Predecessors to the Champions League: The Challenge Cup

We’re in the 65th year of the European Cup, which was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992. But the idea idea for a pan-European competition had been around since the 1890’s.

Europe has obviously gone through turbulent times since then, and now like the rest of the world, is suffering a pandemic, putting football on hold. In this series we will take a look back at some of the predecessors to the UEFA Champions League.

Challenge Cup

First Vienna FC

The Challenge Cup was a club competition open to sides in the Austria-Hungary empire. The landmass of the empire encompassed all of or parts of countries that are today known as; Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Empire existed from 1867 – 1918.

The competition began in 1887, with one of the founders of the Vienna Cricket and Football-Club John Gramlick coming up with the idea. Gramlick was English, and worked as a plumber. Despite being open to teams from throughout the empire, the vast majority of participants came from Vienna (now capital of modern Austria), Budapest (now capital of modern Hungary), Prague (now capital of modern Czech Republic). The competition ran until 1911.

There were 10 editions of the tournament, as it did not take place between 1905 – 1907, and was not held in the 1909-10 season. 9 of these editions were won by Austrian sides, with a Hungarian side winning on won occasion.

The most successful club was Wiener AC, who won 3 times. They would go on to win the Austrian cup (viewed as the successor to this trophy), and another precursor to the Champions League; the Mitropa Cup. The club still has a football section, but no longer competes in football competitions.

The first champions were Vienna Cricket. This is the 2nd oldest team in Austria. It is commonly known as Cricketer. Nowadays the club is more popular for athletics and tennis. They won the challenge cup on two occasions, 1897-98, and 1901-02. Their first final win was a 7 – 0 hammering of Wiener FC 1898, while their second was much closer, beating Budapesti TC 2 – 1.

First Vienna, the oldest team in Austria, were the first side to retain the trophy. They won it twice, in 1899, and 1900. They would become Austrian Champions 6 times, including three years in a row between 1942 – 1944. They would also win a Mitropa Cup. Last year they won the Austrian 2. Landesliga, and now play in the Wiener Stadliga, which is one of the leagues in the 4th tier of Austrian football.

Wiener Sport-Club were the final winners of the competition, winning two editions of the tournament. They have been Austrian Champions on 3 occasions. Currently they play in the Austrian Regional League East. They were prevented from achieving three in a row by the only Hungarian side to win the tournament.

That was Ferencvárosi Torna Club. This team has strong connections with Hibernian of Scotland. They are succesful in Hungarian football to this day, as they still compete in the top tier of football, the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I, which they have won 30 times. They previously won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Juventus in Turin. They are Hungary’s most successful side. In 2007, the retired the jersey number 12, to represent the ’12th man’, the clubs supporters. They previously had a Northern Ireland international in their side, midfielder Tommy Doherty, who had 9 international caps.

Teams from the modern day Czech Republic made it to the final twice. Slavia Prague were beaten by Wiener AC 1 – 0 in 1901, and CAFC Kravlovske Vinohrady lost via walk over to the same opposition. Two Hungarians finished as runner-up, in Budapesti TC (lost 2 – 1 to Vienna Cricket FC), and Magyar AC (lost 2 – 1 to Wiener Sport-Club). The other team to make it to a final without winning the competition were AC Viktoria Wien, who were beaten 4 – 1 by First Vienna.

When the tournament was abolished in 1911, it was eventually succeeded by the Austrian Cup in 1918, and another competition that was a prelude to the European Cup, the Mitropa Cup.

In the next edition of this series, we will talk about the Mitropa Cup.

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