By the time it was scrapped in 2008, the Intertoto Cup had little respect. In 1995, when English sides were first made to enter, it had even less. Owen Amos looks back at that first season

From 1961 to 1995, the Intertoto Cup was a summer tournament for mid-ranking, mainland European clubs. It offered pre-season football, modest prize money and – most importantly – kept the pools companies happy (Australian state league games having the same function here). By the mid-1990s, according to the November 1994 Intertoto newsletter – yes, there was one – the tournament was stagnating. The pools companies wanted better games, and bigger names. The organisers asked UEFA for help and, after some discussion, the Intertoto was made the fourth UEFA club competition.

There were two reasons for this. Firstly, new associations were joining UEFA from eastern Europe and needed games for their clubs (also one of the reasons the European Cup was rebranded and expanded in 1992). Secondly, UEFA hoped to sell the TV rights, providing year-round football. According to UEFA president Lennart Johansson: "With its inclusion of the Intertoto in the UEFA structures, European football clearly takes a step forward." Ah, the optimism of youth.

All of a sudden, mid-ranking English clubs were offered European football, exotic fixtures, and the chance to qualify for the UEFA Cup proper. Although ten of Europe's (then) 49 associations, including Italy and Spain, said they wouldn't enter clubs, the FA – after taking soundings from the Premier League – said they would.

The clubs, however, had a problem with summer football. Players, managers and, to some extent, fans would rather be baking in the Costas, or barbecuing in the garden. The FA had three spaces to fill. By late May, less than a month before the tournament began, they still had three spaces to fill. They asked every club, and every club said no.

UEFA promised to fine the FA £50,000 for every unfilled space and threatened to ban English clubs from all European tournaments in 1996-97. Eventually, Tottenham – who finished seventh in 1994-95 – were persuaded. They were joined by Wimbledon (ninth) and Sheffield Wednesday (13th). In most European leagues, it was more straightforward. France's four entrants came seventh to tenth in the previous season – just outside the UEFA Cup spaces – as did Germany's.

If the FA thought things would get easier once the Intertoto began, they were wrong. Despite the Premier League saying the clubs were "in a positive frame of mind", actions spoke louder than words. For a start, none of the English sides played at home. Hillsborough was being refurbished, and Selhurst Park and White Hart Lane were having pitch repairs (in Tottenham's case, after the London Monarchs used the ground for American Football). Instead, Spurs and Wimbledon played at the Goldstone Ground in Brighton – it was summer, after all – while Sheffield Wednesday went to Rotherham.

The 60 Intertoto entrants were split into 12 groups of five, with each team playing two games at home and two away. The first matches took place at the end of June. Wimbledon, who played Bursaspor of Turkey, were making their European debut, less than 20 years after joining the Football League. Despite that, just 1,879 fans turned up and, according to the Independent, a third of them were Turkish-Cypriots from London. One Lebanese businessman from London, however, was impressed. Sam Hammam, then Wimbledon's chairman, predicted the Intertoto would become "bigger than the League Cup".

Wimbledon's team was made up of youth players (including an 18-year-old Jason Euell) and loanees, such as Colchester's John Cheesewright and Danny O'Shea of Cambridge Utd. Unsurprisingly, they lost 4-0. Wimbledon drew their next match 1-1 at Kosice of Slovakia, before a 0-0 draw at home to Beitar Jerusalem and a 3-0 defeat at Charleroi of Belgium. The Dons' only European campaign ended on July 23.

Tottenham fared little better. They started at the Goldstone the day after Wimbledon, and lost 2-0 to Luzern from Switzerland. Spurs were also a mix of youngsters – Jamie Clapham and Chris Day among them – and short-term loanees. Ian Sampson, now the Northampton manager, arrived from Sixfields; Alan Pardew, then a 33-year-old midfielder, came from Charlton. The Swiss played their first team. The attendance was under 2,497 and was apparently bettered by a Teddy Bears' Picnic in nearby Hove Park. Things improved slightly in Spurs' next game, with a 2-1 win in Slovenia against Rudar Velenje, but they lost their third game by the same score at home to Osters of Sweden watched by 2,183. In Tottenham's final game, they lost 8-0 away to Cologne, while on the same day the "firsts" lost a friendly 3‑1 at Silkeborg in Denmark.

As well as Day, Clapham and Pardew, the Intertoto team against Cologne included an 18-year-old Stephen Carr and the on-loan Barnet captain, 34-year-old Mark Newson. When (or if) Spurs get knocked of the Champions League, their fans should remember: Europe can be, and has been, a lot worse.

Sheffield Wednesday, at least, made some effort. With stronger sides than Spurs or Wimbledon, they won two (at home to Gonik Zabrze of Poland and Aarhus of Denmark), drew one (away to Karlsruher) and lost one (away to Basel). But they finished second in the group behind the Germans and, like the London clubs, were out of Europe before August.

The "winners" of the 1995 Intertoto Cup – that is, the teams that won their semi-finals, as there was no final – were Bordeaux and Strasbourg, who entered the UEFA Cup first round. Strasbourg were knocked out in the second round by AC Milan, while Bordeaux were beaten in the two-legged final by Bayern Munich. The second leg was held on May 15, 1996 – almost 11 months after Bordeaux's season started with a 6-2 home win against Norrkoping of Sweden.

For the English sides, the dénouement was less pleasing. In January 1996, UEFA banned Tottenham and Wimbledon from European competition for a year, to be imposed if they qualified within five years, as punishment for weakened sides.

The FA appealed, won, and instead the clubs were fined £90,000 and £60,000 respectively. In a rare outbreak of solidarity, the fines, plus costs, were split between the 20 Premier League clubs. It may have been easier, all things considered, to play the first teams all along.

From WSC 285 November 2010

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