To celebrate the unlikely win of Wolfsburg over Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals first leg, TFF has a look back over some of the more obscure winners of European competitions in order to give some inspiration to Wolfsburg’s players and fans ahead of their second leg match in Spain.
Everyone knows the fairytale story of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side that won back-to-back European Cups, but not everyone will know (or remember) that these five clubs have also won big in Europe:
IFK Göteborg is one of the most successful teams in Swedish football history, having won 18 Swedish titles, and remains the only Scandinavian team to have won a European competition. They have also got a surprising link to the England national team, as they have both employed Sven-Göran Eriksson as manager.
Göteborg is probably the most successful club on this list, having won the UEFA Cup twice in both 1982 and 1987. Almost even better, they nearly contested the final of the European Cup, but were knocked out by Terry Venables’ FC Barcelona.
Their 1982 UEFA Cup triumph, under the management of Eriksson, was as surprising as it was impressive, beating a Hamburg side that would go on and win the European Cup the following season 4-0 on aggregate (the final was a two-legged affair…).
The 1987 victory was less surprising, as Göteborg had had a strong team for a number of years following Eriksson’s departure to Benfica. It came at the expense of Dundee United, who were making their only appearance in a major European final having knocked Barcelona out of the competition in the quarter-final stage.
IFK have continued to be a big player in the Swedish game since their European hey-days. They are currently the club to have been in the Swedish top division for the longest unbroken period, and last won the title in 2007.
It may surprise younger readers to know that English clubs other than Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have actually won European competitions. Most will also know of the remarkable successes of Nottingham Forest in the 1970s and 1980s, but few are likely to know of the UEFA cup triumph of Ipswich in 1980-81. Bigger stories came out of that season that are remembered today – this was the season that double European Cup winning Forest were knocked out in the first round by CSKA Sofia of Bulgaria, and when Liverpool secured their third European Cup win.
Ipswich’s win over Dutch side AZ Alkmaar has therefore been forgotten and overlooked by many outside of Suffolk. But this was the crowning glory of a young Bobby Robson, who would take over as England manager just over a year later. The two-legged final itself was a pretty entertaining affair, with a 3-0 home win for Ipswich followed up by a 4-2 home win for AZ leading to Ipswich winning the cup 5-4 on aggregate.
Ever since, Ipswich have been dreaming of recreating such glory. They had a brief sojourn into the UEFA Cup in 2001-02, where they were knocked out at the third round stage by Internazionale, but they have never really come close to replicating the heights of the early 1980s. Currently Ipswich sit in the Championship, where they have been since 2002.
FC Magdeburg were one of the most successful clubs in the former East-German state, where they won the DDR Oberliga three times in the 1970s, and won the East German Cup seven times.
By winning the 1973-74 Cup Winners’ Cup, FC Magdeburg capped off the most successful season in their history both before and since. Their 2-0 win over AC Milan made Magdeburg the only side from the German Democratic Republic ever to win a European competition.
Since their peak in the 1970s, FC Magdeburg struggled in the Oberliga, and could only ever muster up infrequent challenges for the title. After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg found themselves in the third tier, the Oberliga Nordost/Staffel Mitte. Even worse, in 2002 the club went into administration, and was relegated to the fourth division. The 2014-15 season saw them promoted from the fourth division to the 3.Liga (now the third division) as champions, and they now sit in the upper mid-table, seven points outside the play-off zone with six games to go.
FC Dinamo Tbilisi
Dinamo Tbilisi, the most decorated Georgian club in the post-Soviet era and one of only three clubs to have never been relegated from the old Soviet Top League, are also the only Georgian club side ever to have won a major European club tournament.
Dinamo won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1981, beating East German side Carl Zeiss Jena
2-1. On their route to the final, Dinamo knocked out both West Ham United and Feyenoord. The final, as well as being one of the few to feature exclusively teams from behind the Iron Curtain, was also notable as being the worst attended European final ever, as only 4,750 fans made their way to the 76,000 seater Rheinstadion in Dusseldorf.
Being regular winners of Georgian cup and league competitions, Dinamo have continued to be a regular presence in European competitions. However, since their successful cup final, Dinamo have never gotten close to repeating the trick. Indeed, they have only managed to qualify for the UEFA Cup group stage once, and their last two qualification campaigns have seen them fail at the first qualifying hurdles to teams from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan respectively.
Belgian side KV Mechelen join the list, having won the old UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988. Mechelen were going through a golden age at the time, and in a productive five year spell between 1987 and 1992 they won the Belgian first division for the first time in 40 years, as well as winning the Belgian Cup. This victory meant they qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup.
In an extraordinary achievement for the club, they walzed through their ties without losing a single game, before meeting the mighty Dutch side Ajax Amsterdam in the final. Ajax were defending champions and Mechelen were definitely underdogs for the tie. Despite this, Mechelen won the final, beating Ajax 1-0
Since their unlikely European victory, Mechelen have suffered mix fortunes. After looking like a team that might dominate Belgian football, Mechelen suffered a number of slumps that saw them playing outside of the top division in spells. They were even denied a playing licence in 2003, therefore finding themselves in the Belgian third division. They have since recovered and have been back in the top division since 2007-08. Their Cup Winner’s Cup triumph remains the last European trophy won by a Belgian side.
Seemingly gone are the days when relatively smaller clubs could upset the formbook and take home a European crown ahead of one of Europe’s elite clubs. Whilst it is beyond fanciful to suggest that Wolfsburg might be able to win this season’s Champions League – and some might say it is also unlikely that they will be able to hold on to their 2-0 lead to even qualify for the semi-finals – here’s hoping that Wolfsburg can surprise a few people, and at least knock out the most decorated European club.