Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 14 February 2008

UEFA Cup Curiosities

As the 2007/08 UEFA Cup enters its first knockout round and we're left staring at the remaining 32 genuine contenders for the title, we thought it was a good time to look at some of the quirkier aspects of the competition from its 36 year history.

One city, one club
The UEFA Cup began life in the 1971/72 season and was brought in as a replacement for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which had been running since 1958. The old competition was based around the premise that any cities holding trade fairs could play against each other, but though that may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it had its limitations.

One curious rule the contest held aloft was that only one team could represent any given city, and that's why the Final of the first competition featured Barcelona playing a 'London XI'. If you don't want to know the score of that one, look away now:

(Barcelona beat London XI 8-2 on aggregate.)

When the UEFA Cup took over in 1971, the 'one club per city' rule remained, but not for long. In 1975, Everton complained that they'd been denied the chance to compete when they'd finished fourth the previous season in Division One, two places below Liverpool. The rule was scrapped, and Everton were able to take their place in the competition for the next few seasons as of right.

Open-door policy
The strange thing about the UEFA Cup is that it's become a refuge for practically any team to take part in. Once upon a time, it was open only to clubs finishing as runners-up in their own domestic leagues. Since then, however, the competition has welcomed the winners of domestic Cup competitions, teams failing to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League, qualifiers from the Intertoto Cup and even clubs that have done well in the UEFA Fair Play rankings.

Quite frankly, it's more difficult not to qualify for the UEFA Cup these days than it is to qualify for it, yet some teams have remarkably managed to achieve this ignominy and yes we are talking to you, Harry Redknapp...

Territorial advantage
The UEFA Cup has been subject to a distinct sense of dominance on the part of certain parts of Europe. Take England, for example. It produced at least one of the finalists for four of the first five competitions, and three of those went on to win the competition.

In broader terms, clubs from northern Europe dominated the UEFA Cup for the greater part of its early history. In fact between its inauguration in 1972 and 1985, only Juventus and Real Madrid managed to wrestle the trophy from its northern counterparts.

Over the last ten years, of course, teams from Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy have been far more successful with only CSKA Moscow in 2005, Feyenoord in 2002 and Liverpool in 2001 breaking the current trend.

Where minnows fear to tread
The funny thing about the UEFA Cup Final is that it's attracted its fair share of lesser-known teams down the years, all of which have disappeared into history as quickly they arrived. In 1975, there was FC Twente representing the Netherlands as they faced (and were eventually beaten by) Borussia Mönchengladbach. Then in 1978 there was French side Bastia who reached the Final that year... and have promptly done nothing of any note since. They played PSV who themselves were still very much in the ascendancy prior to their European Cup win a decade later.

In 1981, Ipswich Town were pitted against AZ of the Netherlands (what is it about Dutch teams in this competition?) in another two-legged Final where both teams arrived with no prior reputation preceding them.

The ultimate in small teams must have been in the 1985 Final, however, as the mighty Real Madrid took on the equally mighty... Videoton. That's Videoton, folks - a team from Székesfehérvár in Hungary that were, for a long time, named after its sponsors, an electrical goods manufacturer.

And were they any good? Well they certainly ended Manchester United's chances that season in the quarter-finals and even managed to win the away leg of the Final at the Bernabeu. Had they not lost by a greater margin at home, they'd have lifted the trophy.

All of which goes to prove that the older the UEFA Cup gets, the quirkier it becomes. On that basis, we're backing Bolton Wanderers to win this year's competition, and why not - they've only got Atletico Madrid to get past first, after all...

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