2017 marks a special moment in the history of the EHF’s flagship men’s and women’s club competitions.

Played for the first time in the 1993/94 season, the EHF took on the organisation of the ‘European Champions Cup’ from the IHF just a few years after the foundation of the federation.

Throughout the 2017/18 season, the slogan ‘25 years EHF Champions League’ and the special hash tag ‘#25yearsCL’ will be used to highlight the achievements of 25 years of top-class club competition.

Men’s EHF Champions League.
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.

On that day in 1993, no one could guess that 25 years later the new competition would attract millions of viewers of what has meanwhile become the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Or that a final tournament called VELUX EHF FINAL4 would sell out eight times with 40,000 fans each event in Cologne’s LANXES.

Only Spanish winners in early years

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.

Changes to playing system

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.

The next winners came from two more countries: France (Montpellier) and Slovenia (Celje), with famous players like Siarhei Rutenka (from Celje - five trophies in total) 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 3x) or Germany (Kiel 3x, Hamburg, Flensburg).

At the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2013, 2014 and 2017, there were shocks for the handball world with HSV Hamburg, SG Flensburg-Handewitt and HC Vardar taking the VELUX EHF Champions League titles on their first appearances at the event.

EHF Marketing GmbH founded in 2005

In a further development of the competition, EHF Marketing GmbH was founded in 2005 and the playing system underwent several more adaptations.

The all-time individual record for most trophies was also 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 cumulative 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.

Next big change in 2020

As the demands of the international sports market have changed so has the playing system of the EHF Champions League.

In October 2017, the EHF presented proposals for a further overhaul of its European Cup competitions, including both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Once the plans are finalised together with top clubs and partners, the new playing system would be introduced from the beginning of the 2020/21 season.

Women’s EHF Champions League
A success story spread right across Europe

When Mar Valencia took a clear 26:16 home win over Vikingur Reykjavik on 26 September 1993, a new era of women’s sport had started in Europe.

While many other team sport federations were only focussing on their male competitions, the European Handball Federation has treated the Women’s EHF Champions League equally to its male counterpart from that very first match in Spain.

The EHF has been right in this approach. In the 2016/17 season, a cumulative audience of 167.5 million people watched he matches of the Women’s EHF Champions League, 330,000 users follow the competition via Facebook and a capacity crowd of 12,000 people watched the final matches in Budapest at the Women’s EHF FINAL4.

Legendary coach

But where did it all start? Similar to the men, the EHF took over the women’s club competitions from the IHF at the start of the 1993/94 season.

The final winner of the IHF Champions Cup also continued this success into the new EHF Champions League.

Hypo Niederösterreich, the Austrian team coached by Gunnar Prokop, won the IHF Champions Cup four times between 1988/89 and 1992/93, before taking the title four more times between 1994 and 2000 under the new name.

After participating for 23 seasons straight, Hypo have, however, missed out on the group matches in the last two seasons.

Winners from all over Europe

In contrast to its male counterpart, where the first eight trophies were all won by Spanish clubs, the Women’s EHF Champions League produced winners from all over Europe: Koprivnica from Croatia, Valencia - including top star Natalia Morskova - from Spain, Dunaferr from Hungary, Kometal from FYR Macedonia. So far, clubs from 13 different nations are on the winners’ list.

Thanks to the Kometal women and the Vardar men, Skopje is the only city with Champions League winners from both genders.

Overall, only three countries have male and female teams who lifted the coveted trophy: apart from FYR Macedonia, this feat has been achieved by Spain and Slovenia.

Denmark holds the record for most Women’s EHF Champions League titles with six, ahead of Austria and Hungary with four titles each.

(South-) Eastern Europe dominates

Ever since Larvik’s title win in 2011, clubs from (South-) Eastern Europe have dominated the Women’s EHF Champions League: Györ took three titles, Buducnost two and Bucharest one.

Györ made the headlines when the Hungarian side became the last winners under the old format in 2012/13, and lifted the trophy again the following year as winners of the newly implemented EHF Women’s EHF FINAL4.

While the men’s competition got its ‘FINAL4’ in 2010, it was only in the 2013/14 season that the development was introduced into the women’s competition. Since then the final tournament has been played at the Papp Laszlo Arena in Budapest.

The playing system of the Women’s EHF Champions League has been improved several times over the years.

It started with a qualification, a group phase with eight teams and the finals. Later, the main round as well as the quarter-finals and semi-finals were introduced, while nowadays the marquee event of women’s international club handball is the FINAL4.