The advent of European club competition came twenty years too late for Arsenal. By the time Gabriel Hanot’s idea had been put into practice with the help of Henri Delauney, the Golden Age of the 1930s had long passed and the club was in decline.
The Inter-City Fairs Cup was created by Swiss and Italian pools companies, along with Sir Stanley Rous – a future Life President at Arsenal – and whilst acknowledged by Uefa, it was ‘privately run’ despite Rous being Fifa President at the time. That was until 1971-72, when it was succeeded by the Uefa Cup. Uefa’s involvement had begun a year or two earlier when they took over the organising committee.
Peculiarly for a European tournament, the Fairs Cup organisers offered no automatic right for the winners to defend their trophy. Until Arsenal won the trophy in 1970 that is, the club successfully arguing that they should be allowed to do so on appeal.
So on this night, Arsenal made their European bow. The win in Copenhagen was the club’s highest in a European tie until the visit to Liege in the 1990s and Sparta’s thrashing at Ashburton Grove in the Champions League, both by 7 – 0.
A look around the results on this night show the quality of competition faced by British teams. Glasgow Rangers lost by a single Ferenc Puskas goal at Ibrox against losing finalists Real Madrid, as Jair scored the only goal for Internazionale as they beat Everton, en route to winning the Champions Cup. David Herd, ex of Arsenal, scored for Manchester United as they drew in Rotterdam but a tip of the hat to Distillery of Northern Ireland who held Benfica, Eusbio and all, to a 3 – 3 draw with the aid of Sir Tom Finney, who came out of retirement for the match.
As an aside and of no particular relation to this story, Chelsea were thrashed 3 – 0 at Swindon in the second round of the League Cup.
These were not the first Arsenal players to participate in a European tie though. Jim Fotheringham and Cliff Holton both played for the London XI in the same competition on 4th June 1955. Holton became the first Englishman to score a hat-trick in European competition, bagging three in the 5 – 0 win over a Basle XI. Holton also scored the decisive goal in the semi-final against Lausanne XI.