Leicester make their bow alongside the big boys when they take on Club Brugge on Wednesday night. Conor Kelly recalls how their English rivals fared at the first crack
1. Manchester United (1956/57)
In life, certain visionaries foresee the future before everyone else. Immediately, Sir Matt Busby grasped the potential of the European Cup and recognised the importance of winning it. So when, against the FA’s wishes, he pitted his Manchester United side against the continent’s best, the Scot was blazing a trail.
United were England’s first representatives in the tournament, and they faced Belgian champions Anderlecht in the first round. They won the first leg 2-0, before recording a 10-0 win at Maine Road to wrap up the tie. Yes, United played their first home European game at their rivals’ ground as Old Trafford didn’t have sufficient floodlighting.
Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao were dispatched in the following two rounds, before Real Madrid awaited in the semi-finals. United lost 3-1 to the Alfredo Di Stefano-inspired champions at the Bernabeu, before rallying for a 2-2 draw in Manchester. The devastating Munich air crash a year later would deprive Busby’s talented squad the glory they craved, but 11 years later he would fulfil his dream with another generation of ‘Busby Babes’.
2. Wolverhampton Wanderers (1959/60)
The late editor of L’Equipe, Gabriel Hanot, is widely credited as the man who dreamt up the concept of a European Cup. The idea came to him after watching a glamorous friendly between legendary Hungarian team Honved and Wolves in the early '50s. The West Midlanders won, which led the Daily Mail to christen them ‘Champions of the World’. In 1960, they were the second English team to participate in the European Cup and reached the quarter-finals, losing to Barcelona 9-2 on aggregate.
3. Burnley (1960/61)
Burnley in the late 1950s, under the chairmanship of Bob Lord, were arguably the most innovative club in English football. They were the first to build a training ground, which resulted in a successful academy structure. Many of their 1960 league title-winning team were local and the Clarets entered the European Cup the following season, being edged out 5-4 in the quarter-finals by Hamburg.
4. Tottenham Hotspur (1961/62)
Most Tottenham supporters remember their Champions League campaign of 2010/11 with huge fondness, but for White Hart Lane regulars of a different vintage, that pales into insignificance when placed alongside memories of their first taste of Europe’s elite in 1962. Bill Nicholson led Spurs to the first league and cup double of the 20th century, and almost added the European Cup the following year. Captain Danny Blanchflower once said that “the game is about the glory”, and Spurs were agonisingly denied the chance to achieve it when a Jimmy Greaves goal was wrongly disallowed in their semi-final defeat to Benfica.
5. Ipswich Town (1962/63)
Sir Alf Ramsey is immortalised as the man who helped deliver England’s only World Cup, but fewer people are aware of his achievements with Ipswich. Winning the First Division title at the first attempt in 1962, the Tractor Boys earned their place at Europe’s top table. After crushing Maltese side Floriana 14-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round, they were soundly beaten 4-2 over two legs by the mighty Milan in the first round of a straight knockout competition. The Italians would go on to win their first of seven European Cups.
6. Everton (1963/64)
For the second year in a row, first-time English representatives drew Italian opposition in the opening round. Everton squared off with Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan side in the preliminary round and gave them quite the scare.
Herrera was infamously confrontational, but the Toffees had their own unique character in the dugout; Harry Catterick refused to play the PR game and once described himself as a “miserable-looking fellow”. At the height of Catenaccio, though, Inter were just slightly more cunning and calculated, sneaking a 1-0 second-leg victory at the San Siro. History also repeated itself, as the Nerazzurri went on to lift the trophy.