Back in the day, only domestic champions were granted access to the European Cup. But you still got the usual suspects winning Old Big Ears.
Yes, football back then was a lot more open, without the familiar clutch of super clubs at the top of each of Europe's big leagues. There was a feeling, across the continent, that anyone could beat anyone - but don't get that twisted: there were still big clubs that were feared by those overseas.
And so the big boys built up reputations for being the cream of Europe. Over the years they'd have the history over others; by the 90s, you'd see the same old few in finals - and actually, most of the teams who managed to win the Champions League by the 21st Century, were teams who'd won it before.
So the list of clubs with the most wins in the Champions League? It reads like a who's who of the sides who have been most dominant in midweek competition since the idea of a European Cup was first devised...
=21. PSV Eindhoven (68 wins)
Years won: 1988
PSV's finest hour came back in 1988 as they beat Benfica on penalties to be crowned champions of Europe for the first - and, so far, only - time in their history.
The Dutch outfit reached the semi-finals in 2004/05, but maybe that was a blessing in disguise given what happened to AC Milan in the final...
=21. Red Star Belgrade (68 wins)
Years won: 1991
In 1991, Red Star followed in Steaua Bucharest's footsteps to become only the second Eastern European team to win Europe's premier club competition.
The Yugoslavian (now Serbian) giants have only qualified three times since then, with their most memorable moment of those campaigns a 2-0 victory over eventual winners Liverpool in the 2018/19 group stage.
19. PSG (70 wins)
Years won: N/A
While their vast financial resources have allowed them to become Champions League regulars in the last decade, it's only in the last couple of seasons that PSG have really mixed it with Europe's very best.
The Parisians finished as runners-up to Bayern Munich as they reached the final for the first time ever in 2020, while they bowed out to Manchester City in the semis a year later.
18. Anderlecht (71 wins)
Years won: N/A
Anderlecht haven't been beyond the first round of the Champions League since the 2000/01 campaign, but they reached the semi-finals twice during the 80s.
Unfortunately for Belgium's most successful club, they came up against the ultimate champions of Europe on both occasions: Aston Villa in 1982 and Steaua in 1986.
17. Atletico Madrid (73 wins)
Years won: N/A
Atletico may have appeared in three finals - but they've lost all three of them, including to bitter city rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, in extra time and then on penalties (ouch).
Valencia are the only other side to reach the final more than once and not lift the trophy, but Atleti still rank as the third-most successful Spanish team by individual games won.
16. Borussia Dortmund (77 wins)
Years won: 1997
Dortmund have made it to the quarter-finals or further five times over the last decade - including a second final in 2013, when they were beaten 2-1 by nemeses Bayern Munich at Wembley.
The Black and Yellows came out on top in their other appearance, though, as brace from Karl-Heinz Riedle helped them see off Juventus in 1997 - at Bayern's then-home the Olympiastadion, as it happened.
15. Inter Milan (87 wins)
Years won: 1964, 1965, 2010
Inter became the first Italian side to win back-to-back European Cups, beating early multiple champions Real Madrid in 1964 and Benfica in 1965.
The Nerazzurri would have to wait the best part of half a century to lift the trophy again - under Jose Mourinho, as they beat Bayern 2-0 at the Bernabeu - but they've kept things ticking along nicely over the years.
14. Chelsea (93 wins)
Years won: 2012, 2021
A modern force in the Champions League, Chelsea started taking Europe by force in the mid-2000s and haven't looked back since, reaching the semis in 2003/04 and 2004/05 before a first final in 2008.
Chelsea first won the title in 2012 under Roberto Di Matteo but the 2010s weren't as successful in the Champions League for the Blues, as they won the Europa League twice in that time. A 2020/21 trophy under Thomas Tuchel seems to have them on the right track for the 2020s.
=11. Celtic (101 wins)
Years won: 1967
In 1967, a team of players all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow lifted the European Cup for Celtic. It will arguably never be repeated in any city for any club.
Celtic were beaten in the 1969 final by Feyenoord and managed to get into the European Cup frequently after that, lighting up the rebranded tournament with the likes of Henrik Larsson under the Celtic Park lights.
=11. Arsenal (101 wins)
Years won: N/A
Highbury was too small to originally host Champions League football, as Arsenal made the short trip to Wembley for European matches.
Under Arsene Wenger, however, the Gunners became regulars in the competition, getting to the group stage 20 seasons in a row. The best the north Londoners could ever muster though was getting to a Parisien final in 2006, where they were beaten in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of Barcelona. It still smarts for some.
=11. Dynamo Kiev (101 wins)
Years won: N/A
Long before Shakhtar were the dominant force, Dynamo Kiev were Ukrainhe e's tour de force in European competition.
Dynamo still qualify for the competition every now and then but lack the ferocity they had in the days of Shevchenko and Rebrov. Still, they've put in a decent showing over the years in European tournaments and racked up over a century of victories.
10. Ajax (106 wins)
Years won: 1971, 1972, 1973, 1995
Amsterdam was the footballing capital of Europe for a while, with Johan Cruyff and co. winning three consecutive European Cups in the 1970s. That era would peak, of course, with the Netherlands national side reaching the 1974 World Cup final where they were beaten by West Germany; coincidentally, Bayern would win the '74, '75 and '76 European Cups.
Ajax have struggled somewhat in the Champions League era, with the advent of TV money pulling their talents to other corners of Europe. Still, Louis van Gaal's magnificent young side had their hour of glory in '95, while the class of 2019 are still fondly remembered.
9. Porto (116 wins)
Years won: 1987, 2004
Porto will forever be synonymous with Jose Mourinho tearing down the touchline or upsetting European giants before anyone really knew who this dashing young upstart was.
The Dragon of Portugal conquered in the 80s too though and has often taken it in turns with Benfica and Sporting to have a crack at European competition since. Porto were the last side outside of Europe's top five leagues to make a final.
8. Benfica (118 wins)
Years won: 1961, 1962
In 1962, Benfica won the European Cup for the second year in a row under magical manager Bela Guttmann. As legend has it, he was refused a pay rise and put a curse on the club not to win another continental title for a century.
Benfica have since made it to five Champions League finals and lost them all - plus another two in the Europa League. Still, in all that time, they've won over 100 games in European competition...
7. AC Milan (125 wins)
Years won: 1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007
First came Nereo Rocco in the 1960s, before Arrigo Sacchi revolutionised football in the late 80s and 90s; then Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti.
AC Milan are one of the giants of European football, having contributed more folklore and myth than perhas any other Italian side. But despite their seven - count them - titles, they've only won 125 games in the competition. Put that down to lengthy absences away from the top table...
6. Liverpool (129 wins)
Years won: 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005, 2019
The definitive European Cup team from the British Isles, there's nothing quite like a midweek night under the Anfield lights - yet Liverpool haven't managed the most European wins of any English team. Odd, right?
Since 1992, the Reds have only made the Champions League 14 times of a possible 29 - yet they've made four finals in that time, winning two. Liverpool definitely make the most of European football when they get it - and they've had some iconic victories along the way in the past.
5. Juventus (149 wins)
Years won: 1985, 1996
Juventus are one of the ever-presents in Europe these days and have won almost 150 games in the Champions League since they first made the tournament.
Yet the Old Lady have lost a whopping seven finals, only winning Old Big Ears in 1985 with Michel Platini in tow and in 1996, led by Gianluca Vialli. They're a banker for a good few wins every season - just don't bet on them in the big games.
4. Manchester United (187 wins)
Years won: 1968, 1999, 2008
As one of the superpowers of the Premier League in the last 30 years, Manchester United have been a regular in the Champions League too, going all the way twice under Sir Alex Ferguson and being Pep Guardiola's bridesmaid in 2009 and 2011.
But the Red Devils' history in Europe began really in the European Cup's story. United were offered a place in the tournament following the Munich Air Disaster, which they turned down; 10 years later, they were the first English winners, beating Benfica at Wembley.
3. Barcelona (193 wins)
Years won: 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2015
Barcelona forever lived in Real Madrid's shadow, when European football was starting to become a big deal. They were beaten by Benfica in their first final, before Steaua Bucharest walloped Terry Venables's side on penalties in 1986.
Then came Cruyff. The Dutch master guided his old side to glory in 1992 and reached another final in 1994, before Pep Guardiola picked up his mentor's mantel and led Barca to their most successful era ever with 2009 and 2011 titles. Either side of that they won two more, while they've generally been a good bet for the knockouts in the modern competition.
2. Bayern Munich (216 wins)
Years won: 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013, 2020
Bayern are the very model of how German football is viewed across Europe: efficient, robust and blooming difficult to beat. 216 wins in continental competition only backs that up.
Three consecutive titles in the 1970s with legends like Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer were followed by wilderness years but Bayern have always been a threat in the 21st Century, winning three more titles. And that's not mentioning the five finals they were thwarted in either. If you can beat Bayern, you're usually winning this thing.
1. Real Madrid (269 wins)
Years won: 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018
The 1950s were a time of glamour and glory for Real Madrid, as Alfredo Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa and Ferenc Puskas ran riot across the continent and chiselled a philosophy into this club that only the best was good enough. It took a while to repeat - but boy did Real Madrid come back strong as the millennium loomed.
Los Blancos have had a couple of Galactico eras, since. Raul, Seedorf, Roberto Carlos, Figo and Zidane all brought Champions Leagues to the Bernabeu before the likes of Ramos, Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale did it in the 2010s. They truly believe they own this competition - is it any wonder that they're miles ahead of anyone else in terms of wins?
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