Just in the way that some people think of certain nights as ‘pizza night’ or ‘date night’, there are plenty of people out there who consider Champions League fixtures to be a night as well and have ‘Champions League night’. To say the tournament is immensely popular is quite the understatement. Around 380 million to 400 million tune in to watch Europe’s soccer titans do battle in the Champions League final. 

Each year, 32 teams begin the group stage of the tournament, although several more actually compete to qualify for the tournament. The top two teams from each group move into the round of 16 and the knockout phase of the tournament begins. It’s gripping, and lots of people up the excitement even more for themselves by participating in Champions League betting. This year, Manchester City and Liverpool F.C were swapping positions as the favorites to win, however it turned out better for Liverpool. The final will be between Real Madrid and Liverpool on the 28th May.

Anyway, below is a look at how the Champions League has evolved since its earlier days as the European Cup Winners Cup.

The pre-Champions League days of the tournament

The Champions League started life as the European Cup in 1955/56. This isn’t to be confused with the other pan-European competition, the European Cup Winners Cup, which launched during the 1960/61 season and ran for nearly 40 years during the 20th century.

The competition as we know it today is UEFA’s elite tournament and entrants battle to become European champions and enjoy the glory that comes along with it. In the days of the European Cup, 16 clubs would compete for this right. It was a straight knockout tournament between domestic league winners. 

The first team to win the European Cup were Real Madrid in 1956. Under the old competition rules, they got to keep the original cup when they won it for a sixth time in 1966. Other clubs who have been permanently awarded the trophy include Ajax and Bayern Munich, after winning their third consecutive titles in 1973 and 1976. Liverpool would later go on to be permanently awarded a trophy in 2005. 

Transformation into the Champions League

The competition has changed a lot since those early days and when it transformed into the Champions League in 1992/93. In the European Cup days, rounds were tense because clubs faced the very real threat of elimination, whereas in today’s tournament, the existence of the group stages means that a draw or a loss doesn’t necessarily spell the end of a team’s participation in the tournament. 

The competition is no longer open only to domestic champions, but also to runners-up in domestic leagues. The competition opened up to them from the 1997/98 season. In 2019/20, seventy-nine clubs entered.

Now, qualifying for the Champions League begins in summer with three rounds followed by a place. Then 32 teams begin the group stage of the tournament in September, with each group consisting of four teams. 

Whereas the top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stages, the third team will drop into the UEFA Europa League, Europe’s second-tier competition. The eight teams that exit the UEFA Champions League will go on to the round of 32 in the Europa League.

The multiple winners badge

A team may experience the glory of winning the Champions League trophy more than once, but unfortunately, they can’t keep the trophy anymore. The fact UEFA doesn’t currently own the trophy means this is no longer allowed. Liverpool was the last team to be able to keep the trophy in 2005.

That’s not to say such successful teams in the Champions League receive no recognition of their achievement, however. Clubs that got to keep the trophy were awarded ‘multiple winner’ badges that they wore on their left sleeve. UEFA introduced this in the 2000/01 season. 

At the beginning of the 2012/13 season, UEFA changed the badge from blue to grey and also altered the design. At the start of the 2020/21 season, the association also stopped players from wearing the badge on the left sleeve, which created space for sponsors. Teams who wore the multiple winners’ badge then saw the badge incorporated into the regular ‘starball’ badge. The number of times they’d won the tournament is placed above the middle star. 

Some sports fans will dispute whether the switch from being the European Cup to the Champions League has been better, but many will feel expansion has made the tournament more exciting. Followers of certain teams will appreciate the chance for their teams to still have a shot of some silverware despite not winning the domestic league and/or possibly club competitions such as the FA Cup.

The European Cup was terrific when it started but has evolved into an even more competitive tournament in the form of the Champions League and has acquired fans from around the world. Now soccer fans have even more opportunities to see their favorite team earn some silverware.