UEFA Champions League History & All You Need to Know about it
As one of the most important football competitions in the world, the UEFA Champions League, also known as the European Cup, is one of the most prestigious football tournaments in the world and the most prestigious club competition in European football.
The competition is organized annually by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and contested by top-division European clubs, deciding the competition winners through a group and knockout format.
The Champions League came about as a new version of the European Cup and was played for the first time in the 1992-1993 season.
In fact, in the beginning, it was a straight knockout tournament open only to the champion clubs of each national championship, which was first introduced in 1955 as the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
Later in 1992, the competition took on its current name, adding a round-robin group stage and allowing multiple entrants from certain countries.
Since then it has been expanded, and while most of Europe's national leagues can still only enter their champion, the strongest leagues such as the English Premier League, now provide up to four teams, in which for example now it’s time for Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea to play their roles in the 2020-21 Champions League.
Clubs that finish next-in-line in their national league, having not qualified for the Champions League, are eligible for the second-tier UEFA Europa League competition, and from 2021, teams not eligible for the UEFA Europa League will qualify for a new third-tier competition called the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Time to go through the UEFA Champions League history and take a closer look at it.
UEFA Champions League History
Time to dig in! But first let’s take a look at the history of these type of tournament and when did they start at the beginning.
The tournament’s background
To start, we decided to go a little more back in time and see what the UCL at the beginning was!
The first pan-European tournament was the Challenge Cup, which was a competition between clubs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The second one was “The Mitropa Cup”, which was a competition modelled after the Challenge Cup. As an idea of Austrian Hugo Meisl, the Central European clubs started competing for the cup first in 1927.
The first attempt to create a cup for national champion clubs of Europe goes back to 1930, which was played and organised by Swiss club Servette and took place in Geneva.
The tournament brought together ten champions from across the continent and was won by Újpest of Hungary.
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Gabriel Hanot is the name who led us to be here today, having tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League being held.
In fact, he was a French footballer and journalist and interestingly the European Cup, which became the UEFA Champions League, and the Ballon d'Or award were the brainchild of his.
As the editor of L'Équipe he received reports from his journalists over the highly successful Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones of 1948, and so he began proposing the creation of a continent-wide tournament.
He finally could convince UEFA to put into practice such a tournament when Stan Cullis declared Wolverhampton Wanderers "Champions of the World" following a successful run of friendlies in the 1950s, in particular a 3–2 friendly victory against Budapest Honvéd.
The tournament conceived in Paris in 1955 as the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
The European Champion Clubs' Cup
The first edition of the European Cup took place during the 1955–56 season.
Sixteen teams participated in the tournament that year with the first match taking place on 4 September 1955, ending in a 3–3 draw between Sporting CP and Partizan.
Milan (Italy), AGF Aarhus (Denmark), Anderlecht (Belgium), Djurgården (Sweden), Gwardia Warszawa (Poland), Hibernian (Scotland), Partizan (Yugoslavia), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Rapid Wien (Austria), Real Madrid (Spain), Rot-Weiss Essen (West Germany), Saarbrücken (Saar), Servette (Switzerland), Sporting CP (Portugal), Stade de Reims (France), and Vörös Lobogó (Hungary) were the teams to take part in the first European Champion Clubs' Cup.
It also worth mentioning that the first goal in European Cup history was scored by João Baptista Martins of Sporting CP.
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Interestingly the first winner of the tournament was Real Madrid as they defeated Stade de Reims with a 4-3 result at the Parc des Princes.
Alfredo Di Stéfano, Marquitos, and Héctor Rial were the Real Madrid players to score for the first European Champion Clubs' Cup champions.
The Los Blancos also successfully defended the trophy next season in their home stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu, against Fiorentina.
Real Madrid continued winning the title for the next three seasons, being the champion of the five first European Champion Clubs' Cup.
It also worth mentioning the 1960 final as it holds the record for the most goals scored, with Real Madrid beating Eintracht Frankfurt 7–3 in Hampden Park, courtesy of four goals by Ferenc Puskás and a hat-trick by Alfredo Di Stéfano.
This was the team’s fifth and last consecutive title as their reign ended in the 1960–61 season when their all-time rivals, Barcelona defeated them in the first round.
However, Barcelona couldn’t taste the sweetness of winning the title that season as they were defeated 3-2 in the final by Portuguese side Benfica.
The team kept the title for a second consecutive season next year by defeating Real Madrid 5–3 at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.
Then it was time for Milan to take over Benfica thanks to the brace from Brazilian-Italian José Altafini at the Wembley Stadium.
The next season’s champions were Inter as they managed to defeat Real Madrid 3–1 in the Ernst-Happel-Stadion and won the 1963–64 season.
The title stayed in the city of Milan for the third year in a row after Inter beat Benfica 1–0 at their home ground, the San Siro. The 1965-66 brought Real Madrid another title.
Finally, it was time for a British club to win the cup in 1966-67 season with Celtic taking the trophy home.
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Under the leadership of Jock Stein, the Scottish club defeated Inter Milan 2–1 in the 1967 final and became the first British club to win the European Cup.
The 1967-68 season saw Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup, beating S.L. Benfica 4-1 in the final.
This final came 10 years after the Munich air disaster, which claimed the lives of eight United players, and injuring their Cup-winning manager, Matt Busby.
In the 1968-69 season, Ajax became the first Dutch team to reach the European Cup final, but they were beaten by Milan 4-1, who claimed their second European Cup, with Pierino Prati scoring a hat-trick.
All the winners before UCL reformation!
Here is a chart with all the European Champion Clubs' Cup winner.
UEFA Champions League Anthem
The famous Champions League anthem, was written by Tony Britten, and is an adaptation of George Frideric Handel's 1727 anthem Zadok the Priest.
Commissioned by UEFA in 1992 the piece was performed by London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
The chorus contains the three official languages used by UEFA: English, German, and French.
Before each UEFA Champions League game, the anthem's chorus is played as the two teams are lined up, as well as at the beginning and end of television broadcasts of the matches.
The complete anthem is about three minutes long, and has two short verses and the chorus.
Many famous singers and music groups have performed special versions of the anthem at the Champions League Final with lyrics in other languages, changing over to the host nation's language for the chorus.
These versions were performed by Andrea Bocelli (Italian), Juan Diego Flores (Spanish), All Angels, Jonas Kaufmann and David Garrett, and Mariza.
In the 2018 and 2019 finals, held in Kiev and Madrid respectively, the instrumental version of the chorus was played, by 2Cellos (2018) and Asturia Girls (2019).
You also need to know that in 2018, composer Hans Zimmer remixed the anthem with rapper Vince Staples for EA Sports' video game FIFA 19, with it also featuring in the game's reveal trailer.
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Here is the lyrics of the UEFA Champions League:
Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Es sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event
Les grandes équipes
Une grande réunion
Eine grosse sportliche Veranstaltung
The main event
Les grandes équipes
Ils sont les meilleurs
Sie sind die Besten
These are the champions
Les grandes équipes
Many surprises during the history
Many surprising victories have occurred during the history of the UCL. Perhaps Porto's victory in 2004 was the biggest surprise while many clubs making their way to the final or semi-finals were others to be seen as a sensation .
Nantes in 1995-96, Dynamo Kyiv in 1998-99, Leeds 2000-01, and Villa Real in 2006 were some of these clubs to make us stunned.
Here are all the winners of the UEFA Champions League since its reformation in 1992.
Real Madrid holds the record for the most victories, with 13 titles in total and 7 in the new form of the UEFA Champion League so far. The team has also been the Runners-up for three times.
Most Titled Clubs
These are the clubs winning the UEFA Champions League since 1992:
Real Madrid with 7 titles are on top while Barcelona has been the winner for 4 times, Milan 3, Bayern Munich 2, Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1, Chelsea 1, Inter 1, Porto 1, Ajax 1, Marseille 1, Juventus 1, and Dortmund 1 as well.
Record breakers in the UCL
Here are the record breakers in the UCL history so far.
Youngest goal scorer
Ansu Fati is the youngest goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League with his goal for Barcelona against Inter on 10 December 2019. He was 17 years, 01 month and 9 days old back in that time.
Oldest goal scorer
The Rome former second striker, Francesko Totti, is the oldest goal scorer of all the UCL competitions since 1992-93. He scored his goal against CSKA Moscow on 25 November 2014.
Totti was 38 years, 01 month and 29 days in that time.
Most Goals per Match
Luiz Adriano and Lionel Messi are the two players with the most goals in a match in the history of the Champions League. Both players have scored five goals.
Adriano scored his goals in the 2014/15 season, in Shakhtar’s match against BATE Borisov, while Messi scored his goal for Barca in their match against Bayer Leverkusen back in 2011/12.
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The player with the most appearances in the UCL competitions since 1992/93 is Iker Casillas with 177 appearances.
All-Time Top Goalscorers
The UEFA Champions League all-time goalscorer is Cristiano Ronaldo with 128 goals in 169 appearances and 17 seasons.
After him there is Lionel Messi with 114 goals in 141 appearances.
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The Present format of the UCL
In its present format, the Champions League begins in late June with a preliminary round, three qualifying rounds and a play-off round, all played over two legs.
The six surviving teams enter the group stage, joining 26 teams qualified in advance.
The 32 teams are drawn into eight groups of four teams and play each other in a double round-robin system.
The eight group winners and eight runners-up proceed to the knockout phase that culminates with the final match in late May or early June.
The winner of the Champions League qualifies for the following year's Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
This year the traditional schedule for UEFA matches was disrupted due to the pandemic of COVID-19.
Those scheduled for May 2020 were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving some finals unconcluded.
Trophy and medals
As the award of the UEFA Champions League, the winner is presented with the European Champion Clubs' Cup each year. The current version has been awarded since 1967.
Before 2008–09 season any team that won the Champions League three years in a row or five times overall, was awarded the official trophy permanently.
There are five clubs owning a version of the official trophy, which are Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Milan and Liverpool.
Since 2008, the official trophy has remained with UEFA and the clubs are awarded a replica.
The current trophy is 74 cm tall, Weighs 11 kg and is made of silver.
Jörg Stadelmann, a jeweller from Switzerland, designed it after the original was given to Real Madrid in 1966 in recognition of their six titles to date, and cost 10,000 Swiss francs.