1) Chelsea freeze in the Norwegian snow (1997)
When Gianfranco Zola came off the bench to smash home his winning goal in the 1998 final, it meant that no British team had won the Cup Winners’ Cup as many times as Chelsea. Twenty-seven years after they claimed the trophy for the first time, they doubled their tally , triumphing where Arsenal had unforgettably failed in 1995. They had a few scares on their way to the final and sailed dangerously close to the wind in their semi against Vicenza, only for Mark Hughes to wallop home a bouncing ball with time running out in the second leg.
No less memorable was their second-round encounter with Tromso. Chelsea were braced for the cold when they travelled to Norway for the first leg, but there was no way of preparing themselves for the blizzard that swept into the Alfheim Stadion midway through the match. Much to Chelsea’s annoyance, the officials ignored their appeals to abandon the game when the snow carpeted the bobbly pitch. They were already trailing 2-0 thanks in part to an Ed de Goey howler, but luckily the authorities had a secret weapon: an orange ball.
At full-time, Ruud Gullit, Chelsea’s manager, had steam coming out of his ears. “That was just a farce,” he said of his team’s 3-2 defeat. “There’s no way that that game should have been played to a finish. “In the second half we couldn’t see because the snow was coming into our faces. But it was clear Uefa had decided the game had to be played even though it wasn’t fit. To be able to play football you must see some green but there was none out there, only white.”
Gullit’s mood improved when Chelsea administered a 6-1 trouncing at Stamford Bridge. “The other game was not really a game,” he crowed. “Now you can see the real difference and the real Chelsea. Tromso knew two weeks before the first leg that a snowstorm was forecast, but they did not switch the game to Oslo. That upset me.” Gianluca Vialli scored a hat-trick that night – and by the time Chelsea faced Stuttgart, he had replaced Gullit in the dugout allowing another Italian to steal the headlines on the pitch JS
2) Carl Zeiss Jena v Dinamo Tblisi (1981)
On the face of it, there is not much nostalgia to be found in the European communism which foisted upon the world a smorgasbord of repression, poverty and murder. And yet, humans being as they are, it’s impossible not to feel some semblance of pang for the spectacular sport which came with it; Georgia’s Dinamo Tblisi, for example.
The club was formed in 1936 when police, navy and army teams were merged. Forming part of the All-Union Dynamo sports society, it was sponsored by the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs on the basis that improved fitness would benefit the secret police; isn’t modern football the worst. By uncanny coincidence, Dinamo then developed into a serious side, helped by the patronage of Eduard Shevardnadze, a renowned footballing romantic.
Tblisi announced themselves to the Continent in 1979, knocking holders Liverpool out of the European Cup in front of 110,000. And winning their domestic Cup then qualified them for a Cup Winners’ Cup notable for the presence of Real Madrid reserves – there following a 6-1 Copa del Rey final trouncing by, er, Real Madrid. Castilla CF were immediately eliminated by West Ham in what became known as the ghost match. But the highlight of the round was the tie between Roma and Carl Zeiss Jena, named after the optics factory in which its founders worked. Jena lost the first leg 3-0, but won the second 4-0.
In the last eight Jena eliminated Valencia, while West Ham were drawn against Dinamo; there they were awarded an epochal outclassing of shimmering, juddering brilliance. Jena then binned Benfica while Dinamo snuck past Feyernoord to set up perhaps the most unexpected and left-wing final ever played. A hearty 4,750 ideologues deemed it worth their time, and after 63 minutes the 1-3-3-3 of Jena led the 1-3-3-1-2 of Dinamo thanks to a sweeping move finished by Gerhard Hoppe’s majestic donkey flick. But the Georgians equalised four minutes later and clinched victory four minutes from time, Vitaly Daraselia’s brilliant solo effort snaffling the most contemporary of triumphs. DH
3) Fowler’s skill v Brann Bergen (1997)
The Cup Winners’ Cup is the one European trophy to have eluded Liverpool and their failure to win it in 1997 owed much to their struggle to defend properly. Roy Evans, after all, could not have asked for much more from his main striker. What a player Robbie Fowler was in his youthful pomp: cocky, imaginative, thrillingly skilful, gloriously inventive and lethal with his finishing. Rob Smyth wrote about Fowler in more detail in this Joy of Six, but one goal that missed the cut was his brilliant effort against Brann Bergen in the quarter-final.
It was four days before Liverpool hosted Newcastle United in the inferior sequel to their seven-goal classic of a year earlier, in which Fowler bailed out his bungling defenders with a stoppage-time winner after they chucked away a 3-0 lead. Liverpool’s title challenge had stalled a little after disappointing results against Blackburn and Aston Villa and they travelled to Norway in need of a boost, which Fowler duly delivered. There didn’t seem to be much on when Stig Inge Bjornebye headed inside from the left. Yet it didn’t matter that the ball was behind Fowler because he was so alert and cunning, always ready to take advantage of a slow-witted defender. Afforded space by the home defence, he hung out his foot, diverted the ball over his marker with a superb backheel and sped into the area before scoring with his left foot, two exquisite touches marrying the efficient with the sublime. But Paris Saint-Germain were a tougher proposition in the semis, Liverpool defending dismally and crashing out. If they had possessed more players of Fowler’s class, they might have gone further. JS
4) Milan v Leeds United (1973)
Whether subject or spectator, there is little more invigorating than a loss of temper. And the 1973 Cup Winners’ Cup final between Leeds United and Milan featured a legendary artefact of the same. Leeds, having lost the league title to Derby County and the FA Cup final to Sunderland, were without Billy Bremner and Allan Clarke, suspended, and Terry Cooper, Eddie Gray and Johnny Giles, injured. Suboptimal conditions soon deteriorated: first the players got wind that Don Revie was busy negotiating a move to Everton and then, knocking about the hotel before the game, Giles got wind that the referee had been bought.
So it was that Milan took the lead after five minutes by way of dodgy free-kick. Behind it was Luicano Chiarugi, known as “Cavallo Pazzo”, Crazy Horse, and in whose honour diving became known in Italian as “chiarugismo”. His drive hit Paul Madeley, whose deflection took the ball into the net.
Milan protected their lead by chiarugismoing and niggling away, to the great affront of Don Revie’s angelic choir of snowflakes. They were denied two potential penalties, neither as obvious as they would become, and then, a minute before time, Norman “Feeds yer 5000” Hunter clopped through midfield, whereupon Gianni Rivera applied a rake-cum-kick to his calf. As such, Hunter paused, collected himself, and lost it.
First, he chased Rivera to dispense a kind of double-handed beat; Rivera duly flung himself headlong to the turf. Hunter then turned and reset into fighting stance – a touch side-on, to be hyper-critical – but left Riccardo Sogliano so little at which to aim that his teep kick missed, leaving him prone; Paul Reeney duly warned him as to his future conduct. In the repechage that followed various officials scuffled and Hunter and Sogliano were sent-off. Still there was time for Leeds to be denied another penalty, at which point the Greek crowd regaled the referee with cries of “shame”. He was later banned for life on suspicion of fixing a different match, and in 2009, a Labour MEP sought attention by petitioning Uefa to reverse the result. Amazingly, they did not. DH
5) Barcelona blow it (1984)
Barcelona started the 1984-85 season well under Terry Venables. Newly appointed, the Englishman had masterminded a 3-0 victory over Real Madrid in his first competitive match and with Bernt Schuster and Steve Archibald in his squad, were unbeaten when they travelled to Metz for the first round of the Cup Winners’ Cup on the 17 September 1984. The French side, mainly comprised of youth-team players, were completely overawed, and owing to a calamitous defensive display, promptly lost the first leg 4-2. “We’d all already played the match a thousand times over in our heads. We’d lost it,” admitted the goalkeeper Michel Ettorre, despite the fact that three of the four that they conceded – a 25-yard back-pass, a Schuster free-kick that hit a divot of Collymore-Flowers proportions, and a lucky rebound off his right-hand-post – were freak goals. Gracious in victory, Schuster even offered to buy Ettorre an Iberian ham “to thank them for the presents they gave us tonight.”
A return leg at the Camp Nou two weeks later looked bleak. Bookmakers offered 100-1 odds for Metz to turn things around. Only two French journalists bothered to make the trip. When Barcelona took a 33rd-minute lead to make the aggregate score 5-2, all looked lost. Metz had under an hour to score thrice. But then, inexplicably, the Catalan side fell apart. Calamity proved to be catching as five minutes later, Barça’s reserve keeper Amador gifted pacy striker Tony Kurbos a free shot inside his near post. Moments later José Vicente Sánchez scored a hilarious own goal to make it 4-3. Barcelona lurched forward, with Ettorre making a string of saves, before Kurbos added another, again leaving defenders in his wake to tie the scores. Five minutes from the end, Kurbos completed his hat-trick, rifling a shot into the roof of the net after a fine cut back from Jules Bocandé. Remarkably, Barcelona were beaten, 4-1 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate, and Ettorre seized the moment. “I ran straight up to Schuster and shouted: ‘Where’s your ham now?’ I don’t think he speaks French, but he understood me that night.” MB
6) Nedved’s winning volley (1999)
For all its rich history, the Cup Winners’ Cup was powerless to resist the insatiable lust for expansionism as the 90s wore on.By the end of the decade, Uefa regarded it as a third wheel, having driven its own tournament into the ground by increasing the number of teams in the Champions League.
Yet the Cup Winners’ Cup still had something to offer when it was wheeled out for one last time in the 1998-99 season, even if a shortage of glamorous participants emphasised its diminished appeal. Chelsea, the holders, stood out and so did Sven-Goran Eriksson’s expensively assembled Lazio. Chasing their first European trophy, Lazio squeezed past Lokomotiv Moscow on away goals in the semis, setting up a final against Mallorca, the unfancied but awkward Spaniards who were too wily for Chelsea.
Boasting talents like Alessandro Nesta, Roberto Mancini and Marcelo Salas, Lazio were hot favourites and took an early lead at Villa Park when Christian Vieri cleverly directed a powerful header over Carlos Roa from the edge of the area. Yet Mallorca were undeterred, equalising when Dani steered a cross past Luca Marchegiani. Lazio would not be denied, however, and finally shattered Mallorca’s dream with one of the finest goals ever seen in a European final. Nine minutes were left when Pavel Nedved met a clearance by adjusting, swivelling and using perfect technique to hook a wondrous volley to Roa’s left from 20 yards. Always leave them wanting more. JS