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The Fairs Cup


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All’s Fair in love and football

Joe Strange takes a retrospective look at the inaugural International Industries Fairs Inter-Cities Cup. A European tournament where dropouts, lack of qualification and inconsistent rules were surprisingly consistent.

THE NAMES ERNST Thommen, Ottorino Barasi and Sir Stanley Rous will probably be insignificant to most football fans nowadays. Few people realise the huge impact these three individuals had on European football and in the creation of what is today, the second biggest European club competition, the UEFA Cup.

The UEFA Cup as it is now known, effectively emerged from a concept created by Thommen, Barasi and Rous in the 1950s. Thommen, then the Swiss vice-president of FIFA, first proposed a competition between cities holding trade fairs in 1954, shortly after he helped co-found UEFA. Ottorino Barasi an Italian football official and future FIFA vice-president, along with Sir Stanley Rous the secretary of the FA and future FIFA president joined him in his bid to create a new European club competition. On 18 April 1955 their dream was realised with the announcement of the first International Industries Fairs Inter-Cities Cup.

A far cry from today

Originally the competition was not affiliated with either UEFA or FIFA, it simply had strong links to the International trade fairs which occurred regularly throughout Europe. The trade fairs themselves were huge events, used by cities to demonstrate the country’s production, goods and services to prospective customers and investors from throughout the continent.

“I started being interested in football in 1960 and I remember the competition as being a bit of an oddity, but quite glamorous because it involved playing against foreign teams.” – David Barber, official historian of the FA

Such a tenuous reason for a tournament cannot be comprehended in today’s game of commercialism and big business. However as the European Cup’s first season was 1955-56 with no English entrant and with the Cup Winner’s Cup still five years away, the Fairs Cup as it became commonly known, was England’s first foray into European club competition.

David Barber, official historian for the FA said: “In those days the Football League and the FA Cup were the priorities for English clubs. They were wary of European competitions, then so new, in case they got in the way of their ‘bread and butter’ competitions.”

There was no qualification as such, but a limit of one team per city (that held an international trade fair) was introduced. Teams were invited to enter the tournament, with a panel of officials deciding who got to compete. This form of ‘qualification’ is unheard of nowadays. The idea of a panel deciding the fate of a team seems laughable in today’s competitive climate. It gives the setup of the tournament quite a quaint, traditional feel, a look at how football was 50 years ago, a stark contrast from the modern game.

A Fair Trade?

As well as the reasoning behind the tournament, eligibility of teams and seemingly random ‘qualification’ was the idea of representative teams for each city. The idea entailed cities entering teams containing players from teams located in the area as opposed to entering an official club side. It is believed that this form of team selection was first pioneered at the tournament, despite some teams failing to comply with the rules.

FA historian David Barber commented: “The tournament drew entrants from ten cities. The original idea was for each city to field a representative side from all of the teams located in their city, but this idea didn't hold out for very long. Barcelona fielded a team based purely on players from CF Barcelona, whilst Birmingham simply entered Birmingham City.”

England entered two sides into the inaugural tournament. Birmingham City FC entered on behalf of the city of Birmingham and its trade fair, while London did enter a representative XI made up of players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Brentford, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. In the end it would be London’s obeying of the rules that would have a serious effect on the destination of the trophy.

“Barcelona are a club side, and they demonstrated better teamwork throughout the entire match.” - ‘Team work tells in Inter-Cities game’, The Times, 6th March 1958

Despite the confusion around team selection, the layout of the tournament was fairly simple. Four groups of three teams, with each team playing each other twice, once at home and once away. The top team from each group would progress into a two legged semi final, with the winners meeting in a two legged final to determine the first ever Industrial Industries Fairs Inter Cities Cup winners.

Unfortunately this was too simple a setup for a tournament dogged by indifferent rules and all round confusion. Just prior to the start of the competition, the Cologne and Wien representative XIs inexplicably withdrew. Originally scheduled to compete in groups A and C respectively, the late withdrawals of the two sides meant no replacements were found, leaving Barcelona to face Copenhagen and Lausanne Sports to face Leipzig in what were effectively two-legged ties to determine who would progress to the semi-finals.

Blood, sweat and Mears

The London XI were drawn in group D along with a German side from Frankfurt and a Swiss side from Basel. Despite being beaten away in Frankfurt, the London side, managed by Chelsea chairman Joe Mears, racked up maximum points from their remaining games to leave them top of group D with six points. The London vs. Frankfurt fixture at Wembley on 22 October 1955 was the first game at the stadium to be played under floodlights – it would be another 8 years, on 20 November 1963 when another 90 minutes would be completed at a floodlit Wembley, England’s 8-3 victory over Northern Ireland.

After the first leg of the semi-final, it looked as though England would not have a side in the final. London’s Swiss opponents Lausanne Sports picked up an impressive 2-1 win in their home leg before travelling to Stamford Bridge knowing that if they could keep clean sheet, it would be they who would be meeting group A and semi-final victors, Barcelona in a two legged final. The London side fought back in the second leg and got a well deserved 2-0 win, allowing them to progress to the final 3-2 on aggregate.

As if not to disappoint, the tournament threw up yet more controversy prior to the final being played. On 25 February, The Daily Mirror went with the headline, ‘RAF take 2 London stars out of final’. The newspaper went on to state that: “Tony Macedo, Fulham goalkeeper and Peter Brabrook, Chelsea outside right, will miss the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday. They were due to play for London against Barcelona but both are required by the RAF for their game against the Royal Navy at Birmingham on the same day.” The two players were subsequently replaced by Vic Groves and Jack Kelsey, both of Arsenal.

There were also doubts on 27 February as to whether or not the final would actually take place. The Daily Mirror printed a story reporting that, “The Spanish Federation had banned Barcelona from playing in London because the game was so close to vital international matches.” Fortunately the rumours were untrue and Barcelona flew to London as planned.

The first leg of the final was held at Stamford Bridge on 5 March 1958, almost 3 years after the tournament had began. As The Daily Telegraph reported the following day, “The match began at a startling pace, with a goal apiece in the first four minutes.” Tejada gave Barcelona an early lead but it was soon cancelled out by an angled drive from Chelsea’s Jimmy Greaves.

Sadly for the London side, Barcelona’s quality and more importantly their teamwork shone through as the match progressed. The Independent described the English side’s performance as ‘disjointed’, while the Spaniards played as a team throughout. The FA’s decision to field a team drawn from a number of different clubs was beginning to have negative repercussions.

Martinez gave the Catalan giants the lead shortly before half time, leaving manager Joe Mears with an almost impossible half time team talk on his hands. But as The Daily Telegraph reported, “Roared on by a 45, 466-crowd, London battled away all through the second half.” An improved second half display and a successful penalty from Jim Langley in the 83rd minute levelled the score at 2-2 going into the second leg.

“England’s hopes of being the country to provide the first winners of the European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup faded, and all but died last night.” – ‘London pull up with a penalty’, The Daily Mirror. 6th March 1958

Unfortunately for London and the country as a whole, the pessimistic view of the written press turned out to be justified. Barcelona overwhelmed London in the second leg at the Camp Nou, winning 6-0, 8-2 on aggregate. London’s cause was not helped when goalkeeper Jack Kelsey went off with an eye injury just 15 minutes into the first half, meaning inside forward Vic Groves was forced into goal for the majority of the game. It was a brave effort from a side that often went nearly six months without playing or training together.

And so ended the most protracted international football tournament of all time. The rules, team selection, stories and problems surrounding the inaugural Fairs Cup make it not only the longest tournament in football history but also one of the most intriguing. The tournament went from strength to strength after the final of 1958. Representative sides were ditched, organisation improved and in 1971 UEFA began running the tournament, creating what is today the prestigious UEFA Cup.








The Hamlyn A-Z of British football records, Soar.P, Hamlyn, Spain

The Complete Results and Line-ups of the European Fairs Cup 1955-71, Ionescu.R and Robinson.M, Soccer Books Ltd

Newspapers – Colindale newspaper library

Daily Mirror – February 25th, 27th and March 6th 1958

Daily Telegraph – 6th March 1958

The Times – 6th March 1958


Interview via e-mail with David Barber, official historian of the Football Association.

Phone call to the FA on 29/04/08

E-mail received from Mr Barber on 30/04/08

E-mail with questions sent on 30/04/08

E-mail with answers received on 01/05/08

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  • 2 months later...

The Fairs Cup takes me back to childhood in the 60's, a time when club loyalties were set aside during European competition and every live game of football on tv was a big deal. A far cry from today indeed.

I wasn't old enough to see Spurs beat Athletico Madrid in 63 but from my lot West Ham winning the FA Cup in 64 through to Man Utd winning the European Cup in 68 the team I hoped would win on televised games always emerged victorious.

Therefore, when Newcastle took on Ujpest Doza away in the second leg of the Fairs Cup Final in 1969 I just took it for granted they'd win - even when they fell 2 goals behind.

By that time colour television was just becoming available. My Dad, a Headmaster, had bought one and we were quite disappointed to see the game was broadcast in black & white. Alan Foggon was the Geordie hero that night as Newcastle had a second half to remember eventually winning 3-2

Of course it couldn't last. I shall discount the 1-0 defeat to Brazil in the group stages of the 1970 World Cup. That was such a great game the result seemed irrelevant.

Nope, the day the sky caved in was the quarter final when we lost a 2 goal lead to West Germany.

The Fairs Cup provided a bit of welcome relief from England's woes that began in earnest that day. English teams won the Fairs Cup every year from 1968 through to 71 and for good measure Spurs and Liverpool lifted the EUFA cup in 72 & 73.

Just around the corner Poland (and Jan Tomaszewski ) were looming on the horizon

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