THE SUBJECT of a European Super League has been mooted on a number of occasions down the decades. After world war two, football became something of an emollient, a universal language that could unite nations and put aside old differences. To some extent, the creation of pan-European bodies, industrially, culturally or socially, was a way to ensure the continent didn’t beat itself up – after all, the two world wars were basically European conflicts that grew out of all proportion. Therefore, interdependency would make it pointless to go to war with your economic partners. Football was one way that healthy nationalism could express itself.
The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, came at a time when UEFA’s club competitions were gathering momentum and enthusiasm for the European Cup, in particular, was rising at a rapid rate. Attendances were very healthy, with average gates hitting the high 30,000s throughout the competition’s first five years. In 1960, almost 128,000 people watched the classic final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt.
By comparison, the European Nations Cup, later to be named the European Championship, had a modest start in 1960, with only 17,000 watching the first final between the USSR and Yugoslavia. The fact it was an all-Communist affair, in the height of the Cold War, was a major reason for such a disappointing turnout in Paris, but club football had definitely captured the imagination of Europe’s fans.
The Mitropa Cup and Latin Cup had driven the appetite for such competitions and for many years, the quality and excitement of the European Cup was enough to carry its development through to the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, talk of a European League was often the topic of debate of footballing intellectuals eager to promote further integration and a European Union. Most people realised t it would not all be milk and honey as the most exciting and progressive tournaments will have their drudgery and meaningless matches. Why travel to France, Italy or Spain to see a “dead rubber”?
However, if the concept of a European Super League was tabled in 1960, what would it have looked like? Compared to today, there would be a number of clubs that have had their moments but are no longer as relevant in the modern game. Some big names are in danger in the 21st century of slipping from view, but in 1960, they were part of the influential band of clubs that rose to prominence with the emergence of industrialised football.
Let’s examine what a super league in 1960 might have looked like. Real Madrid, inevitably, would be the first name on the list. Indeed, you could imagine the European Cup winners between 1956 and 1960 would be a huge advocate of an elitist competition, as they would surely be today. Real were in their pomp in that period and considered to be the finest ambassador Spain had. Their president, Santiago Bernabeu, was a big supporter of the UEFA competitions and of player movement – Real were always shopping in South America for players and their appeal was built on their early successes in Europe. Barcelona, while in Real’s shadow, were still powerful enough to become part of any European project, but they were not as convinced about the future of such ventures.
Italian clubs didn’t start to win the European Cup until 1963, but AC Milan, Juventus and Fiorentina were all very strong in 1960. Germany was still some way off producing the sort of teams it became renowned for, well organised, professional and focused. But in 1960, Eintracht Frankfurt showed what a good unit they were in reaching the European Cup final, losing 7-3 to Real Madrid but trouncing a very impressive Glasgow Rangers side on the way. Both Frankfurt and Rangers would have been in anyone’s idea of a European league at the time. Clubs from the low countries such as in the Netherlands and Belgium, were also lacking in competitiveness at the time. Austrian football may have passed its 1930s peak, but a team like Rapid Vienna would have the cachet and heritage to earn a place in the league.
As for England, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers were the teams of the day, although United were much weaker than they had been three years earlier prior to their vibrant young team dying in the snow at Munich airport. For that reason, United might not have been invited to join the league and perhaps Tottenham would have taken their place.
If the league had been formed in 1961, Spurs would have been included given they had won the double. Wolves were league champions in 1958 and 1959 and were FA Cup winners in 1960, so they were the strongest team in England. Moreover, they were accustomed to playing continental teams and it was their “champions of the world” claim after one floodlit friendly that was the catalyst for the formation of the European Cup.
Benfica were approaching their finest period as a European contender in 1960, so there is no doubt they would be natural contenders. Two years on, they would be regarded as the best club side in the world. Porto could also have staked a claim for a place among the premier clubs.
France’s Reims were beaten in two finals in the first four years of the European Cup and had some fine players, notably Raymond Kopa, who would join Real Madrid, and Just Fontaine, the leading scorer in the 1958 World Cup. Nice were also a power in France, winning Ligue 1 three times in five years and reaching the last eight of the European Cup twice.
Eastern bloc clubs would also be invited to ensure there was balance and some diplomacy in the structure of a European Super League. Dynamo Moscow, three times Russian champions in the period up to 1960, would be ideal candidates, especially as their team included the famous and much-loved goalkeeper Lev Yashin (pictured). In all probability, the Russians would have declined to enter.
Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade and Czechoslavakia’s Dukla Prague would also be possible entrants and if the Hungarian revolution had not got in the way, Honved would undoubtedly have represented the mighty Magyars.
So there you have it, a fictional European Super League – just one way of slicing-up European football. Here’s the final table for the 1960-61 season:
1- Real Madrid; 2- AC Milan; 3- Benfica; 4 – Tottenham; 5- Barcelona; 6 – Dynamo Moscow; 7 – Juventus; 8 – Fiorentina; 9 – Rangers; 10 – Red Star Belgrade; 11 – Wolves; 12 – Reims; 13- Rapid Vienna; 14- Dukla Prague; 15- Nice; 16 – Frankfurt.