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Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Cup for the cupless part 1

Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger

Ah, what an exciting week!

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) Cup.

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 Intertoto Cup.

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 running.

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 German.

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 Hoyzer scandal.

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 important.

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.

Ajax won the inaugural competition, but that was quite a few years before the club would become truly famous. And soon there were problems.

Some 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 European Cup.

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.

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.)

And there 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.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.


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