The earliest evidence of UEFA’s interest in women’s football appears in November 1970, in a report by General Secretary Hans Bangerter to UEFA’s Executive Committee at that month’s meeting in Paris. The report focused on an investigation into the situation of women’s football in UEFA’s member countries.
According to the minutes of the meeting: “It was decided to recommend the associations to keep a watchful eye on the further development of ladies’ football in their country in order to avoid that wily business managers get a hold of it.”
Closer attention followed when women’s football was placed on the agenda for the Extraordinary UEFA Congress in Monte Carlo in June 1971. Delegates heard that opinions on the women’s game were divided, especially on medical grounds. Nevertheless, UEFA was curious to find out the overall situation across Europe. A circular letter was addressed to national associations, who provided important feedback: women’s football was being played in 22 European countries. However, only eight national associations had actually assumed its control and organisation.
Consequently, the UEFA Executive Committee considered it essential to bring the sport under the wing of the national associations before anyone else intervened. The Monte Carlo Congress adopted the following resolution: “The Extraordinary Congress of UEFA requests the Executive Committee to examine the question of women’s football in detail and to take the necessary measures in order to ensure its uniform organisation in all member associations. The UEFA member associations agree to take charge of the control of women’s football in their countries, and they require that international matches, competitions, and tournaments be exclusively controlled by the international football authorities, FIFA and UEFA, respectively.”
A committee dealing with women’s football was set up and tasked with drafting a set of guidelines on women’s football structures and standardisation, given the amount of variation from one country to the next in areas as fundamental as the size of the ball and the length of matches.
First women’s committee
The Executive Committee’s response to the guidelines was to officially establish a Women’s Football Committee, which included Sweden’s Kerstin Rosén – the first female member of a UEFA committee.
The new committee met in Zürich in March 1973 during a women’s football conference involving representatives of 11 UEFA member associations. A survey carried out before the conference, to which 23 national associations had responded, showed that seven associations ran national women’s championships, and another seven regional women’s leagues. The survey also revealed some support for the introduction of an international competition managed by UEFA, although some countries favoured the idea of a competition for national teams and others a competition for clubs.
The majority, however, thought it was still too early to launch any type of continental competition for women. The conference delegates unanimously agreed that regulating women’s football by placing it under the authority of the national associations remained the overriding priority.
Loss of momentum
The development of women’s football movement faltered during the ensuing years, as its growth slowed down in all but a few countries. The UEFA Women’s Football Committee met only once in 1974, noting that there were still many, primarily financial, obstacles to the creation of any European competition. This was the committee’s last meeting before it was dissolved in 1978.
“It was not felt absolutely necessary to have any further direct influence on the development of women’s football on a European level,” explained Hans Bangerter in his annual report. “After a pause for reflection, however,” he added significantly, “this aspect of the game will shortly be receiving the appropriate attention again.”
This change of direction followed a survey conducted among the member associations, in which many of the respondents had reported fresh impetus in women’s football activities. Consequently, after the period of reflection described by Hans Bangerter, another UEFA women’s football conference was convened in Zürich in February 1980.
Competition call – green light
The event was attended by delegates from 18 national associations. Participants thought that UEFA should devote more attention to the women’s game, and that the national associations should do everything possible to save it from falling into the hands of organisers who were putting their own interests above those of the sport itself.
Crucially, they also felt that the time had come to launch a European competition for national teams.
The UEFA Women’s Football Committee was revived with two female members – Patricia Gregory (England) and Hannelore Ratzeburg (Germany) – sitting alongside chairman Louis Wouters (Belgium), who had recently been elected to the UEFA Executive Committee, Bronisław Kołodziej (Poland) and Carl Nielsen (Denmark). Their first task was to examine the feasibility of meeting the wishes expressed at the Zurich conference.
Discussions at the committee’s meeting in Lisbon in March 1981 centred on the potential for a national team competition – the introduction of a competition for club teams was felt to be impossible for financial reasons. After extensive deliberations, the committee decided to submit a series of conclusions to the Executive Committee for approval.
“It was agreed,” the minutes stated, “that UEFA should start a competition for national representative women teams under condition that at least 12 national associations will enter a team.
“It was emphasised that, according to the opinions expressed at the 2nd Conference on Women’s Football, 16 national associations are interested in such a competition, of which 12 have already formed regular national sides. Thus, the minimum number of 12 entries should easily be achieved.
Meeting in Florence in April 1981 after the Women’s Football Committee had communicated its support for the creation of a competition, the Executive Committee gave the green light to the project on condition that, as proposed, at least 12 of UEFA’s 34 member associations were prepared to take part. The Women’s Football Committee was asked to draw up draft regulations for the competition, which were eventually ratified in the second half of the year.
When entries were invited in December 1981 for the first UEFA Competition for Women’s National Representative Teams, the final response was extremely positive: no less than 16 national associations entered.
The committee drew up four groups of four teams each for the qualifying competition, which would kick off in the summer of 1982, with the groups based on what UEFA described as “economic criteria”.
Group 1: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden
Group 2: England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland
Group 3: France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland
Group 4: Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, West Germany
The destiny of the first title would then be decided in a knockout phase of two-legged matches featuring the four group winners, with the final taking place in May 1984.
“Everything moved really fast,” recalled Hannelore Ratzeburg in the April 2006 issue of UEFA’s official magazine UEFA Direct. “The decision was taken in 1981, and the first matches were already played the next year. The fact that 16 associations entered in such a short space of time was brilliant.
“In Germany,” she added, “the [German Football Association] DFB entered the competition first and then I had to set about creating a national women’s team afterwards. We even had to postpone our first match against Belgium because we still didn’t have a team.”
The fact that less than half of UEFA’s member associations at the time entered proved to be a barrier to the new competition receiving ‘championship’ status – this would eventually follow for the 1989–91 edition. The regulations also stipulated that matches would be played over two halves of 35 minutes each, using size four footballs.
The first ever match in the competition took place on 18 August 1982, when Finland entertained Sweden in Vammala – the Swedes running out 6-0 winners. By the late autumn of 1983, Denmark, England, Italy and Sweden had emerged as qualifying group winners.
Sweden stride to glory
The semi-finals in April 1984 were hard-fought contests. England beat Denmark 2-1 in Crewe and 1-0 away in Hjørring, while Sweden followed up a 3-2 win against Italy in Rome – in front of a crowd of 10,000 – with a 2-1 success in Linköping.
Gothenburg’s Ullevi stadium was the venue for the final’s first leg on 21 May 1984, and Pia Sundhage, who went on to establish legendary status in the women’s game as a player and coach, scored the only goal with a bullet header after an hour to give Sweden a narrow advantage.
The return leg at Kenilworth Road, Luton six days later proved to be a demanding tussle owing to heavy rain and a sodden pitch. England levelled on aggregate through Linda Curl on the half-hour mark, and although Sweden hit the woodwork, the game went to a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Sweden’s goalkeeper Elisabeth Leidinge made a crucial save, and it was left to Sundhage, whose outstanding international playing career began in 1975 and lasted until 1996, to give her team a 4-3 shoot-out victory. She remembers: “I took the last shot. We won the final. It was a marvellous success.”
The first edition of the competition prompted UEFA to seek a more precise impression of the general status of women’s football in the different countries throughout Europe. “A comprehensive questionnaire revealed that women’s football is developing in most of the member associations,” said Hans Bangerter in his General Secretary’s Report for 1984–85.
“On the basis of the information thus received, it may be expected that even more European associations will enter the Women’s Competition in the future,” Bangerter added. The course for the future of women’s football was set at ‘go’.
UEFA Women’s EURO – honours board
Semi-finals: two legs (home and away)
Final: two legs in Stockholm (Sweden) and Luton (England)
Finals hosts: Norway (4 teams)
Winners: West Germany
Finals hosts: West Germany (4 teams)
Winners: West Germany
Finals hosts: Denmark (4 teams)
* Competition given championship status for the 1989–91 edition
Finals hosts: Italy (4 teams)
Semi-finals: two legs (home and away)
Final: Kaiserslautern (Germany)
Finals hosts: Norway/Sweden (8 teams)
Finals hosts: Germany (8 teams)
Finals hosts: England (8 teams)
Finals hosts: Finland (12 teams)
Finals hosts: Sweden (12 teams)
Finals hosts: Netherlands (16 teams)