Friday 31 August 2007
The UEFA Super Cup trophyThe UEFA Super Cup trophy (©uefa.com)

Just as the idea for the European Champion Clubs' Cup came to fruition after French newspaper L'Equipe's assertion that Stade de Reims Champagne could be the best club side in Europe, the idea for a UEFA Super Cup came from a Dutch source just when Dutch clubs, and more particularly AFC Ajax, ruled supreme in Europe. The competition was the brainchild of Anton Witkamp, then a reporter and later sports editor of Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

Celebrating Cruyff
Witkamp came up with the idea of "something new" to decide definitively the top club side in Europe, and to test further Ajax's ability. Witkamp once described how he conceived the idea: "The reason was to celebrate Ajax and Cruyff. The idea was conceived at the era of total football. Our era. Four consecutive European Cups between Feyenoord and Ajax.

"More than money and glory, they were pursuing the right to be called the best," he adds. "But which was the strongest team in Europe, or which team ought to have been the strongest? The team that won the European Cup? In principle, yes, this team ought to have been the strongest. Football is often a hymn to relativity and, for this reason, can be an imprecise art. So why not pit the holders of the European Champion Clubs' Cup against the winners of the Cup Winners' Cup? Why not throw down a challenge to Ajax? The Scots of Rangers FC had won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972. I put forward my plan to the Ajax boss [Jaap] van Praag, who found it an excellent idea. Consequently, the way was clear, with the patronage of my newspaper."

Plans in practice
In 1972, Witkamp proposed the idea of a match between Ajax, then Champions' Cup holders, and Rangers, then Cup Winners' Cup holders. He presented his idea to the late Van Praag, then the president of Ajax. Van Praag loved the idea, and the two men sought to put it into practice. Witkamp and Van Praag travelled to Zurich to meet with the then UEFA President, the late Artemio Franchi, to seek official endorsement for the new competition. None was forthcoming, largely because Rangers were at the time under a one-year suspension from UEFA due to the misbehaviour of their supporters.

Unofficial status
However, the match went ahead, albeit in an unofficial capacity, as the Scottish club, who were having centennial celebrations that year, willingly obliged. Witkamp decided on a two-legged format to maximise the revenue for both clubs. The games, which were financially supported by De Telegraaf, the best-selling paper in the Netherlands, took place on 16 and 24 June in Glasgow and Amsterdam respectively. Goals from Johnny Rep, Cruyff and Arie Haan gave Ajax a 3-1 victory in Glasgow, while Alex McDonald scored Rangers' goal and was on the mark in the second leg along with Quentin Young, but they were again outgunned with Haan, Gerd Mühren and Cruyff scoring in a 3-2 win. The first UEFA-sanctioned Super Cup matches took place in 1974, with the very fact that the 1973 final did not take place until January 1974 illustrating a problem which was henceforth to trouble the competition.

The first Super Cup proper took place in the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, where Ajax lost 1-0 to Milan AC. Ajax, even without the then departed Cruyff, made no mistake in the return leg in Amsterdam and won 6-0. Though, Witkamp's raison d’être of celebrating Ajax had been emphatically achieved, the competition still struggled to take off. Indeed, there was no 1974 contest with FC Bayern München and 1. FC Madgeburg unable to find a mutually convenient date. Liverpool FC could not make space to meet FC Dinamo Tbilisi in 1981 and could only find one date to play Juventus FC in 1984.

One-off encounters
This was one of the three times the UEFA Super Cup was played as a single match before the current format began in 1998. The other two single matches came in 1991, when the political situation compelled Manchester United FC and FK Crvena Zvezda to meet only at Old Trafford, and 1986, when CSA Steaua Bucuresti and FC Dinamo Kiev played the first Super Cup at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. The competition retained something of an "exhibition match" standing until the 1982/83 season when UEFA gave it something akin to its current status. Now, with the match played to signal the start of the season, Witkamp's idea is finally coming to complete fruition.

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