The UEFA Champions League is one of the most fiercely-contested and well-respected club competitions in the world. But how did it achieve this reputation?

From humble beginnings to modern-day international prestige, we’ll take you through the history of the tournament.


The UEFA Champions League began life as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1955. However, the tournament did not originate with UEFA members, who were more interested in developing a European national team competition at the time.

In fact, it was the people at the French daily newspaper, L’Equipe, who came up with the idea for a Europe-wide club competition. Two members of staff at the newspaper designed the blueprint for the mid-week competition.

Approval for the competition came in April 1955, and the inaugural European Cup took place between September 1955 and June 1956.

It began purely as a knockout tournament, and, until the late 1990s, it was only open to the league champions in each country.

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First fixture

The first European Cup fixture was Sporting Lisbon vs. FK Partisan. The match finished in a 3-3 draw, but the (then) Yugoslavian club won the second leg in Belgrade 5-2 and went through to the next round.

The dominance of different teams since 1955

Real Madrid (Spain) won the first five tournaments (1956-60), and both Ajax (Holland) and Bayern Munich (Germany) won three straight European Cups during the 1970s.

Liverpool also won the trophy four times between 1977 and 1984. The Reds’ feat is remarkable because they achieved this with a number of different key players. AC Milan also won two straight European Cups in 1988-89 and 1989-90.

Overall, no one team has ruled the competition for a truly sustained amount of time. After winning a hat-trick of European titles, Ajax had to wait another 22 years to add a fourth.

Real Madrid’s Champions League win in 1997-98 ended their 32-year wait for a seventh European title. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich’s success in the 2000-01 ended the German side’s quest for a fourth European crown.

1992-93: A major turning point

A major turning point in the tournament came with an overhaul of its format in 1992. UEFA added a group stage to the existing knockout rounds. The name was also changed to the Champions League to reflect the overhaul.

The presence of a group stage has allowed the competition to grow from eight to 32 teams in the present day.

Further expansion

Through the course of the 1990s and into the 2000s, UEFA expanded the Champions League to allow different countries to enter multiple clubs into the competition.

In the English league, clubs that have taken advantage of this rule are Manchester United (1999), Liverpool (2005) and Chelsea (2012). All of these clubs won the Champions League without having won their domestic leagues in the season before.

What’s notable about the Champions League is that no side has dominated the competition for a prolonged period of time.

Those that had a string of wins in the early days (Real Madrid, Ajax and Bayern Munich) all had to wait many years to add another Champions League to their tallies.

This shows just how good a team must be to win it, and why the Champions League is considered the holy grail of club football in Europe.