A visionary Frenchman called Henri Delaunay first floated the idea of a pan-European football tournament back in 1927.
Delaunay spent his playing career at Étoile des Deux Lacs in Paris and then became a referee, but he had to retire after suffering a freak injury. The ball struck him in the face during a game between AF Garenne-Doves and ES Benevolence, breaking two of his teeth and causing him to swallow.
However, he made a full recovery and embarked upon a career as an administrator. Delaunay rose to the top of the French Football Federation, and ultimately became the general secretary of UEFA. He worked with Jules Rimet to create the World Cup, while he was always a passionate champion of creating a UEFA European Championship.
Delaunay’s Dream Becomes a Reality
Relations were tense between many European nations between the wars, and he was unable to bring enough countries together to host the tournament. His plan only started to gain traction in the 1950s, when a semblance of peace existed on the continent.
After much wrangling, a date was finally set for the inaugural European Championship, which was set for 1960. Delaunay sadly died before he could see the tournament come to fruition, but his son, Pierre, replaced him as the head of UEFA and ensured the Euros went ahead.
The trophy awarded to the champion is named after Delaunay in order to honour his legacy.
The first iteration of the tournament was a slightly underwhelming affair, as England, Italy and West Germany declined to take part. Spain also refused to travel to the Soviet Union for the quarter-finals due to political reasons, meaning the Soviets received a bye into the semis.
They made short work of Czechoslovakia, teeing up a final showdown with Yugoslavia, who beat France 5-4 in the other semi-final. It was a tense, cagey affair, but legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin ultimately led the Soviets to a 2-1 victory after extra-time.
Tournament Takes Shape
Spain hosted the second European Championship in 1964. There were still teething problems – West Germany did not enter, and Greece withdrew after being drawn against Albania, a country it was at war with – but it was a more competitive affair. This time Franco did allow Spain to play against the Soviets, and he was at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid to witness them beat Yashin and co 2-1 in the final, courtesy of a late winner from Marcelino.
The number of competitors increased to 31 when Italy hosted the Euros in 1968, and the Italians ultimately triumphed. They drew 1-1 in a final against Yugoslavia, but won the replay 2-0. Belgium hosted the 1972 tournament, which saw West Germany beat the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final, with the iconic Gerd Müller scoring a brace.
West Germany went on to win the World Cup two years later, but they lost to Czechoslovakia in the final of the 1976 European Championship. This was the first tournament to be decided by a penalty shootout. Uli Hoeneß missed his kick for the Germans, giving Antonin Panenka the opportunity to settle it. The Czech midfielder slotted in an audacious chip to win the shootout, and players are still pulling off Panenkas to this day.
Platini and van Basten Dominate the 1980s
The Euros grew increasingly organised and professional in the 1980s. The knockout stage was expanded to eight teams in 1980. West Germany prevailed again that year, while Michel Platini led France to glory four years later, firing in nine goals in just five games.
Marco van Basten lit up the 1988 final when he slammed in a volley from an outrageous angle en route to a Dutch victory over the Soviet Union.
In 1992, Yugoslavia were banned from entering Euros as the country descended into civil war. Denmark took their place, and ended up winning the tournament, beating a unified Germany in the final.
The Modern Era
England hosted Euro 1996, which saw the knockout stage expanded to 16 teams for the first time. David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds whipped the country into a passionate frenzy, but England crashed out in the semi-finals after losing a shootout against Germany, who ended up lifting the trophy.
Euro 2000 was the first tournament to have joint hosts – Belgium and the Netherlands – but it was reigning world champions France that emerged victorious. The greatest upset came four years later, when an unheralded Greek team beat hosts Portugal in the final.
Spain won the Euros in 2008 and 2012 during a dominant period led by Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and then Portugal became champions of Europe for the first time in 2016.
UEFA decided to host Euro 2020 at a number of different cities across the continent to mark the tournament’s 60th anniversary. It was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it will take place this summer. England and France are the joint favourites in the Euro 2020 betting at Unikrn, while Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy are all looking very strong.
Fans will be back inside certain stadiums to watch the action unfold, and it promises to be a captivating tournament, which Delaunay would no doubt have enjoyed.