Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros-Euro ’60 (France)

The European Football Championships are the smaller brother of the famed World Cup but it has never lacked the same drama and stories from on and off the pitch. There is Uri Gueller taking credit for England beating Scotland to a background of Britpop. There’s the Danes upset, Zlatan’s back heel, the Greek heroes and Spain announcing their arrival as a super team. From a small four team competition through to the 24 team comp in France next month there has been much to look back at over 14 tournaments. 

THE LEAD UP

The ‘Euros’ were first dreamed up by a Frenchman much like the World Cup and the Olympic Football competitions for both men and women. In 1925 Henri Daulaney floated the idea but the rise of fascism, the resulting war because of fascism and then rebuild of a continent after fascism was defeated meant a European governing body (UEFA) would not be formed until 1954. The European Cup for clubs was created to crown the best team in Europe in 1955 before it was finally decided there would be a European Cup of Nations to be held in 1960. Dualaney, of course, had died in 1956 before this all came to fruition after he had pushed for it for years. To honour the tragically unlucky Frenchman the trophy would be named after him and still be used to this day.

The format for the competition would be like the European Club Cup with countries playing in two-leg knockout games but with this tournament the semi finals and final would be played in one country. Initially UEFA struggled the sell the idea of the competition to the respective football associations. Former World Cup winners West Germany and Italy both declined to enter the competition which served as a huge blow to organisers. Then England pulled out meaning that UEFA struggled to find 16 countries but just filled the quota with Eastern Europe getting on board. 

THE TOURNAMENT

In the first round the once brilliant Hungarian side were going down faster than the Dockers’ fortunes in 2016 and were eliminated by a very handy Soviet side that had conquored the country in the 1950s. The match was played in front of some 100,000 people in Moscow. The Soviets featured a bevvy of talent but were spiritually led by the wonderful goalkeeper Lev ‘The Black Spider’ Yashin just reaching the peak of his powers after winning gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Lev I’ve raved about on the Almanac before. He was a man who thought a smoke before a game was perfect for calming nerves and was pulled out of school at the age of 12 to work in a munitions factory during the war.The nickname came from wearing all black in every game like he was playing for another national side from another hemisphere from another sport. He also had concertina like arms that seem to stretch to save anything and was respected by those who mattered.

The very decent East German side were also knocked out in a time before the wall further isolated them from the rest of the Western Europe. In the next round politics, again, got involved with Spain refusing to play the Soviets. Spain was still under the brutal rule of Francisco Franco who didn’t agree with the whole socialism thing and pulled the team out of the competition refusing to travel to Leningrad giving the USSR a clear run to the final four where they would come up against France, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The semi finals and final would be played in France rather than getting involved in another political furor by holding it behind the Iron Curtain even though I’m sure someone like Tito would have done a sterling job. France would fly the democratic flag in the face of a communist/socialist tsunami in the first European Championships. It was ‘Neutron Bombs, Serge Gainsborough, Six Day Wars’ V ‘Peace, Bread, Land’. It didn’t also help the French that their record breaking hero Just Fontaine (who still holds the record for most goals in a World Cup) was missing.

In the first semi final the hosts France took on Yugoslavia in what turned to be a cracking match in Paris. In a see-sawing game the Yugos hit the lead on 11 minutes but conceded straight from the following kick off when Vincent equalised for the French. Then just before half time France were 2-1 up thanks to Huette. It generally turned in to madness in the second half with France getting it to 3-1 before it was 3-2 then 4-2 France before three goals in four minutes some 15 minutes from time saw Yugoslavia through 5-4 and in to the first ever final. At least France won Eurovision that year.

In the other semi final the Soviets were merciless crushing the Czechs 3-0 with a goal in the first half followed up by two more with Valentin Ivanoc scoring a brace. The Czechs did have their chances in the first half when the game was to be won but Yashin was an immovable object timing his runs off the line to perfection to collect or boot loose balls and marshaled his defence so well hardly a shot was put on target for him to save. The Soviet side was one put together in a factory like existence with all the stars doing their bit as workers while playing for major clubs at home. Playing for a side anywhere in the West was just not going to happen in those days so to say they knew each other well was an understatement.

THE FINAL

The final would be refereed by an Englishman even though his country didn’t bother to enter. The French crowds didn’t really bother to turn out either with only 17,000 or so showing up at the Parc Des Princes (the modern home of PSG) to watch history. The Soviets again started the game trying to bully the other side in to submission but Yugoslavia wouldn’t be intimidated and have the run of the game. They repelled any half arsed Soviet attack breaking down to the  other end of the pitch to try and hope that Yashin would mistime one of his runs off the line to clear but Yashin complete with flat cap stood firm. As the half ticked on the Soviets were frustrated unable to exert influence on the game and disaster struck for them when Yugoslavia went ahead thanks for a deflected goal just before half time. 1-0!

In the sheds at half time the Soviets regained some of their composure. Maybe the threat of being sent to Siberia or some other stereotype Soviet punishment may have also been an incentive and in a brief little bit of domination they equalised minutes in the second half through the winger Metrevel. Being dominant yet at 1-1 may have thrown some teams but Yugoslavia kept at it and continued to pepper the goals testing out Yashin and the wall in front of him. There was no breakthrough though and it would go to extra time.

In extra time the Soviets began to get on top. In a rope a dope like tactic their superior fitness was starting to show as Yugoslavia wilted. Then with moments to go before half time in extra time a quickly worked ball saw a cross in to the box that was headed in by Pondelik for the Soviets and they were ahead 2-1. The big boys had prevailed. There was no way back now for their opponents who had fluffed their lines and were dead on their feet. The USSR ran out the clock and were the first champions of Europe adding to their Olympics triumph. Yashin was awarded player of the tournament to solidify his legendary status but it would be the only title the USSR would win apart from their Olympic gold medal despite their pick of the litter of the satellite republics over the decades. Sadly only 3 of the squad that won the title are still left alive but that does include Pondelik who would still regale many with his stories of their glory at the first Euros. Yashin tragically passed away aged only 60.

Not the most successful tournament to begin with the backdrop of a divided Europe at the time and lack of interest from some major stakeholders but the European Cup of Nations had been run and won for the first time. The only way was up from here.

CHAMPIONS-Soviet Union (First title)

RUNNER UP-Yugoslavia

GOLDEN BOOT-A heap of players with two goals

SACRED COW-Lev Yashin (Soviet Union)

DUNCE HATS-The French for being the first side to blow it as hosts.

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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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