The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
We live in an age where our past may soon be forgotten due to shortening attention spans and a plethora of platforms demanding immediate responses. It is therefore even more important that the history of one of football’s great tournaments has been written. And surely many will agree that the European Cup Winners’ Cup was a great tournament, even though in hindsight it may not appear as such.
The book written by Steven Scragg is titled ‘Frozen in Time. The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup’ and takes us through 38 years of footballing history. Some of this is the material for legends and has served as a major fix point for some of the clubs who took part and won it.
If there is one negative point it is the lack of a statistical section in the annex providing an overview of the tournament’s finals. Another may be that the geographical structure of the book’s chapters often lead to confusion as names pop up several times in the book but often in a different context. This however should not discourage the reader and neither diminish the effort made by Scragg to assemble the material for this book, that fills a gap in the history of European football history.
The book details the history of the Cup Winners’ Cup from its inception in 1960 to its end in 1999. The subtitle speaks of the randomness of the tournament and Scragg illustrates this fact competently. Not one winning team came back the following season to claim the trophy again, only losing finalists managed this feat. The randomness is inherent as success in a cup competition is not planable and often lesser known sides participated in the Cup Winners’ Cup as the spots for the European and the UEFA Cup went to teams occupying the better spots in the league table.
The Germans have a proverbial saying about cup competitions having their own rules. This very much applies to this competition described in the book. Steven Scragg has noted that:
‘There is no rhyme and reason behind a domestic cup success, sometimes neither was there anything particularly consistent about the Cup Winners’ Cup. There were no “usual suspects” thanks to that random-generator system of qualification.’ (p. 13)
He compares the tournament with a reveller in a night club on a Friday night: everyone stays back to stare admiringly but also to avoid being hit by straying limbs as this reveller dances to his/her very own tune. This very much applies to the Cup Winners’ Cup.
However, there are some usual suspects, i.e. big clubs who have won the tournament more than once, namely Barcelona who lifted the trophy four times by playing in six finals altogether. Anderlecht, Chelsea, Milan and Kiew won it twice each but never back to back as it is possible with the Champions and Europa League nowadays.
The book is separated into twelve chapters with the majority of them having a geographical focus; four sections focus on two teams respectively (West Ham, chapter 3 and Everton 1985, chapter 8), while one is dedicated to the 1980/81 final between Dynamo Tiflis and Carl Zeiss Jena (chapter 1), a final described as a ‘hipster’s utopia’ (p. 28) compared to the historically reassuring pairing of Benfica vs. Rotterdam that was also possible. As a Liverpool supporter it was painful but as a footballfan in general Scragg saw it necessary to add a chapter on Sir Alex Ferguson (chapter 11) who won the competition with two teams, Aberdeen FC in 1983 and Manchester United in 1991.
The demise of the Cup Winners’ Cup came with the expansion of the Champions League and the accompanying erasion of randomness. The big clubs wanted to have more of the same, but most importantly more money and UEFA succumbed. It was the end of a great tournament.
Success in the Cup Winners’ Cup often remains the only moment of fame for some of the clubs featured in the book. It is the beacon in the history of those clubs who are way outside the limelight of today’s glitzy football world. This book captures the history of this competition and should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in European football history.