Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Cup for the cupless part 1
Ah, what an exciting week!
The Intertoto Cup: A trophy so low in reputation that even Mohamed Al-Fayed has had his hands on it. (JamieMcDonald/GettyImages)
Hamburg and Wolfsburg have won their European games to progress to the next round, and Dortmund will enter the fray on Saturday.
If that didn't make headlines in your local paper
it's because we're talking about the UI (short for: UEFA Intertoto)
I admit it's not the shiniest of competitions, but us Germans have
become pretty modest as far as European tournaments are concerned.
Still, I know that this Cup leaves most overseas readers baffled, which
is why I have decided to while away the long summer weeks by giving you
the lowdown on what this is all about in a two-part series. Ready? Go.
In March of 1955, while UEFA, a bunch of French journalists and a few
selected club bigwigs (not necessarily in that order) were plotting the
creation of the European Cup, the famous Swiss newspaper 'Sport' was
very sceptical about this imminent new competition.
'It is quite
logical that one such project will lead to another. The Fairs' Cities
Cup is already being launched from Switzerland,' the paper warned
before becoming sarcastic and going really over the top to drill the
point home: 'In the end, "Sport" will take under its patronage a cup
for the cup winners. Once that's done, we will feel obliged to consider
the smaller clubs and create a cup for the cup-less.'
'Sport' didn't have to wait long to see all these chimeras actually
come to life. We all know about the European Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup
and the Fairs' Cup, which became the UEFA Cup.
But even the cup for the
cup-less is pretty old. It was the brainchild of Ernst B. Thommen, a
Swiss gentleman. He'd once been instrumental in the creation of the Fairs' Cup
(as you can read between the lines of the 'Sport' diatribe). Yet he
will be mostly remembered for that strangest of football beasts, the
Thommen had brought the football pools to Switzerland in 1937, having
been inspired by the Swedish example, the first continental pools after
the English started the thing in the early 1920s. Thommen always
dreamed of a club competition during the summer to keep the business
He didn't get much help from UEFA, who strongly distrusted
something that only existed so that people could bet on it, but he did
have an ally in Karl Rappan, best known as the coach who invented the
Swiss bolt system. By the early 1960s, Thommen had become a powerful
man within FIFA and had also enlisted the help of Hermann Neuberger, a
Neuberger, at that time head of the Saarland's football federation, was
a trained journalist and a born official, combining both professions by
acquiring an astonishing knack for PR and intrigue.
Or, if that sounds
too negative: he always sensed what had to be on the agenda and knew
how to put it there.
Germany played an important role in delivering the baby that would
be the black sheep of the football family for a long time to come. ”
Neuberger would be one of the driving forces
behind the introduction of professional football to Germany in 1963,
run the organisational committee for the 1974 World Cup and finally
become president of the German FA in 1975. In 1961, however, he helped
Thommen to get the Intertoto Cup off the ground.
Thus Germany played an important role in delivering the baby that would
be the black sheep of the football family for a long time to come. Why
we had such interest in this rather pointless cup for the cup-less has
to do with a German quirk I already mentioned while discussing the
We not only banned professionalism for as long as we
could, we also declared betting on sports (and almost any other thing)
illegal. That didn't exactly help the influx of money into our domestic
game, which made the legal, state-controlled pools all the more
Germany had followed Switzerland's and Thommen's example in
1948 and created football pools companies for the individual federal
states, all of them state-owned.
The plan was to raise money to rebuild
the grounds and stadia that had been reduced to rubble during the war.
The German pools system wasn't really a compulsive punter's wet dream.
The companies told you which games you had to predict (the number
varied over the years, but eleven or thirteen matches from the top
flights were the most common) and fixed the stake. But it was better
than nothing and thus proved hugely successful.
By 1955, the pools
generated almost 500m German Marks. That sum would decrease as soon the
national lottery, a latecomer, gained in popularity, but still the
pools remained crucial for the German FA. Which is why Neuberger walked
the corridors of power until UEFA allowed Thommen to go ahead and
organise a summer tournament.
The Intertoto Cup started in 1961, primarily with Swiss, German and
Dutch teams participating. Until 1967, it was almost a real
competition, with a group stage, knock-out rounds and a final.
the inaugural competition, but that was quite a few years before the
club would become truly famous. And soon there were problems.
teams that took part had also qualified for an official UEFA
competition, and the European governing body decreed that they had to
make up their mind and would be banned from other tournaments if they
remained in the Intertoto Cup until after the end of the summer break.
Thus Gornik Zabrze qualified for the 1966-67 quarterfinals but then
bowed out, because they had to play Djurgarden of Stockholm in the
That was nonsense, because the Intertoto Cup usually
finished in mid-June, a full three months before Gornik's first-round
games in the European Cup. Who knows, maybe UEFA were getting annoyed
by this rival tournament.
In any case, by the time the Intertoto Cup's 1967-68 season began, the
scheduling had become such a problem that the entrants were just pooled
into a bunch of groups and then played until the summer break was over
- no knock-out rounds, no final, nothing.
It was at this point that the
Intertoto Cup became a hunting ground made in heaven for trivia hounds.
ZZ: Coming up in part 2, this hirstute young gentleman. (Photography/Empics)
For starters, it was now the only official competition that never
produced a winner let alone have a trophy.
What it did produce by the
truckload were those gems you can bandy about down at the pub. In the
early 1970s, First Vienna were denied visas to the CSSR to play Slovan
Bratislava because the players' hairdos were too unruly.
In 1977, Graz
conceded 21 goals in six games - yet never the same amount of goals
twice. (Before you despair: 1-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4, 0-5 and 0-6.)
were teams called 'Jantra', 'Hacken' or 'Electroputere' in the 1990s.
(Don't write in. I know these are perfectly respectable club names.)
Then, in 1995, everything changed abruptly, as UEFA decided to adopt
the poor little Intertoto Cup. Zinedine Zidane, for one, benefitted
greatly, but more about that in two weeks' time.
Uli's seminal history of German football, Tor!, is available online.
Also available: Uli's new book Flutlicht und Schatten for all you German scholars to gen up on the history of the European Cup.