This is what the “trophy” of the Intertoto Cup series looked like in its final three seasons. Source: Wikimedia Commons/RicardoSilvaRDM
This is what the “trophy” of the Intertoto Cup series looked like in its final three seasons. Source: Wikimedia Commons/RicardoSilvaRDM

A Euro series without a final? Yep, has been done in football history!

Football OlyBet 11.05.2024

Although this year’s club season is still going on, four months ago a certain era ended. After all, this season is the last one in which the traditional group stage tournament is used in the Champions League, and starting in the fall, a different approach, the so-called main tournament, will be introduced there.

It was already clear from the packed football calendar that all 36 teams – yes, the Champions League will increase by four teams – will not play each other. Initially, the Swiss system we know from chess should have offered a solution to this, where the pairs of the first round are randomly drawn, but in the future, only those teams with the same number of points will be matched by chance.

However, it is now known that this approach will not be considered either. So how will the teams know their opponents in the new season? Namely, 36 participants are divided into four strength groups, after which eight opponents are drawn for each of them so that each team can face two teams from each strength group – one at home and the other away.

Everyone shares the scoring, and at the end of the main tournament (i.e. after eight rounds), the top eight advance directly to the round of 16. Places 9-24 will find their eight opponents separately in the play-in round. From then on it will continue in the same way as now: with play-offs.

If everything described above makes you scratch your head, you can console yourself: in the history of football, more chaotic schemes have been put on paper. One such was, for example, the Intertoto Cup series that ended in 2008.

An alternative to friendly matches

The competition, which was initially called the International Football Cup, was founded in the 1961/62 season when the Austrian Ernst Thommen had been looking for a long time to fill the clubs’ summer – a football-free break.

At some point, he found like-minded people – the Swede Eric Persson and the Swiss Karl Rappen – with whom the Euroseries was created for clubs that otherwise had no business in Europe. Let’s remember that at that time only the Champions and Cup Winners Cup series existed, that is, the second-third-fourth places in different leagues were left empty-handed.

In the first two seasons, Intertoto looked like a normal tournament: after eight subgroups, eight quarter-finalists were determined, which in turn determined four semi-finalists, which in turn determined two finalists, which in turn determined one winner.

However, things started to go downhill in the third season, i.e. 1963/64. The tournament was then expanded and instead of the previous 32 teams, 48 teams were accepted. First up was the group stage again, followed by… first round games? Because if 12 teams are participating, they cannot exactly be called the round of 16.

But how were eight teams sorted out from the six couples? Of course, by helping the “better losers” to get ahead. That season, those were Italian Modena and Swedish Örgryte, who lost to Bratislava clubs Slovnaft and Slovan 3:4 and 1:2, respectively.

So long, play-offs

If you thought that was weird, you just wait… In 1967, the series’ frontrunners managed to miss the play-offs, meaning the Euro series began and ended with the group stage.

To understand why this decision was made, it is necessary to understand the background. Let’s look back to 1961 when Persson, Thommen and Rappan wanted to bring Intertoto under the auspices of UEFA but received a negative answer from the European association. The reason for that was the parties’ connections with betting offices.

Thus, the leading trio had no choice but to finance the tournament themselves somehow. Using their connections, they reached out to the Swiss newspaper Sport, who helped with the vital part. The emphasis here, however, is on the phrase “vital”.

It was all about the cost

Although bonuses were paid at Intertoto, the amounts were ridiculously small and did not allow the clubs to recoup the expenses incurred for the Euro season – travel was much more difficult and expensive at that time. Not to mention the profit.

In addition, the Intertoto games were held in the summer, at a time when the players would have loved to rest from the long league season that had ended a few weeks earlier. Oh, and between these competitive games, it was also necessary to start preparing for the new season!

So, the success in Intertoto was more like a punishment – the costs increased, and the players were tired – which is why it was decided that only a subgroup would be enough to give a European output and play-off was not needed. It was decided that only the best in each subgroup would be paid the prize money which was between 10,000 and 15,000 Swiss francs.

The new system, which initially seemed like a solution, however, raised the following question over time – why do we need to play a cup series where nothing depends on victory or defeat? Because there was no winner, as such, and no one earned a trophy to show for.

UEFA finally came to the rescue

A much-needed lifeline was thrown to Intertoto in 1995 when UEFA decided to take them under its wing after almost 30 years of existence. Not only that, but to breathe life into the series, the format was changed as well – 12 five-member subgroups, from which sixteen round of 16 finalists were determined with the help of the “best second place teams” – and a motivating reward was added: both finalists were allocated a place in the UEFA Cup, the predecessor of the Europa League.

True, not everyone was inclined to trust it immediately, and before the innovation’s debut season (95/96), ALL English football clubs gave up their place in the Intertoto Cup series. Of course, this did not go unnoticed by UEFA, who threatened the English Football Association and the Premier League with a fine of 150,000 pounds.

But even this – the amount collected from the clubs – did not make the teams move a finger. No one was willing to compromise the preparation of the season: Intertoto’s group games took place from June 24 to July 23, and the final was scheduled for August 22.

However, when UEFA threatened to take away all the Euro places reserved for them from England, including the Champions League and UEFA Cup, Tottenham Hotspur, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday agreed to play Intertoto albeit with questionable eagerness. However, this was done largely to get the box ticked, because reserve and youth players were playing there, and none of them had any business beyond the subgroup.

The miracle of Bordeaux

However, when Bordeaux, the first “winner” of the renewed Intertoto Cup, sailed through the back door to the UEFA Cup final in the same season, the attitude of the English changed. Realizing that they could get a chance in the real Euro series this way, they started to take the matter seriously. Thus, in 1999 Intertoto saw the “triumph” of West Ham United, 2001 Aston Villa and Newcastle United, and in 2002 Fulham.

The so-called punk era – when the “winners” came from Denmark, Hungary and Bulgaria – in the Intertoto Cup series was finished and was replaced by a period where the “best” came from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

So not too many tears were shed when UEFA decided to scrap the Intertoto Cup after the 07/08 season after Michel Platini became president. Especially since during the same reform of the Euro series, the UEFA Cup Series was also expanded, which got a new face in the form of the Europa League.

Let’s finish it off with the “winners” (and why it is written in quotation marks).

After coming under the auspices of UEFA in 1995, the Intertoto Cup series no longer determined a champion, but the tournament system was structured so that the two or three best were determined in parallel play-offs, who were then awarded the places in the UEFA Cup series.

In 2006, however, everything was turned even more upside down: the subgroups were eliminated, and the clubs participating in the series decided 11 “winners” in three play-off rounds, all of whom advanced to the UEFA Cup. The club whose Euro journey ended up being the longest was the one that was subsequently crowned the ‘winners of winners’ in the Intertoto Cup.

It was Newcastle United in 2006, Hamburg in 2007 and Braga in 2008, who all earned a… plaque. Yes, even then the Intertoto trophy was not issued.


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