In praise of football’s famous trophies

The cups presented for many modern competitions often lack the appeal of their predecessors

20 September ~ I miss the Cup-Winners Cup. Not just the tournament discontinued in 1999, but the actual Cup-Winners Cup – the 60cm tall, 14kg, strangely ribbed piece of silverware itself. Smaller than the UEFA and European Cups, more gothic than the former and more ornate than the latter, the Cup-Winners Cup and its hockey puck wooden base was ugly in a cute way, like a pet bulldog.

Investing trophies with personality is only as deluded as, say, preventing Burnley from receiving the Football League Championship trophy at Charlton last season because it might incite violence, or three-times champions Barcelona playing last ever winners, Leeds United, in a 1971 play-off for permanent possession of the disbanded Fairs Cup. The original of the current FA Cup is basically an antique wine cooler but valued at £1 million because it embodies the oldest knockout tournament in the world.



Such symbolic status means cups have become trademarks, ambassadors, holy relics and political pawns. But, be it a local non-League shield or the Bundesliga’s distinctive Meisterschale, trophies are just part of our football furniture. They often guard the competitions they symbolise from the administrators who commissioned both. Nobody was convinced by the trophies Littlewoods, Skol Lager or the Milk Marketing Board provided when sponsoring the English and Scottish League Cups in the 1980s and 90s. Our youngest domestic competitions were, already, indelibly associated with their original three-handled cups.

Heineken’s TV ident on this week’s Champions League coverage features a bottle-green silhouette of the European Cup. The recent Old Firm derby saw Celtic fans unfurl a banner of the same silhouette behind Jock Stein, manager when they won it in 1967. The message read “Is it cold in his shadow?”, Rangers having never won that particular cup. Using its iconography as a terracing taunt is more valid but less effective than UEFA’s prostitution of it.

Unlike the FA and Scottish Premier Leagues that same decade, Europe’s premier competition didn’t get a gaudy new trophy when transferring to the thoroughly venal Champions League format. UEFA cleverly retained the 62cm-tall trophy which stood for the wholesome glory of the European Champion Clubs Cup. Winning it for the sixth time in 1966, Real Madrid were permanently gifted the original trophy – a smaller, subtler urn. However, by the time Real lifted the new design for the fifth time, this May, it was half a century old and connoted every legend of the tournament’s purer days. Benfica, like Uruguay and England with the World Cup, remain the only side to have lifted just the old design.

Now UEFA permanently gift a European club trophy only when a club wins it for the third successive year or five times overall. Both criteria were fulfilled for the first time in the UEFA Cup by Sevilla last season. And while half a dozen clubs currently have their own European Cup, the Cup-Winners Cup was never retained nor won more than Barcelona’s four times. Every winner is allowed to make a replica, but UEFA demand it be no more than four-fifths the size of the original. Even stricter, FIFA won’t let Germany keep the current World Cup trophy, despite them becoming in 2014 the first to win it three times. In the last decade UEFA have increased the size of the Super Cup and the European Championship’s Henri Delaunay trophy. But their distinctive shapes, so central to competition branding, have been retained.

Today trophies are sent ahead of the final, wooing host cities into feeling the prestige rather than the policing costs. By the time Sevilla and Espanyol contested the 2007 UEFA Cup final at Hampden, the handle-free trophy had been on a two-month tour of Glasgow, displayed in a glass box everywhere from Buchanan Street bus station to Kelvingrove art gallery, where I saw it. I felt sure it was a replica – especially when the Sevilla players paraded something far shinier past me after winning the penalty shoot-out at Scotland’s national stadium. But, then again, floodlights and glory always make cups glow brighter. Alex Anderson