On 10 July 2016 the new European football champions have been crowned in France. The tournament dates back to 1960, making it fairly young in historical terms. But which teams would have contested the European Championships if football had caught on a few hundred years earlier? Here is our tongue-in-cheek guide to the greatest historical European Championships that never were.


Charlemagne is jubilant. His Carolingian Empire has just beaten the team from Al-Andalus 2–1 after a frantic final few minutes, even though the Moors – who have occupied most of the Iberian peninsula since the 8th century – still led 1–0 with just ten minutes to go. The final of EURO 804 is the logical result of the dominance of two large empires, with the huge Carolingian Empire in central and western Europe coming up against the liberal and highly developed Al-Andalus in the south-west of the continent. With the exception of the Byzantine Empire, these two states have no serious challengers for the title. The many small tribes that live within the loosely defined borders of eastern and northern Europe are poorly organised and therefore have a poor footballing infrastructure, with very few of them even travelling to the tournament. This makes life easy for the favourites – even though the Carolingian Empire, in particular, has had problems scouting the best players in the run-up to the tournament. The Empire, which is ruled by Charlemagne, has a weak government that struggles to keep track of its huge territory, even where sporting matters are concerned.


Some 400 years later, the political map of Europe has changed almost beyond recognition. The Carolingian Empire is history, whereas their opponents in the 804 final, Al-Andalus, only rule the south of what is now Spain. In 1200, there are many aspiring top teams with a shot at the title. Alongside England, which proudly has the newly introduced Three Lions coat-of-arms emblazoned on its shirts, the favourites include France, Portugal and Hungary. In the final, however, the Holy Roman Empire, situated in the centre of the continent, goes head to head with Castile – an up-and-coming kingdom located on territories previously ruled by the Moors, which is why it has taken over their advanced style of play. Castile win 3–0 in a surprisingly one-sided match. The highly talented southern Europeans had an ace up their sleeve: just before the tournament, the Castilian FA poached gifted players from the neighbouring kingdoms of León and Navarre without anyone noticing. After all, this is still 1200 and borders are very vaguely defined areas of overlap – and regulations governing nationality are still a long way off.


In the run-up to EURO 1560, such underhand tactics probably would have been impossible. Although borders are still porous, natural barriers such as rivers, mountain ranges, swamps and deserts are gradually emerging as clear demarcation lines between states. The idea of a modern territorial state is gaining traction, maps are showing political borders for the first time and a sense of national identity is building in many places. At the same time, people are rediscovering the athletic virtues of the ancient world. The teams competing at EURO 1560 are placing more and more importance on professional preparation – and scouting and training methods have improved considerably. Anyone who wants to clinch the trophy will certainly have to be at the peak of fitness, as the competition is fierce. EURO 1560 is the largest European football tournament of all time. Due to the many small states that make up Germany and Italy, a large number of territories and dominions all want to enter their own teams. After years of qualifiers, 36 teams make it to the finals, with the favourites Denmark, Lithuania, Spain and Naples all being eliminated at the group stage. The surprise winner is Tuscany, who beat East Frisia 4–3 in the final thanks to a disputed penalty. One of the most memorable quotes of the era came from the French manager following his side’s defeat at the hands of Wolfenbüttel in the group stage: ‘In football, there are no longer any small nations.’


Hardly any small states make an appearance at the 1896 tournament. The continent is largely divided into empires, with a few small republics and kingdoms thrown in. Thanks to excellent organisation on the part of the various nations, the tournament is a top-class sporting event. The ministries responsible now keep records of where their country’s star footballers play. The European Championships are a highly coveted prize for all nations – and are seen as a prestigious test of strength between self-assured, rival empires. The gazettes and magazines of the various countries pour scorn on their opponents and whip up emotions. It’s now a small field, with just 16 countries still in contention for the title – the continent of the day doesn’t actually have many more than that. Versatility triumphs in the end. Austria-Hungary beats the Ottoman Empire in a duel between two multinational states, with an early header the game’s only goal. For the first and last time in its short history, the title goes to the dual monarchy. In magnificent open carriages, the multilingual team is cheered on through the night by huge crowds on Vienna’s Ringstrasse.