The UEFA Cup Winners Cup was a European football club tournament which ran between the 1960/61 and 1998/99 season. Teams qualified by winning the primary domestic cup in each association such as the FA Cup in England.
The first final was played over two legs, home and away, with Fiorentina defeating Glasgow Rangers 4-1 on aggregate. The following season the final switched to a one-off game played at a neutral venue.
In the competition’s early years it was seen as the second most prestigious club competition in Europe behind the European Cup, as that tournament only accepted league champions at the time. With the change in format that the Champions League brought, with multiple teams entering from certain countries, the interest in the Cup Winners Cup declined and it was merged with the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League.
The Cup Winners Cup was an openly contested trophy and had been won by 32 different clubs. Barcelona won the trophy more often than any other, victorious in four finals. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Rangers and Aberdeen all have the Cup Winners Cup on their list of honours.
Cup Winners Cup Winners By Year
|1995–96||Paris Saint-Germain||1–0||Rapid Wien|
|1986–87||Ajax||1–0||1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig|
|1985–86||Dynamo Kyiv||3–0||Atlético Madrid|
|1980–81||Dinamo Tbilisi||2–1||Carl Zeiss Jena|
|1979–80||Valencia||0–0 / 5–4 (pens)||Arsenal|
|1975–76||Anderlecht||4–2||West Ham United|
|1973–74||1. FC Magdeburg||2–0||AC Milan|
|1972–73||AC Milan||1–0||Leeds United|
|1969–70||Manchester City||2–1||Górnik Zabrze|
|1967–68||AC Milan||2–0||Hamburger SV|
|1964–65||West Ham United||2–0||1860 Munich|
|1963–64||Sporting CP||1–0||MTK Budapest|
|1962–63||Tottenham Hotspur||5–1||Atlético Madrid|
As the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup is no longer active, and has not been for some time, we will first focus on how it worked during its final years. Although this is when clubs began caring less and less about the competition, it is easy to forget that for its opening three decades this was a major continental honour. For most of its existence, the Cup Winners’ Cup, briefly known as the European Cup Winners’ Cup, was the second most prestigious continental tournament for clubs.
So, despite fizzling out towards the end, this is a competition that teams generally took very seriously and there was much pride obtained from lifting the trophy. To get a sense of its value by modern standards, think of it as being around as sought after as the Europa League without hitting the same heights as the Champions League. On paper, it was superior to the Fairs Cup (now the Europa League) although this was not always a view shared by fans and clubs. Nevertheless, this was still a tournament that many top sides contested year on year and its fully knockout format meant teams could easily face elimination due to just one bad game.
Unlike modern-day European tournaments, the Cup Winners’ Cup was unique in that each participating country only had one sole representative in the competition. The only exception that sometimes occurred was in years when the reigning titleholder took part as then that country may have had two representatives instead. There have been calls from some fans for a return of a one-side per country continental competition, with some even suggesting the Champions League should be reserved for actual league champions. As things stand though, it seems UEFA has no desire at all to return to a Cup Winners’ Cup type system.
The first-ever Cup Winners’ Cup match in 1960/61 saw only 10 teams involved, so just a fraction of the 49 that took part in the last ever edition in 1998/99. No matter the numbers though, the Cup Winners’ Cup always relied solely on knockout matches, never opting for a league type set-up. For a knockout system to work though you need to have the ‘right’ number of teams and this is where a preliminary round came in handy.
Using this qualification stage enabled the competition to have 32 teams remaining by the time of the ‘first round’. In 1998/99, 34 teams took part in the qualifying round and the 17 winners from these clashes joined 15 clubs that skipped this stage and headed straight into the first round. The clubs receiving the bye into the first round were not selected at random, rather it was based on UEFA coefficients. This meant clubs from the strongest nations such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain and England would regularly skip the qualifiers.
While many qualifying matches were competitive, in most years you would see at least a couple that were hardly worth bothering with given how uneven the teams were. In 1998/99, three of the 17 qualification matches were decided by a margin of eight goals or greater. Head back a year earlier and Romanian outfit National Bucuresti beat Welsh side Cwmbran Town 12-2 on aggregate. This was far from an unusual scoreline for a Cup Winners’ Cup qualifier either as both Maribor and Hradec Kralove scored 14 goals across two legs in 1994/95 and 1995/96 respectively.
Part of the reason for these mismatches was that in the qualification round you had both seeded and unseeded teams. For the clubs involved, those ranked the highest would be seeded and the lowest-ranked teams would not. You could therefore end up with a situation in which the 15th or 16th best team in the competition (based on coefficients) ended up playing one that was down in 47th or 48th. While this did create some severe mismatches, it also stopped extremely weak teams from qualifying if they were lucky enough to face a similarly weak team in the preliminary round.
The precise number of seeded and unseeded teams varied depending on entries the Cup Winners’ Cup had for that particular year. In a full 49 club tournament though, as seen in 1996/97 and 1998/99, seedings and pots worked as follows:
- Pot 1 – First 14 ranked teams and the title holders. Straight entry to the first round.
- Pot 2 – Teams ranked 15 to 31. Seeded for the qualification round.
- Pot 3 – Teams ranked 32 to 48 – Unseeded for the qualification round.
The situation when 49 teams were involved was that the first round draw featured 15 Pot 1 teams and 17 (out of 34) qualification winners who were from either Pot 2 or Pot 3. All Pot 1 teams were seeded for this draw, as was the highest-ranked qualifier as there needed to be an even number of seeded and unseeded teams. In the 1997/98 tournament though, there were 17 Pot 1 teams and 15 qualification round winners. In this instance, the lowest-ranked Pot 1 team (Luzern) lost their seeded status and ended up playing the lowest-seeded team (Slavia Prague) in the first round.
This seeding system operated to prevent the biggest clubs from being drawn against each other very early on in the competition. It was just not the first round that saw these restrictions though. For the second round, the eight highest-ranked teams left in the tournament were seeded for the draw. Only after this stage, the quarter-finals, was any draw possible between the teams left in the competition.
As in earlier rounds, the quarter-finals and semi-finals followed the same two-legged home and away format in which away goals were used as a tiebreaker. If games, tied on aggregate, featured the same number of away goals then matches would head to extra time and penalties. The only match during the entire tournament not to follow this format was the final. This one-legged affair took place at a neutral venue and would be settled on extra time and penalties if needed should the scoreline be all square.
One major change the Cup Winners’ Cup witnessed over the years was its expansion. In 1960 the competition featured only 10 teams across Europe but by 1998/99 there were almost 50 involved. Obviously, this increase created additional rounds but it was simply a case of adding more rounds of two-legged knockout matches with no group stage. Although most editions of the tournament included a preliminary round, not all did. This is because during some seasons there were 32 entries, so there was simply no need to trim the numbers down as this was already perfect for a straight knockout format. In many other instances, the tournament attracted 33 or 34 teams, requiring a tiny preliminary stage consisting of just one or two fixtures.
Another key change that the Cup Winners’ Cup witnessed, fairly early on in its history, was the removal of replays. These had initially been used across all stages of the competition, even during the preliminary round, in the event that two teams were level on aggregate after their two-legged match. Away goals did not come into it either so when Bangor City beat Napoli 2-0 at home and lost 1-3 away in 1962, this was not enough to progress. With no away goals rule in place, the Welsh outfit had to take part in a replay which they subsequently lost 2-1.
As well as applying to quarter-finals and semi-finals, even finals would be settled with a replay if necessary. The 1961/62, 1963/64 and 1970/71 finals all faced a second match as the first ended all square. For the first two, the first game was settled as a draw after 90 minutes, forcing a replay. Although you would normally expect the replay to feature a few days later, as was the case in 1964, the 1962 final had a near four-month gap between the two matches. The initial final took place on 10th May but because of the World Cup in Chile later in the month, Atletico and Fiorentina had to wait until 5th September before meeting again.
Soon after, to reduce the likelihood of requiring a replay, teams first played extra time before the match was deemed a draw. If no team could find the decisive goal in this extra 30-minute period, only then would a replay be called upon. Both Borussia Dortmund in 1966 and Bayern Munich in 1967 benefitted from this as they netted the winning goal in the 109th and 107th minute respectively. Extra time was not enough in 1970/71 though with Chelsea and Real Madrid forced to face off again just two days later in the same stadium. This is the last replayed final the competition ever saw though as they were dropped in favour of deciding games by a penalty shootout.
Deciding a game via coin toss was also scrapped early on in Cup Winners’ Cup history. When Rangers and Real Zaragoza were tied 2-2 on aggregate during their quarter-final clash, it was ruled that a toss of a coin would determine their fate. No penalties, no replay, simply a matter of heads or tails. The coin favoured Rangers who went all the way to the final, only to lose to Bayern Munich in extra time. This was not the only instance either as, for example, in the second round of the 1969/70 competition, PSV got the rub of the green after drawing 1-1 with Roma. The Italians were the last side to be eliminated from the competition via the coin as penalty shootouts were introduced for the following season.
Despite penalties featuring in the earlier rounds of the 1970/71 competition, they did not, as mentioned above, initially cover the final too.
Most Successful Cup Winners’ Cup Teams
Although we have already provided a list of all Cup Winners’ Cup finals, we also want to give a more concise overview of which teams performed best in this competition. Although it did not feature all the very best sides from around Europe like a modern-day Champions League, it always featured some very useful teams. The main reason though why no team was able to dominate this competition was simply that some teams only participated sporadically and certainly teams from the top nations. You would not have the same club coming back year on year as they would not be able to win their domestic cup competition so regularly (or they qualified for the European Cup instead).
In terms of teams from higher-ranked nations, Barcelona had the most Cup Winners’ Cup appearances at 13, meaning they only took part in a third of all possible editions. Only Cardiff City (representing Wales) made more appearances (14) but only once did they make it further than the quarter-finals. Only eight other teams from across the continent managed a double-digit number of appearances as most only ever appeared a handful of times.
- Four wins – Barcelona
- Two wins – Anderlecht, Milan, Chelsea, Dynamo Kiev
- One win – Atletico Madrid, Rangers, Arsenal, Fiorentina, West Ham, Hamburg, Ajax, Sampdoria, Parma, PSG, Tottenham, Sporting CP, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Slovan Bratislava, Man City, FC Madgeburg, Valencia, Dinamo Tbilisi, Aberdeen, Juventus, Everton, Mechelen, Man Utd, Werder Bremen, Zaragoza, Lazio
The format of the competition did generally work in the favour of teams from the highest-ranked nations. This obviously is not solely responsible for their success but it must have been a contributing factor if nothing else. Not only did clubs from the leading nations skip the preliminary round but they found themselves seeded for the next two stages, typically pitted against inferior opposition. In the last edition of the tournament, the top-ranked nations were England, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands and Portugal. These alone are responsible for 30 of the 39 Cup Winners’ Cup champions, despite many editions having teams from over 30 competing nations.
Austria and Hungary could have easily have made this list having had three and two finalists respectively, but in all instances they failed at the last hurdle.
Cup Winners Cup History & Records
When first launched in the 1960/61 season, the Cup Winners’ Cup was operating in a trial-run mode as there were some concerns that such a competition would be viable and attract sufficient interest. Part of the problem was that many European nations did not have a domestic cup competition and even where they did exist, they were not always taken too seriously. The English passion for their own domestic cup competition (the FA Cup) was not replicated across the continent although in Germany in Spain it was held with a good degree of respect. This ultimately meant that the cup winners who featured in the competition were not always of the highest standard.
The situation did quickly improve though as by 1968, all UEFA members had a domestic cup competition largely thanks to the success of the Cup Winners’ Cup. Because the cup was held in high regard at this point too, this also had the impact of making teams take cup competitions more seriously. This in turn helped boost the profile of the Cup Winners’ Cup so it was a win-win situation.
Although flying high throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the decline of the Cup Winners’ Cup began to set in during the 1990s following the creation of the Champions League. This was problematic as more than one club from the top-ranked nations could take part. This meant that many sides who would have played in the Cup Winners’ Cup were now playing in the Champions League What really killed the competition off was when the Champions League expanded to allow three or four teams from the same nation. This proved to be the final nail in the coffin with the Cup Winners’ Cup effectively merged into the UEFA Cup (now Europa League). This is why domestic cup winners across the continent are awarded a place in the Europa League.
- Most Goals in One Match – 17: Sporting CP 16-1 APOEL
- Most Goals in a Two-Legged Tie – 22: Levski Spartak 19-3 Lahden Repias
- Biggest Win in a Two-Legged Tie – Chelsea 13-0 Jeunesse Hautcharage
- Biggest Comeback – Portuguese outfit Leixoes lost the opening leg against La Chaux-de-Fonds 2-6 in 1961/62 but won the second leg 5-0
- All Time Top Scorer – Dutch forward Rob Rensenbrink who netted 25 goals in total for two clubs, Club Brugge and Anderlecht
- Most Goals in a Season – Dortmund’s Lothar Emmerich set the record in 1965/66 when scoring 14 goals across the competition