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2 months ago - 9/15/2017

From school gyms to sold-out arenas

It all started in a golf club in Vienna in 1993. The first draw for a new handball competition, called the EHF Champions League.

Two years after its foundation, the European Handball Federation had become the organizer of club competitions formerly carried out by the IHF.

At that day in 1993, no one could guess that 25 years later the new competition would attract hundreds of millions viewers of what has meanwhile been called VELUX EHF Champions League. Or that a final tournament called VELUX EHF FINAL4 would sell out eight times with 40,000 fans each at the pinnacle weekend of the competition.

In first eight years only Spanish winners

In the first eight years of the EHF Champions League only Spanish teams raised the trophy. That included a sensational series of five straight titles for FC Barcelona (1996-2000), who were led by Valero Rivera, still the coach with the highest number of trophies.

In the beginning, the group phase followed the qualification rounds and was carried out with eight teams. The two winners made it to the final, with TEKA Santander becoming the first winner in 1994. That team included Talant Dujshebaev, who was to leave his mark on Champions League history several more times.

A Swede became the first ever player to defend a title. Goalkeeper Tomas Svensson won the competition with Irun in 1995 and added five more trophies with Barcelona in the following seasons.

Playing system changed several times

During the winning streak of Barca, who had already won the former IHF Champions Cup, the playing system was changed to a group phase with 16 teams, followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final in the 1996/97 season.

The first non-Spanish winner was German side SC Magdeburg in 2002, coached by Alfred Gislason. Eight years later, he became the first coach to lift the trophy with two different clubs after also leading THW Kiel to the title in 2010.

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The next winners came from two more countries _ France (Montpellier) and Slovenia (Celje), with famous players like Siarhei Rutenka (six trophies in ]otal with Celje) or Thierry Omeyer (four trophies so far) and Nikola Karabatic (both Montpellier).

Between Barcelona’s sixth triumph in 2005 and their eighth title in 2015, all winners were either from Spain (Ciudad Real, three-time champions) or Germany (Kiel/3, Hamburg, Flensburg).

EHF Marketing GmbH founded in 2005

In a further development of the competition, the EHF Marketing GmbH was founded in 2005 and the playing system underwent several more adaptations - with or without main round and/or Last 16.

The all-time individual record for most trophies has been set by Andrej Xepkin, who won the EHF Champions League six times with Barcelona before helping out injury-struck THW Kiel in 2007 and taking his seventh trophy.

Implementation of VELUX EHF FINAL4

The biggest change in its 25 years came with the implementation in the 2009/10 season of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in the LANXESS arena in Cologne, while the VELUX Group became title sponsor of the competition.

In the meantime, the number of spectators in the arenas surpassed the 800,000 mark per season, and the number of cumulated TV viewers reached a new milestone with 383 million fans in 2015/16.

In the last two seasons, no clubs from Spain or Germany were victorious in Cologne. Kielce (Poland) and Vardar (FYR Macedonia) became the first winners from their respective countries, raising the number of nations that have won the most coveted trophy in club handball to six in 24 years.

Author: Björn Pazen / ew