It’s now 20 years since UEFA put the kibosh on the Cup Winners’ Cup after almost 40 years of existence. Sadly, there was no place for it in the brave new world of an ever-expanding Champions League and everyone’s favourite Thursday night out in Genk: the Europa League.
But we’ll always have fond memories – and here are six things we loved most about the tournament....
1. English dominance
Not often a combination of words you see in relation to a European football competition (this season aside, of course), but the Cup Winners’ Cup was most definitely a tournament for the English clubs – who lifted the trophy eight times. Spain and Italy were close behind with seven apiece, while German teams only picked it up on four occasions.
No one club could challenge Barcelona's supremacy, however. They won the tournament four times – twice that of their nearest rivals, Chelsea among them.
Another six English clubs took the title over the years, with West Ham, Everton and Manchester City getting in the mix along with Manchester United. Even Tottenham won it once.
2. Hipster football
The great thing about cup competitions is that you never know when a shock winner is going to come along. And lots of them made it to the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Bayer Uerdingen, Watershei Thor, BSG Sachsenring Swickau and even Dunfermline Athletic all made it as far as the semis. The 1981 final was particularly obscure, with Georgians Dinamo Tblisi (then of the USSR) coming back from a goal down to beat Carl-Zeiss Jena of East Germany in the most hipster football final in European history.
3. The winners' jinx
In all of its 39 years, the cup was never retained. Even more remarkable than that is the number of times it could have been: on eight occasions, the previous year’s winner fell at the final hurdle.
The jinx began when inaugural winners Fiorentina looked on course to retain the cup in 1962 – only to be whacked 3-0 by Atletico Madrid in a final replay. A similar fate then befell Atleti, who lost the final 5-1 to Tottenham the following season.
Arsenal were famous victims of the curse decades later, having beaten holders Parma in 1994. The Gunners reached the showpiece again in 1995, only to lose out in extra time to Real Zaragoza and that Nayim goal.
GREATEST GOAL I EVER SAW... Nayim from the halfway line, 1995
4. Great goals
Talking of that Nayim goal, the Cup Winners' Cup showcased some corking goals over the years.
The former Tottenham man wasn’t the only star pinging them over English goalkeepers from afar: the 1966 final witnessed a delightful chip from Reinhard Libuda (opens in new tab) for Borussia Dortmund against Liverpool. Two years earlier, Sporting’s Osvaldo da Silva scored a 30-yard free-kick against Manchester United (opens in new tab).
Back in the 1990s, Ian Wright hit a thunderbastard against Auxerre in 1995 (opens in new tab), and if this banana shot from Tino Asprilla (opens in new tab) for Parma against Sparta Prague in 1993 doesn’t do it for you, then we don’t know what will.
5. Seaman saves
Seeing an England goalkeeper win a penalty shootout against an Italian team is a rare and wonderful thing. Even if you weren’t an Arsenal fan, David Seaman’s heroics in the 1995 semi-final against Sampdoria was a memorable moment in a decade of penalty pain.
Seaman had already been made to look silly when he got caught off his line by Roberto Mancini in the first half, something he would just have to get used to in the years that followed. But at the end of extra-time he got to enjoy his moment of glory, after a late goal from Arsenal's Stefan Schwarz pulled the score back to 3-2 in Sampdoria's favour – drawing the tie 5-5 on aggregate.
Five times Sampdoria players stepped up, and three times Seaman saved. First it was Sinisa Mihajlovic, then Vladimir Jugovic and finally Attilio Lombardo who felt the pain – saving the blushes of Eddie McGoldrick, who'd skied his over, plus Paul Merson who watched his effort saved by Walter Zenga.
6. Cup magic
The Cup Winners’ Cup was unique, but with the Champion League expanding to take on the highest-placed runners-up, more domestic cup winners and finalists had no interest in taking part.
Eventually, the competition’s slow death was brought to a merciful end by putting those teams into the UEFA Cup instead. Which, let’s face it, few fans are bothered about – teams that just finish in the top six mixing it up with cup winners before being squashed by Champions League parachutists isn’t all that interesting.
The Cup Winners’ Cup had its charm and added a bit of unique value to those teams that contested the FA Cup final, back in the days when the whole country stopped on final day.
The FA Cup used to mean a lot more, and the Cup Winners’ Cup was an interesting add-on. As it happened, the end for the tournament coincided with the decline of the FA Cup, which is a shame on both counts.
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