the matches being of interest to the club that had won the English and Scottish cups largely because there was no league in either country at the time. Though there was no direct link between the Cup Winners’ Cup and these early ‘world championships’, it was the basic idea that was taken forward to be used as the basis of the new tournament.

As with the European Cup five years earlier, there had been calls for a pan-European cup competition for some years. Prominent European sports journalists suggested that, as with the ‘world championships’ years before, the various domestic cup winners’ across the European continent could go up against one another to decide which were the best. Both the European Cup and the Fairs Cup had proven to be a great success, so it was hoped that a similar competition might also gain a solid following of football fans from across the various European countries.

The first tournament was held in the 1960-1961 season, being seen as something of a semi-official pilot competition. Many of Europe’s top clubs were unenthusiastic about it, not least of all because many of the countries that would have qualified to take part in it did not have domestic cups, or those that did didn’t take them very seriously. It was predominantly just England, Scotland, Germany, France and Spain that had such cups, with the biggest clubs from said countries turning down the chance to play in the new tournament. In the end, the inaugural version of it was competed over by just ten clubs.

The response to it from the media and the public was positive, leading to UEFA taking over control of all aspects of it ahead of the following season. The big clubs now showed more interest in joining in and by 1968 all of the biggest European countries had cups that they could enter winners from to the tournament. In the decades that followed, the Cup Winners’ Cup was seen as much more prestigious than it had been in those early years. It was only the ban on English clubs from European competitions following the Heysel Disaster that stopped them from entering it.

Once the Champions League was given its rebrand, the Cup Winners’ Cup began to lose some of its prestige. When it was expanded to allow more than one team from the highest ranking member association to enter it in 1997, the Cup Winners’ Cup began to look even more inferior. Some of the big teams that had never won it were instead gaining entry into the Champions League by virtue of finishing second in their league, reducing its appeal as a competition even further. By the end of the 1990s, it was seen as a significantly inferior competition by most.

Despite some discussion of reforming and adjusting the Cup Winners’ Cup, nothing happened to it and it was essentially allowed to die a slow death. With only one or two big names entering it each year, public interest began to wane. When the Champions League expanded further to include as many as four teams from domestic leagues, a decision was made to abolish the Cup Winners’ Cup and merge it into the UEFA Cup. The last version of the tournament to take place was the one at the end of the 1998-1999 season, being won by Lazio.

Anglo-Italian Cup

romas franco ciccio cordova lifts the 1972 anglo-italian cup trophy
Roma’s Franco ‘Ciccio’ Cordova lifts the 1972 Anglo-Italian Cup trophy – Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There was a feeling of mutual respect between Italian and English teams in the 1960s. So it was that both the Anglo-Italian League Cup and the Anglo-Italian Cup were setup in 1969. The idea was that of Gigi Peronace, coming out of the fact that the Football League Cup winners, Queen Park Rangers, were not allowed to take part in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1967, nor were Swindon Town in 1969. This was because UEFA did not allow third-tier teams to play in the Fairs Cup, so a two-legged match was arranged between the League Cup winners and the winners of the Coppa Italia, AS Roma.

It proved to be extremely popular, earning the nickname ‘the Anglo-Italian League Cup’. As a result, the Anglo-Italian Cup was inaugurated in 1970, being done so as a way of generating income in order to pay players’ wages when the close-season was extended thanks to the 1970 FIFA World Cup. There were six teams from each country involved in the first version of the tournament. Two points were given for a win, one for a draw and a point was awarded for each goal that was scored by a team. The best teams from each country made it to the final.

This meant that there were some fascinating match-ups over the years. In 1970, for example, Swindon Town played Napoli at the Studio San Paolo, whilst a year later Blackpool went up against Bologna. It was not the most popular European competition in existence, meaning that it was re-introduced in 1976 as a semi-professional tournament. Once again, six teams entered from each country, with Wimbledon and Monza reaching the first final. Between 1983 and 1986, the finals were all-Italian affairs, before the competition was abandoned altogether before being briefly revived as a professional tournament in 1992, ending completely in 1996.

Inter-Cities Fairs Cup

inter-cities fairs cup
Nicholas Gemini, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes referred to as the European Fairs Cup or the Fairs Cities’ Cup, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup is thought of by many as being something of a predecessor to the UEFA Cup. It was a joint idea of the FIFA Vice-President Ernst Thommen, working with the Italian Football Federation President Ottorino Barassi and the General Secretary of the English Football Association Stanley Rous. As you might well have figured out from the name, the tournament was setup in order to promote trade fairs between the participating nations.

It was often the case that teams from cities that were hosting trade fairs would play friendly games against one another, so a decision was taken to make this a more formal arrangement. It was initially only open to clubs from cities that hosted trade fairs, with the position that they finished in their domestic league being irrelevant. In the early days of the tournament, there was a ‘one city, one team’ rule in place. Having first taken place in 1955, by 1964 qualification was dependent on league position and that led to it earning the nickname ‘the Runners-up Cup’.

The first ever competition took place over three years, beginning in 1955 and lasting until 1958. This was in order to stop it from clashing with league seasons, with teams from the likes of Barcelona, Birmingham and Zagreb taking part. By the time that the third iteration of the competition took place, it had at least been refined enough to mean that it was played over the course of one season. This then became the norm for the tournament, which some may be surprised to learn was a rival to the European Cup during the formative years of both competitions.

The competition had numerous ‘eras’, which saw clubs from one particular country dominate it for a period. The ‘one city, one team’ rule was particularly bad for English teams in the 1969-1970 season, with all of Everton, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United missing out to Liverpool, Arsenal, Southampton and Newcastle because of their respective league positions. UEFA decided that the rule must be abandoned, eventually choosing to scrap the competition altogether and folding it into the UEFA Cup. The Football League maintained the ‘one city, one team’ rule for that tournament, until UEFA threatened sanctions and it was dropped in 1975.