UEFA Europa League History – The Inter Cities Fairs Cup

UEFA Europa League history begins in 1955, when several football bosses from around Europe organised an inter-league tournament to promote trade fairs. Known as the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, the tournament was only open to European cities that held trade fairs.

The first Inter Cities Fairs Cup was a drawn out over 3 years. The final was contested over two-legs by a Barcelona XI and a London XI. With the Barcelona side made up almost entirely of Barcelona FC players, it is perhaps unsurprising that they beat the more representative London City side comprehensively to claim the first title.

The second Inter Cities Fairs Cup was played over two years, and was set up as a knockout tournament. During this period the Fairs Cup began suffering from the competition offered by the European Cup, which featured league champions and was played over a single year.

As a result of competition from the burgeoning European Cup, the Inter Cities Fairs Cup was forced to amend its format to increase the tournament’s appeal to clubs and spectators. More clubs were allowed to enter from participating countries, and cities were allowed to submit multiple clubs to the competition. The tournament was also pared down to run over a year.

The changes made to the tournament were effective, and interest in the competition grew as greater numbers of clubs contested the Cup. For the first years of the competition Spanish clubs dominated, winning several titles. Thereafter English clubs pried the cup loose from Spanish hands and passed it amongst themselves until the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was transformed into the UEFA Europa League in 1971.

This new era of UEFA Europa League history began when UEFA took over the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1971. UEFA immediately introduced wholesale changes. The relationship with trade fairs was broken, the existing tournament format was scrapped, a new trophy was cast and the tournament was renamed.

Despite these changes the Inter Cities Fairs Cup is recognised as the official precursor to the UEFA Europa League, with its results and records assimilated into UEFA Europa League history.

To mark the end of an era a play-off game was held in 1971 between the cup’s most frequent winner, Barcelona, and the holder Leeds United to decide who would keep the trophy. Barcelona won the play-off 2-1, permanently retaining the Inter Cities Fairs Cup.