Farewell to the Fairs Cup

This was written for Motherwell FC’s match magazine for their Europa League tie against Levante.  It’s not really related to Scottish football, but I might as well share it.

 

The Europa League is UEFA’s secondary club competition and is one which, despite regular unflattering comparisons to the Champions League, still has a worthwhile place in the European football calendar. The tournament provides an opportunity for clubs outside the Champions League elite to experience European football, and can also provide a springboard to Champions League success in future seasons.

The tournament is actually slightly older than the Champions League/European Cup, having kicked off a couple of months earlier. The first incarnation of what is now the Europa League was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which started in June 1955. The tournament was created to coincide with international trade fairs in various European cities, and the tournament was stretched out over 3 years, meaning the trophy wasn’t handed out until May 1958! Initially the tournament was organised independently of UEFA, meaning that none of the trophies from 1955-1971 are officially recognised.

It’s tempting to think of group stages in Europe as a modern invention, but in actual fact they had them way back in that initial tournament in 1955. The12 participants were divided into 4 groups of 3, with the group winners making the semi-finals. Many of the cities involved sent select XIs rather than an individual club side – the London XI which reached the final fielded players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Leyton Orient, Tottenham and West Ham. Even with a mix of London’s best players, they were no match for Barcelona in the final, going down 8-2 on aggregate to the Catalan side after suffering a 6-0 defeat in the Nou Camp.

The next attempt at the tournament took just 2 years – running from 1958-60 – and a straight knockout format was adopted along with an expansion to 16 teams. It would be nearly 50 years before the tournament featured a group stage again. Barcelona successfully defended their trophy, beating Birmingham City 4-1 on aggregate in the final to confirm Spain’s dominance of European club football (Real Madrid won the first 5 European Cups over the same period).

It was a Scottish side who ended Barcelona’s reign at the top the following season – a 3-2 loss to Hibs at Easter Road consigned the Catalans to a 7-6 aggregate defeat in the quarter-final. Hibs were the first Scottish side to participate in the tournament, just as they were in the European Cup. The Hibees faced Roma in the semi-final, drawing 2-2 at home and 3-3 away to set up a play-off match – had away goals been in use at that point, Hibs would have reached the final. The play-off was held in the less than neutral venue of Rome, and the Italians took full advantage, winning 6-0. They went on to defeat Birmingham City in the final. The whole tournament took place within the 1960/61 season – and it would continue annually from that point forward.

Over the next few seasons, the tournament moved away from the original idea of involving cities with trade fairs, and moved towards the current notion of having the “best of the rest” from each league across Europe. The introduction of the Cup Winners Cup meant that the Fairs Cup – which generally featured clubs who hadn’t won anything domestically – became the third tier competition, but in the days where only national champions entered the European Cup, there were still plenty of big teams involved. Indeed, Barcelona and Valencia won 3 of the next 5 trophies, with Real Zaragoza and Ferencvaros winning the others.

The first decade of the tournament had been dominated by Spanish sides, but they would soon be usurped by English opposition. The first clue came when Don Revie’s Leeds United (who had beaten Kilmarnock in the semi-final) made it to the final in 1967, losing to Dinamo Zagreb. Leeds would make amends the following year, knocking out Hibs, Rangers and Dundee on their way to the final, where they narrowly defeated Ferencvaros to record the first English success in the tournament. The next three seasons saw three more English successes, with Newcastle, Arsenal and then Leeds (again) keeping the trophy south of the border.

That second Leeds success would mark the end of the Fairs Cup era. In 1971, UEFA took over the tournament and rebranded it as the UEFA Cup. They also introduced a new trophy, which is still in use today, meaning that the old Fairs Cup trophy was up for grabs. It was decided that a trophy play-off should be held between the two most successful clubs in the history of the tournament, with the winners keeping the trophy. Three time winners Barcelona hosted two-time winners (and holders) Leeds United in a one-off match in the Nou Camp, and the Catalan side won 2-1 to secure the rights to the trophy, which remains on display in the Nou Camp museum.

The rebranded UEFA Cup started where the Fairs Cup had left off as Tottenham and Liverpool won the first two trophies. The run of 6 consecutive titles for English clubs was ended by Feyenoord in 1974, as the Dutch side beat Tottenham in the final. The remainder of the 1970s saw some famous winners in Borussia Monchengladbach (twice), Liverpool, Juventus, PSV and Eintracht Frankfurt, but in 1981 the trophy would go to a less glamorous location. Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town, inspired by 14 goals from John Wark, secured a memorable success by beating AZ Alkmaar in the final. Robson went on to become England manager soon after, and a year later another future England manager won the trophy, as Sven Goran Eriksson guided IFK Gothenburg to victory over Hamburg.

IFK would go on to win the trophy again 5 years later, defeating Jim McLean’s Dundee United in the 1987 final. United had famously won home and away against Barcelona in the quarter-finals that year, but came up just short in the final. That would be the first of three defeats for Scottish clubs in the UEFA Cup final, and it remains the only European trophy which hasn’t been won by a side from this country.

The next two seasons were notable for different reasons. The 1988 final saw Espanyol defeat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the first leg in Barcelona, only to crash to a 3-0 defeat in the second leg then suffer defeat on penalties. The following year, Napoli defeated Stuttgart 5-4 on aggregate as Diego Maradona won the only European trophy of his career.

The 1990s saw Italian domination, with 7 titles being divided between Inter (3), Juventus (2) and Parma (2). Bayern Munich’s win over Bordeaux in 1996 was the only final which didn’t feature an Italian side. There were also a few tweaks to the tournament format in the 1990s. 1996/97 was the first season where eliminated clubs from the Champions League dropped down into the UEFA Cup. In that first season, Brondby were the side who made it furthest after dropping down – reaching the quarter-finals. The two-legged final was ditched in 1998 in favour of one-off match at a neutral venue. The first of these finals saw an Inter side containing Ronaldo, Zamorano and Djorkaeff defeat Lazio 3-0 in Paris. Javier Zanetti also started that final for Inter, and at the age of 39 he is playing in this season’s Europa League for the same club.

The Cup Winners Cup was scrapped in 1999, meaning that the UEFA Cup expanded to include cup winners from across Europe for the 1999/2000 season. That season’s final featured a couple of other firsts. Galatasaray became the first Turkish side to win a European trophy, and they also became the first team to win the UEFA Cup after dropping down from the Champions League. To date, 5 clubs have won the UEFA Cup/Europa League after dropping down from the Champions League – the others being Feyenoord (2002), CSKA Moscow (2005), Shakhtar Donetsk (2009), Atletico Madrid (2010).

Interest in the UEFA Cup gradually dwindled in the late 1990s and early 2000s as more and more clubs were granted entry to the Champions League. The tournament still had its fair share of excitement – such as Liverpool’s 5-4 win over Alaves in the 2001 Final and Henrik Larsson dragging Celtic to the final in 2003 – but the Champions League was in danger of becoming the only show in town.

UEFA’s first response was to introduce group stages for the 2004/05 season. The last 40 teams were put into 8 groups of 5, with the top 3 in each group joining 8 Champions League failures in the last 32. The first tournament under this format saw CSKA Moscow beat Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in the final to become the first Russian side to lift a European trophy.

2005/06 was memorable for Middlesbrough’s remarkable run to the final. In the quarter-final against FC Basel, they were 3-0 down on aggregate with an hour remaining in the tie, but scored 4 times to progress to the semis, with Massimo Maccarone scoring the winning goal in stoppage time. The semi-final against Steaua Bucharest saw them yet again trailing 3-0 on aggregate with an hour to go, but yet again they scored 4 times to progress, with Maccarone again scoring the vital goal late on. Their luck ran out in the final, with Sevilla thrashing them 4-0.

The following season, Hampden hosted its first (and so far only) UEFA Cup final, with holders Sevilla beating Espanyol on penalties after a 2-2 draw. There was Scottish interest again in the next year’s final, as Walter Smith’s Rangers side scrapped their way through to the final in Manchester. They lost 2-0 to a Zenit St Petersburg side inspired by Andrei Arshavin, but events on the field were overshadowed by supporters rioting in Manchester city centre.

The 2008/09 UEFA Cup would prove to be the final tournament under that name. The 5 team group format had proved unpopular because teams had free weeks as a result of the uneven numbers, and because clubs only met each other once, rather than the usual home and away format. UEFA decided that the only way to raise the profile of the tournament was to overhaul it completely, including a change of name to the Europa League. Shakhtar Donetsk brought the curtain down on the UEFA Cup, beating Werder Bremen 2-1 in the final after extra time.

The renaming of the tournament brought a move towards Champions League-style groups. The last 48 teams are now divided into 12 groups of 4, with the top 2 from each group joining 8 Champions League failures in the last 32. The surprise package of the first Europa League season were Roy Hodgson’s Fulham, who beat Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg on their way to the final. Atletico Madrid would prove just too strong for them in the final, with Diego Forlan scoring twice to secure a 2-1 win after extra time.

The most recent two seasons have been dominated by sides from the Iberian Peninsula. In 2010/11 the semi-finals consisted of 3 teams from Portugal and 1 from Spain. The final was an all-Portuguese affair, with Andre Villas-Boas leading his side to a 1-0 victory over Braga thanks to a goal from Falcao. Last season, the roles were reversed, with 3 Spanish and 1 Portuguese in the semi-finals, and there was an all-Spanish final between Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid. Bilbao’s exciting young side had impressed on the way to the final, but froze on the big occasion. Falcao was again on target in the final, scoring twice as his Atletico Madrid side won 3-0.

The new Europa League format makes the incentive for reaching the group stage even higher. Clubs in the group stage receive substantial prize money plus a share of pooled TV money and 3 guaranteed home matches. If Motherwell can overcome the odds to defeat Levante over two legs, the club could reap the rewards for years to come.

The Rise and Rise of the Champions League

I put together the following piece for Motherwell FC’s match magazine for the Panathinaikos game.  Thought I might as well share it.

 

The Champions League is without doubt the most popular sporting event in Europe, possibly even the world According to UEFA, the 2012 final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea attracted over 300 million viewers, while the match was the subject of 4.8 million tweets. With the tournament now a global phenomenon, it is easy to forget that the Champions League concept is just 20 years old, and that its predecessor, the European Cup, has been around for less than 60 years.

Even though organised club football was being played as early as the late 1850s, and national cup competitions and leagues started in the 1870s, it was a while before anyone suggested a pan-European tournament to decide the best team in the continent. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were a few local tournaments such as the Mitropa Cup and the Latin Cup, but these only covered part of the continent.

As was the case with the World Cup and European Championships, the driving forces behind the European Cup were French. In the early 1950s, Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran of esteemed French sports newspaper “L’Equipe” proposed a tournament involving the biggest and best teams in Europe. Their idea came to fruition in time for the 1955/56 season, with 16 teams from across the continent invited to take part.

Only 7 of those teams were national champions, with the organisers inviting some sides based on their size and fanbase rather than their achievements. That included 5th placed Hibs who were preferred to Scottish champions Aberdeen. Hibs reached the semi-final of that first tournament, losing to French champions Stade de Reims. The tournament was won by Real Madrid, as it would be in each of the next 4 seasons.

The tournament was an immediate success. Over 38,000 turned up for the first final in Paris, and a year later there were more than 3 times as many at the Bernabeu to watch Real Madrid beat Fiorentina. The organisers very quickly dropped the invitational nature of the tournament in favour of meritocracy, making the European Cup a true contest between national champions. As years and decades passed, the competition continued to grow in stature, providing a multitude of memorable moments along the way.

But in the late 80s and early 90s, sport, and in particular football, became big business. The larger clubs started to outgrow the European Cup model, and wanted a format which allowed spectators and TV viewers to see the best play the best every year. Even with seeding, a knockout competition was susceptible to surprise results, and one bad performance could see a big side bow out. This led to the introduction of a group stage for the first time in 1991/92. The teams which reached the last eight were drawn into two groups of four, with the winners of each group proceeding to the final. That final saw Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona beat Sampdoria at Wembley to win the last ever European Cup (and Barcelona’s first).

Buoyed by the success of the group stage, UEFA decided to rebrand the trophy as the Champions League for the 1992/93 season, with the aim of converting footballing success into commercial revenue. By sheer chance, this new era in European football coincided with the breakup of the USSR and Yugoslavia, increasing the number of entrants from 32 to 36 and a year to later 42. This would set the ball rolling on the seemingly endless expansion of the tournament, an expansion which of course has led to Motherwell’s participation tonight!

The inaugural Champions League still consisted of only league champions, and followed the same format as the previous season’s European Cup. Rangers were the first Scottish side to make the group stage, and were just 90 minutes away from the final as they entered a last day showdown. Walter Smith’s side could only draw with CSKA Moscow at Ibrox, while Marseille secured a 1-0 win away to Club Brugge to squeeze into the final.

Marseille went on to defeat AC Milan in the final to become the first winners of the Champions League, but their victory was tarnished by a match-fixing scandal in their domestic campaign. Contrary to popular belief, they were not stripped of their Champions League title, and there was no evidence of wrongdoing in their European campaign, but a cloud still hangs over their success.

As a result of their misdeeds, Marseille were banned from the 1993/94 season – the only time the holders have not defended their trophy. The second season of the tournament also saw the first of many format changes, with the reintroduction of semi-finals involving the top two from each group. Unusually, the semi-finals were one-legged affairs with the two group winners given home advantage, an experiment which lasted just one season. AC Milan and Barcelona both comfortably won their home semi-finals, setting up a showpiece final in Athens, where the Italian side produced one of the greatest performances in Champions League history, crushing the Catalans 4-0.

The 1994/95 season saw the first deviation from the spirit of the old European Cup. Troubled by the expansion of the tournament as a result of sudden influx of new nations, UEFA decided to restrict Champions League entry to only the top 24 nations, with the champions of the smaller countries entering the UEFA Cup. This facilitated an increase in the number of groups from two to four, with the top two in each group progressing to the quarter-finals.

This format continued for three seasons, yielding three different winners. In 1994/95, an 18 year-old Patrick Kluivert scored the only goal as his star-studded Ajax side beat AC Milan in the final. Ajax beat reached the final again the following season, beating tonight’s opponents Panathinaikos in the semi-final. This time, they lost out to Italian opposition, defeated on penalties by Juventus. That Ajax side also contained van der Sar, Davids, Rijkaard, Seedorf, Overmars, Kanu, Litmanen and both de Boer brothers, but all of them departed for Spain, Italy or England over the next couple of years, and the Dutch side have never really been competitive in the tournament since.

1996/97 saw an ex-Motherwell player lift the trophy. Paul Lambert was part of a ‘Well side which had run Borussia Dortmund close in the 1994/95 UEFA Cup, and the German side’s manager Ottmar Hitzfeld was impressed enough to sign the Scotland midfielder just over a year later. Lambert turned in a majestic display as Dortmund won 1-0 at Old Trafford in the semi-final, and he went on to mark Zinedine Zidane out of the final, which his side won 3-1.

The champions of the smaller nations returned to the fold in 1997/98 as part of an expansion of the tournament. For the first time, the runners-up from Germany, Spain, Italy and England were granted entry, the first step towards the four-team entry system we have today. The number of groups increased again, from four to six, with the group winners being joined in the quarter-finals by the two best runners-up. The group stage provided one of the most memorable moments in the history of the tournament, 21 year-old Andriy Shevchenko launching his career with a hat-trick for Dynamo Kyiv as they won 4-0 in the Nou Camp. Real Madrid would go on to win the trophy, with Predrag Mijatovic scoring the only goal in a dull final against Juventus.

The following season’s final was much more eventful. Manchester United and Bayern Munich met in Barcelona, with the English side missing the suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes . Bayern took the lead through Mario Basler’s early goal, but were mugged in stoppage time as Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in quick succession to steal the trophy for Alex Ferguson’s side.

The 1999/2000 season featured a further expansion of the tournament. The group stage of the tournament moved to the current total of 32 teams, and the bigger nations were allowed a third entrant. The next four seasons would feature the much-maligned “2nd Group Stage”, meaning teams had to play at least 17 matches to win the tournament. Real Madrid won the first tournament in this format, with Steve McManaman scoring the pick of the goals in a 3-0 win over Valencia – the first time two teams from the same country met in the final.

Valencia were runners-up again the following year, with Bayern Munich exorcising the demons of 1999. The Germans won the final on penalties following a tame 1-1 draw. That season marked the final expansion of the tournament to its current size, with the biggest nations given four places in the tournament.

The 2002 final at Hampden provided one of the most famous goals in the stadium’s illustrious history as Zinedine Zidane’s volley decided a tight match against Bayer Leverkusen. That was Real Madrid’s ninth title, and they still await “La Decima” – their historic tenth.

A year later, AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties after an incredibly cagey 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. Andriy Shevchenko scored the winning spot-kick. 2003/04 provided a surprise final, with Porto and Monaco battling through to the final. Jose Mourinho’s Porto side had beaten Celtic in the UEFA Cup final the previous season, and he followed that success up with an even bigger one, comfortably winning the final 3-0 in what proved to be his final match before moving to Chelsea.

Mourinho’s Chelsea side faced Liverpool eight times in the Champions League, and the first of these meetings came in the 2004/05 semi-final. The only “goal” of the tie came from Liverpool’s Luis Garcia, though his shot may not have actually crossed the line. The final in Istanbul provided one of the most miraculous comebacks in the tournament’s history. Liverpool trailed AC Milan 3-0 at half-time, but scored three goals in six second half minutes to force extra-time and penalties. Andriy Shevchenko, Milan’s hero from 2003, saw his spot kick saved as Liverpool triumphed.

2005/06 heralded the start of Barcelona’s era. The Catalans have reached the semi-final in all but one of the last seven seasons, winning the trophy three times. The first of those three successes came against Arsenal in Paris, when Henrik Larsson came off the bench to set up two goals in the last 15 minutes. Their other wins came in 2008/09 and 2010/11, with Pep Guardiola’s side giving Manchester United a footballing lesson in both finals.

Even with Barcelona’s dominance, there have still been opportunities for other sides to get their hands on the trophy. The 2006/07 final gave AC Milan the chance for revenge against Liverpool, and they duly grabbed the opportunity. Pippo Inzaghi scored twice in a 2-1 victory. The following year, Manchester United and Chelsea met in Moscow, with Alex Ferguson’s side winning on penalties after John Terry’s famous slip.

2009/10 saw Jose Mourinho win again, with Diego Milito scoring a double in the final against Bayern Munich. Bayern would again lose out as Chelsea finally got their hands on the trophy last May, with Didier Drogba scoring the winning kick in a penalty shootout.

In spite of the criticism it receives, the Champions League remains an exciting and unpredictable competition. There have been 13 different winners in the 20 seasons of the rebranded tournament, and no side has managed to retain the trophy in that period. The tournament still manages to throw up surprises such as APOEL Nicosia’s run to last year’s quarter-finals, and of course, we all hope that Motherwell can emulate that feat this season.

Heart of Midlothian in Europe – 2012/13

Heart of Midlothian will enter the draw for the Playoff Round of the Europa League on Friday at 12:30pm.  Their matches will take place on 23rd August and 30th August, and we won’t know whether they are home or away first until after the draw.  They qualified for the Europa League by virtue of their Scottish Cup success, making it the third time in the last four seasons that they participate in European competition.

Hearts have participated in Europe fairly regularly, but have been unable to match the success of the likes of Aberdeen and Dundee United.  Their run to the UEFA Cup quarter-final in 1988/89 was the only time they have ever progressed more than a single round in a European competition.  Their record at Tynecastle (and Murrayfield) is fairly impressive, with 20 home wins in 36 matches, but many of these good results have been nullified by their poor away form (8 wins in 38 matches* away from Edinburgh).

*Those of you who can count may have noticed that they have played away more times than at home.  In the days before penalties or the away goals rule, matches finishing level on aggregate were settled by a play-off match.  Hearts went through this twice, and on both cases the play-offs were played at the other club’s venue for some reason (toss of a coin?).  They lost both of these play-off matches.

Hearts have travelled to 20 different countries for European matches (21 if you include East Germany).  This season’s Playoff Round presents the opportunity of trips to a few countries they have yet to visit, including Russia, Israel, Turkey, Romania, Cyprus and Poland.

The countries Hearts have travelled to on European duty.

History

Hearts made their first foray into Europe in the 1958/59 European Cup, qualifying by winning the league the previous season.  They were drawn against Standard Liege, and took an early lead in Belgium through Ian Crawford before being brought back down to earth with a bump as the home side scored 5 unanswered goals.  A 2-1 win at Tynecastle restored a small amount of pride.

Another league title two years later meant a return to the European Cup, but their second campaign was no more successful as they lost home and away to Benfica in the Preliminary Round.  In hindsight it was an unlucky draw – the Portuguese side went on to win the trophy that season, beating Barcelona in the final.

The following season, they entered the Fairs Cup, and were finally able to make it through a tie, beating Union Saint-Gilloise of Belgium home and away.  The success was short-lived, as they were brutally dispatched by Helenio Herrera’s Inter in the next round.  The aforementioned play-off defeats ended their next two Fairs Cup campaigns – Lausanne Sport eliminated them in the 1st Round in 1963/64, and Real Zaragoza beat them in Round 3 in 1965/66 (Hearts had received a bye in R1 then beaten Norwegian Valerenga in R2).

The period between 1967 and 1983 produced 4 European trophies for Scottish clubs, but this success coincided with a period in the doldrums for Hearts.  They only qualified for Europe once, entering the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976/77 after losing the previous season’s Scottish Cup final to Rangers (who had already qualified for the European Cup as winners of the Premier League).  That Cup Winners’ Cup campaign provided one memorable night at Tynecastle against Lokomotiv Leipzig as Hearts overturned a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in East Germany by winning the home leg 5-1.  Unfortunately, Hamburg thumped them home and away in the 2nd Round.

European football became a more regular occurrence from the mid-80s onwards.  Two short-lived UEFA Cup campaigns in 1984/85 and 1986/87 saw defeats to PSG and Dukla Prague in the opening rounds, the latter courtesy of away goals.  They would have a longer run in the same competition a couple of years later.

Hearts qualified for the 1988/89 UEFA Cup as runners-up in the Premier League, and were handed a 1st Round tie against St Pat’s Athletic.  The Irish side were beaten 2-0 home and away to set up a tie with Austria Vienna.  A 0-0 draw at Tynecastle in the first leg made the away match a tough ask, but Mike Galloway scored the only goal to put Hearts through to Round 3. Yugoslavian side Velez Mostar were thumped 3-0 at Tynecastle in the first leg courtesy of goals from Eamonn Bannon, Galloway (again) and John Colquhoun.  They lost 2-1 in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, but progressed to a Quarter-Final against Bayern Munich.  Over 26,000 fans packed into Tynecastle to see their side record a famous 1-0 win thanks to Ian Ferguson.  In the 2nd leg in Munich, the German side led at half-time thanks to Klaus Augenthaler.  With 20 minutes to go, Erland Johnsen gave Bayern a 2-0 lead, and despite their best efforts Hearts couldn’t grab the away goal which would have taken them to the semi-final

They returned to Europe for the 1990/91 UEFA Cup, eliminating Dnipro thanks to a draw in Ukraine and a 3-1 win at Tynecastle.  In the next round, a 3-1 win over Bologna at Tynecastle should have set them up for progression, but they succumbed to a 3-0 loss in Italy to bow out.  Two years later, Slavia Prague were defeated in Round 1 thanks to another Tynecastle win, but Standard Liege proved too strong in the following round.

The next decade an brought a succession of near-misses for Hearts.  1993/94’s UEFA Cup saw a famous 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid but Hearts were eliminated after losing 3-0 in Spain.  In the 1996/97 Cup Winners’ Cup, a 0-0 draw away to Red Star Belgrade set up a big night at Tynecastle, but Hearts went out on away goals after a 1-1 draw.  Two years later, a comfortable victory over Lantana Tallinn set up a tie with Real Mallorca.   The Spanish side won 1-0 at Tynecastle, but were made to endure a nervy night at home.  The 2nd leg nearly didn’t go ahead after Hearts complained that the goalposts were too high.  Mallorca took the lead just after half-time, but Jim Hamilton’s equaliser with 15 minutes to go set up a grandstand finish.  Hearts had a couple of late half-chances, but couldn’t find the goal they needed.

In the UEFA Cup 2000/01, Icelandic side IBV Vestmannaeyjar were beaten home and away to set up a tie with Stuttgart.  A 1-0 defeat in Germany set up another big night under the floodlights at Tynecastle.  Steven Pressley’s early opener was cancelled out by Sean Dundee, and when Marcelo Bordon put the Germans 2-1 up just after half-time it looked like game over.  But Hearts rallied, and Gordan Petric’s goal just after the hour mark levelled things up on the night, before Colin Cameron scored a penalty with just under 10 minutes to go to leave Hearts needing just one more goal.  Stuttgart had a man sent off for the penalty, and were reduced to 9 a few minutes later, but yet again Hearts just couldn’t find the crucial goal.

2003/04 saw Zeljeznicar Sarajevo swatted aside in Round 1 of the UEFA Cup.  Hearts were drawn against Bordeaux in Round 2, and an estimated 4500 fans travelled to France for the 1st leg.  They witnessed one of Hearts’ most impressive European away performances, with a late Mark de Vries goal sealing a 1-0 win for Craig Levein’s side.  The return leg at Tynecastle proved to be a massive disappointment though, as goals from Albert Riera and Pascal Feindouno secured a 2-0 win for the French side.

Hearts would bounce back stronger the following season, as they finally pulled off the sort of impressive victory they had been threatening for years.  A change to UEFA regulations meant that their 1st Round match against Braga had to be played at Murrayfield rather than Tynecastle.  There was initially an eerie atmosphere with 18,000 fans inside a 67,000 seater stadium, but the action on the park sparked the fans into life.  Goals from Andy Webster, Paul Hartley and Patrick Kisnorbo secured a 3-1 win for the “home” side.  In the return leg, an early goal from Joao Tomas would have stirred memories of the recent disappointments, but Hearts made sure there would be no repeat this time, with Mark de Vries scoring a double to put them 5-2 ahead on aggregate.  A late goal from Jaime Aquino was nothing more than a consolation, and Hearts progressed to the inaugural UEFA Cup Group Stage.

They would ultimately finish bottom of a group containing Feyenoord, Schalke, Basel and Ferencvaros.  On the pitch, the main highlight was a 2-1 win away to Basel, courtesy of a late goal from Robbie Neilson – his first for Hearts.  Off the field, the most memorable incident came after the final match at home to Ferencvaros (a match Hearts lost 1-0 thanks to a goal from future Hibs player Denes Rosa).  Hearts manager John Robertson became embroiled in a touchline altercation with his opposite number.  That opposing manager was a certain Csaba Laszlo, who would go on to manage at Tynecastle for two seasons.

Hearts’ next trip into Europe would come in the 2006/07 Champions League, off the back of a famous season where Hearts finished 2nd and won the Scottish Cup.  Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia-Herzegovina were comfortably beaten, setting up a tie with AEK Athens.  Over 32,000 turned out at Murrayfield for the first leg, and they were dreaming of the group stage when Saulius Mikoliunas gave Hearts the lead after an hour.  Unfortunately, Bruno Aguiar was sent off minutes later, then the Greeks hit Hearts with a late sucker punch, scoring twice in the last three minutes.  In the 2nd leg, Hearts had been giving a good account of themselves before Julian Brellier was sent off after half an hour (his first yellow card was for failing to remove an earring).  Neil McCann followed him for an early bath not long after half-time, and AEK scored three goals in the last 15 minutes against the remaining 9 men.  Hearts dropped down into the UEFA Cup, but a 2-0 defeat at home to Sparta Prague killed off their chances in that tournament.

Their most recent forays into Europe have seen them thrashed twice in Europa League Play-off Round matches.  In 2008/09 they entered that round directly but lost 4-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb.  Hearts briefly threatened to turn things around at Tynecastle, but could only manage a 2-0 victory.  Last season they saw off Paks in the 3rd Qualifying Round, drawing 1-1 in Hungary then recording a comfortable 4-1 win at Tynecastle.  That set up a glamour tie against Spurs, and Hearts were totally outclassed at Tynecastle, losing 5-0.  Some pride was restored with a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane – with Hearts being the only club to keep a clean sheet there all season.

2012/13 Campaign

Hearts will enter at the Playoff Round, which means they need to win just one tie to make it through to the Group Stage.  Barring a ridiculous set of results in the 3rd Qualifying Round, Hearts will be unseeded.

Europa League Playoff Round

Matches: 23rd August & 30th August

The seedings for the Playoff Round won’t be finalised until after tonight’s matches are completed.  The list below is only a guide, and assumes that all of the seeded sides make it through the 3rd Qualifying Round.  The clubs in white and italics are the ones who are involved in QR3 and have to win their way through.  The orange line is the minimum cut-off point for seeding – the clubs above the line could move into the seeded pot if the results fall their way this evening, but the clubs below it are guaranteed to be unseeded.  Hearts are just above the line, and would require something in the region of 20 results to go their way in order to be seeded.

 

 

In advance of the draw, the clubs will be allocated into smaller “draw groups” in order to prevent clubs from the same country from playing each other.  This also cuts down on the draw time.  These groups are usually published in advance of the draw, so look out for them tonight or tomorrow morning.