In a recent post as part of our WW1 series we took to wondering about the balance of power in European football back around the time of the start of the First World War. As an extension of this idea we started to picture how an imaginary Champions League of 1913-14 might look. A format was put together and now, in this second part, we’ll look in more detail at the participating clubs who represented the pinnacle of the amateur European club game a century ago in what was the last full season before football across the continent was laid low by conflict.
The field represents a mix of familiar and unfamiliar names. From the 42 clubs we have put forward for entry in this 1913-14 competition, four would subsequently become official champions of Europe in the second-half of the twentieth century while some two dozen others would participate in European club competition in some form.
You know all about Rangers, Benfica, Manchester United, Ferencvaros and other big names who were staples of the European game then as now, so we’ll concentrate instead on the successful clubs from a hundred years ago for whom modern developments in the game were a lot less kind. The clubs who faded into obscurity or obsolescence after hostilities ceased and regular football resumed in 1918.
A number of these lost clubs do still exist, albeit usually in a barely recognisable form and playing in regional obscurity in front of one man and his dog each fortnight – figureheads of the amateur game left behind by the relentless onslaught of professionalism. Others suffered more directly and more immediately from the huge upheaval war brought and had ceased to exist altogether by the time hostilities ended in 1918.
The Wednesday played under this name until 1929 before changing it to, of course, Sheffield Wednesday.
VfB Leipzig were the 1913 German champions, their third pre-WW1 title success, and one of the country’s most significant teams of the era. The club’s lineage can be traced through to Lokomotive Leipzig in the days of the East German Oberliga and it plays today as a reformed version of that club at the fourth level of the German game.
Duisburg SpV won 10 titles between 1904 and 1927 and played regularly in the Oberliga West through to the 1950s. The club didn’t make the cut for the Bundesliga in 1963 and were gradually overtaken by their now better-known neighbours, MSV Duisburg. Underwent various mergers in the years since and now play as Eintracht Duisburg 48 in regional obscurity.
Holstein Kiel was a powerhouse of northern German football during the 1910s and 1920s with 6 regional titles wins and 6 runners-up placings. The club exists to this day and has for many decades bounced back and forth somewhere between the second and fourth levels of the German game.
Viktoria 89 Berlin was the earliest club to be formed in Berlin and with titles won in 1908 and 1911, the most powerful from the capital in the fledgling years of the game. A messy modern history involving repeated name changes, mergers and financial problems followed, but Viktoria survive and play presently at the fifth level of the German pyramid.
Wiener Association FC was founded in 1910 as a spin-off from the more famous WAC club. WAF would become Austrian champions in 1914 and win the Cup in 1922 before decline set in. Further undermined by a number of tortuous mergers over the decades, the club limps on in some loosely identifiable form today as WAF Brigittenau.
The Basque club Racing de Irún existed for just one further year before its involvement in a 1915 merger that created Real Unión. That new entity won three Copa del Reys in the 1910s and 1920s and played in the top division at the inception of the Spanish League in 1929. Relegated in 1932 and destined never to return to the top-level again.
Madrid FC was Real Madrid’s name before they were granted royal patronage in 1920.
España FC dominated Catalan football in the 1910s before a rapid fading of fortunes. The club changed its name to Gràcia FC and merged with another in 1931 to become Catalunya FC. The merger was not a success and the club dissolved that same year.
Pro Vercelli boasted the fine achievement of being seven-time Italian champions between 1908 and 1922. The Piedmontese club was particularly strong around the time of our competition and their 1913 success completed a hat-trick of successive titles. Decline set in during the 1930s and the club drifted between the third and fifth tiers for the rest of the twentieth century. Folded in 2010 and now reformed under a different name.
Stade Helvétique was a successful Marseille-based club founded by the city’s Swiss community. Five times regional amateur champions between 1909 and 1914 and never outside the Quarter Finals in the national play-offs, the club ceased playing at the outset of war in 1914 and officially terminated all football operations in 1916.
Rouen had amateur links to the professional club FC Rouen that plays today at the third level of the French League.
Olympique de Cette can trace its lineage through to modern-day FC Sète 34 who play in the lower reaches of the French football pyramid.
Royale Union Saint-Gilloise was Belgium’s dominant club in the early part of the last century, winning 11 titles between 1904 and 1935. The fortunes of Belgian football’s grand dame declined sharply in the 1950s and 60s with the club plodding away today in the third tier of the Belgian game.
Daring Brussels was one of Belgium’s most popular clubs in the early days of the Belgian game. Poor attendances in the post WWII era led to a merger with Royal Racing White in 1973 into a new entity called RWD Molenbeek.
Colentina Bucharest was the works team of an English-run cotton mill in the city. Champions in both 1913 and 1914, the club faded when their British players returned home to to fight for their country in the War. Limped on in a reduced post-war form until final dissolution in 1947.
If Colentina was the successful team of English expats in Romania, that season’s runner-up, Bukarester FC (known as BFC), was its German equivalent. BFC was known for its 60-year-old goalkeeper Cyril Hense who also happened to be the club President. The advent of war saw the club stripped of its players and BFC folded in 1916 after just four years of existence.
SK Velika Srbija was a new Belgrade club formed as a breakaway from the club that would finish as runners-up to them that season, BSK. They changed their name to SK Jugoslavija in 1919 and became the country’s most popular club before being forcibly dissolved at the end of WW2 by the Communist authorities. Their assets, although not their history, were handed over to the club we know as Red Star Belgrade.
BSK was the Beogradski Sport Klub and is known today as OFK Belgrade
Athletic Club Sparta were 1912 Bohemian champions (we were unable to source 1913 winners) and this club was an early incarnation of Sparta Prague.
This first season of Denmark’s national football League was won by Copenhagen’s KB, the oldest football club in continental Europe. KB won 15 titles between 1913 and 1980 before merging with B1903 to become FC Copenhagen in 1992.
So you know more about some of the continent’s lesser known clubs from a century ago. The question we’ll be attempting to answer next time is which of the 42 clubs might be expected to emerge as victorious in our little exercise? Read the third and final part, The Champions League 1913-14 – The Contenders to find out.