The Fallen Giants of European Football

The 1973/74 European Cup saw a total of 31 teams compete for the most prestigious trophy in club football, with Bayern Munich beating Ajax in the final and kicking off a three-year period of domination. This tournament featured teams such as Waterford, currently in Ireland’s second tier, Åtvidabergs, in Sweden’s third tier, Dynamo Dresden, in Germany’s third division, the defunct Austrian side Wacker, and plenty more teams who have suffered a staggering decline in the following half-century. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the fallen giants in European football.


The usual suspects won’t feature here: we start with Genoa, who were dominating the league long before the likes of Inter and Juventus. Their nine Serie A titles, the fourth-highest in Italy, were won between 1989 and 1924. After suffering relegation last season, Genoa are headed back to the top-flight after finishing second in Serie B under Alberto Gilardino.


Another early powerhouse of Italian football was Pro Vercelli. Their seven league titles came during roughly the same era as Genoa’s. After bankruptcy and near extinction, they currently play in Serie C. After Genoa’s period of dominance, Bologna won seven league titles in a period spanning from 1925 to 1964. Whilst not as potent as in the olden days, they have maintained their top-flight status.


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Torino boast seven league titles, with only Juventus, Inter, Milan and Genoa having more to their name in Italy. Whilst their crosstown rivals Juventus usually takes all the plaudits, Torino have also added 5 Coppa Italia trophies to their seven Serie A titles, and were it not for the tragic demise of their Grande Torino team of the 1940s, they would have had much more.


We now move onto France, where PSG have celebrated their 11th title this year. Saint-Etienne however, reached double-digit titles in 1982. With Michel Platini in their ranks, they were the dominant force in French football, also winning six French Cups and making the 1976 European Cup final. Sadly, due to the mismanagement of their leadership, Saint Etienne are currently playing in the second tier.


Nantes seem to be the archetypal overachieving small club, having won eight league titles and four French Cups. Their smart recruitment is well known in France and their most recent upset involved them beating the mighty and incompetent PSG to the 2022 French Cup.


Stade de Reims were the original French superclub, dominating the league after the second World War. With Raymond Kopa in their ranks, they won six league titles during the 40s 50s and 60s and were it not for Real Madrid, they would also have two European Cups to their name.


Another team playing outside the top flight despite their size is Girondins de Bordeaux. The days of their six league titles and four French Cups are long gone, suffering relegation in 2022 and finishing third, finishing three points behind second-place Metz — also relegated the prior summer — with 69 points from 37 matches. Their final match was abandoned after one of their supporters ran onto the pitch and assaulted Lucas Buadés after he gave Rodez the lead in the 22nd minute, with Buadés being taken off on a stretcher after suffering a concusion. Bordeaux needed to better Metz’s result in order to earn promotion, with Metz beating Bastia 3-2 to finish behind Le Havre and earning promotion to Ligue 1.


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A club whose success might not be as well known, Athletic Bilbao are a founding member of La Liga and have never been relegated. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid can claim that feat besides the Basque club. Their trophy haul contains eight La Liga titles and a whopping 23 Copa Del Rey trophies, more than Real Madrid. All of this has been achieved whilst recruiting exclusively from the Basque region of Spain.


Over in Germany, the second most successful team is not Borussia Dortmund or Schalke, as many might imagine but in fact FC Nurnberg. The Legend as they are nicknamed has won nine German Championships and four Cups, but have fallen on hard times since the 2000s. They currently play in the Zweite Bundesliga and might be an interesting reclamation project for a passionate investor.


Joining Nurnberg in the second tier is Hamburg. The team with six league titles, three German Cups and the 1983 European Cup had played all Bundesliga seasons before their relegation in 2018. The story of their golden years and their signing of Ballon D’or winner Kevin Keegan can be found on Breaking the Lines.


By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images / Hurlton / Franck Fife/ L’Equipe / AFP