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45 days to Euro 2012: Who was Henri Delaunay?

He might just be the most important figure in the history of European football.

Image: THOMAS KIENZLE/AP/Press Association Images

BEFORE FOOTBALL GOVERNANCE became the plaything of shrewd Machiavellian types, the growth of the international game was managed by a few earnest enthusiasts genuinely inspired by the dream of organising international tournaments.

Henri Delaunay, whose name adorns the trophy presented to winners of the UEFA European Football Championship (to give the event its right and proper title), was one such person.

Born in 1883, Delaunay spent his youth playing for Parisian outfit Étoile des Deux Lacs before embarking on a short-lived career as a referee. Wikipedia supplies the following quotage:

“He retired following an incident during a match between AF Garenne-Doves and ES Benevolence, when he swallowed his whistle and broke two teeth on being struck full face by the ball.”

Turning his attention to less perilous pursuits, Delaunay began his meteoric rise through the administrative ranks of the French game, first serving as President of his club, then secretary-general of the Comité francais interfédéral (CFI), an early incarnation of the more familiar FFF.

Fluent in English, the former referee travelled extensively, meeting with administrators and players around the world.

In 1929, he joined colleagues from Germany and Italy in chairing the first meeting of what would later become FIFA, and later proved instrumental in guaranteeing the participation of a French side in the 1930 World Cup, thereby ensuring the event’s credibility within the European football community.

Delaunay floated the idea of both a European Championship and European Champions Cup (today’s ultra-glamorous Champions League) in the mid-1920s, but the tendency of administrators to prioritise the more ambitious ideas of rival Jules Rimet – the man popularly credited with “inventing” the World Cup – ensured the Frenchman’s dreams remained unrealised until after his death in 1955.

UEFA eventually recognised the magnitude of Delaunay’s contribution to the sport by christening the “European Cup of Nations/Cup Henri Delaunay” in 1958.

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