The 10 smallest footballing cities to win a European trophy have been revealed


Highlights

  • European football can produce some of the greatest stories in football every year.
  • As the continent’s biggest clubs go against financial minnows, it has caused upsets over the years.
  • These ten clubs have come from some of the smallest cities in Europe, writing themselves into the history books.

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European football is the pinnacle of the sport. Every year, it attracts viewers from around the world as clubs aim to write their names into history. The Champions League final is one of the most watched sports events in the world, highlighting its popularity around the world.

More often than not, Europe’s biggest clubs win the best trophies. Real Madrid have won the Champions League a remarkable 14 times, whilst Bayern Munich, Liverpool, AC Milan and Barcelona join them among the elite status of European football. It’s a recurring pattern – and a major underdog rarely wins the Champions League. However, in the Europa League – and now the Conference League – it is much more unpredictable.

Teams are much more even in those two competitions, providing an even but competitive playing field in the knockout stages. It’s what football is all about. Yet despite the financial power of Europe’s major clubs, there have still been teams to break the system. From cities with small populations, they are not expected to be fighting for glory on any front, let alone in Europe. However, these 10 clubs did exactly that, standing as teams from the ten smallest cities to win a major European trophy. This article presents everything you need to know about the teams and when they won.

How the list works

With the ten least populated cities, we’ve analysed each success story, starting with the highest populated to the lowest populated.

Smallest cities to win a European trophy

#

Team

Population

Year won

Competition won

1

Villarreal

50,600

2021

Europa League

2

Mechelen

86,300

1988

European Cup Winners’ Cup

3

Ipswich

136,900

1981

UEFA Cup

4

Bayer Leverkusen

163,700

1988

UEFA Cup

5

Parma

198,300

1995, 1999

UEFA Cup

6

Aberdeen

200,700

1983

European Cup Winners’ Cup

7

Porto

215,900

1987, 2004

Champions League

8

PSV Eindhoven

231,600

1988

Champions League

9

Borussia Mönchengladbach

260,000

1975, 1979

UEFA Cup

10

Nottingham Forest

300,000

1979, 1980

Champions League

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10 Nottingham Forest

Notts Forest 1979

Nottingham Forest are one of the most prestigious clubs in England. They’re famous for their history, significance and passionate fanbase. In the 2023/2024 Premier League season, they are in a relegation battle, but that never used to be the case. In 1979 and 1980, they won the Champions League 1-0 against Malmö and Hamburg respectively. Legendary manager Brian Clough led them to victory – and he is still considered one of the club’s greatest managers. With a population of just 300,000, it was unexpected compared to Europe’s biggest clubs, producing a story that will never be forgotten.

Key Information

Year Won

1979, 1980

Competition Won

Champions League

Final Score

Notts Forest 1-0 Malmö, Notts Forest 1-0 Hamburg

9 Borussia Mönchengladbach

Borussia Mönchengladbach are one of Germany’s most iconic teams, showcased by the team winning the Bundesliga five times, most recently in 1977. Although success has not come their way recently, they were one of Europe’s most dominant sides in the 1970s. In 1975 and 1979, they won the UEFA Cup, beating Twente 5-1 and Red Star Belgrade 2-1. Both matches were over two legs, but they showed their composure under pressure. A penalty from Allan Simonsen against Red Star Belgrade proved to be the winner, as a team from a city with a population of just 260,000 succeeded.

Key Information

Year Won

1975, 1979

Competition Won

UEFA Cup

Final Score

Mönchengladbach 5-1 Twente, Mönchengladbach 2-1 Red Star Belgrade

8 PSV Eindhoven

PSV are steeped in history in the Netherlands. Famous for winning the Eredivisie a remarkable 24 times and having the legendary Brazilian Ronaldo play for them, it’s fair to say they are one of the country’s biggest clubs. Yet, in 1988, they completed Europe’s ultimate dream. They beat Benfica 6-5 on penalties to win the Champions League, with Anton Janssen showing composure to score the winning penalty. With Eindhoven having a population of just over 230,000 people, it was not expected, but PSV had a football team that could beat everyone.

Key Information

Year Won

1988

Competition Won

Champions League

Final Score

PSV 0-0 Benfica (6-5 on pens)

7 Porto

Porto Champions League

Porto produced the ultimate journey in 1987 and 2004, winning the Champions League on both occasions. Their legendary run in 2004 shocked everyone, even if they won the Europa League the year before. José Mourinho was in charge and his iconic celebration on the Old Trafford sideline in the Round of 16 is remembered by everyone as one of his greatest moments. They went on to beat Monaco 3-0 in the final, replicating their success in 1987, when they beat Bayern Munich 2-1. Considering the club are from a city of just 215,900 people, it was remarkable.

Key Information

Year Won

1987, 2004

Competition Won

Champions League

Final Score

Porto 2-1 Bayern Munich, Porto 3-0 Monaco

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6 Aberdeen

Aberdeen and Sir Alex Ferguson

Although the Cup Winners’ Cup might not hold the prestige now, it used to be one of Europe’s most hotly-contested tournaments. Made up of teams who had won the domestic cups in each country, it was a unique but clever system. In 1983, whilst Alex Ferguson was manager, Aberdeen shocked the world by beating Real Madrid in the final. An extra-time strike from John Hewitt secured a 2-1 victory over the legendary Spanish side, starting three years of dominance in Scotland. With a population of just over 200,000, it remains one of Scotland’s most incredible stories.

Key Information

Year Won

1983

Competition Won

European Cup Winners’ Cup

Final Score

Aberdeen 2-1 Real Madrid

5 Parma

Parma helped forge the path of one of football’s greatest goalkeepers, Gianluigi Buffon. Currently, in the 2023/2024 season, Parma are in Serie B, failing to replicate the success that they’ve previously had. In 1995 and 1999, they conquered Europe’s second-tier competition. In the first instance, they beat Juventus 2-1 over two legs in the final, whilst – in 1999 – they destroyed Marseille 3-0, with iconic striker Hernán Crespo opening the scoring for the Italian side. They’ll be hoping to return to the glory days soon, but – with a population of just under 200,000 – it won’t be easy.

Key Information

Year Won

1995, 1999

Competition Won

UEFA Cup

Final Score

Parma 2-1 Juventus, Parma 3-0 Marseille

4 Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen fans display a Christmas themed giant banner.

Bayer Leverkusen are famous for their meteoric collapse in the 2001/2002 season. In that year, they lost the Bundesliga on the final day of the season, the German Cup later and then the Champions League to Real Madrid. They’re the only side ever to lose three trophies like that. However, they did win a European trophy in 1988 – the UEFA Cup. They lost the first leg 3-0, but in the second leg at home, they turned it around with an 81st-minute equaliser from Cha Bum-kun. They went on to win on penalties, despite having a small population.

Key Information

Year Won

1988

Competition Won

UEFA Cup

Final Score

Leverkusen 3-3 Espanyol (3-2 on penalties)

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3 Ipswich

Bobby Robson

When you think of some of England’s oldest and most historic clubs, Ipswich often pops up in that conversation. In the 2023/2024 season, they are fighting to return to the Premier League, but there was once a case when they were fighting in Europe. With legendary manager Bobby Robson in charge, Ipswich won the UEFA Cup in 1981 against AZ Alkmaar. They won the first leg 3-0 at Portman Road and narrowly survived a comeback in the second leg, losing 4-2 on the night. It was nervy, but the city with a population of under 150,000 was on the European map.

Key Information

Year Won

1981

Competition Won

UEFA Cup

Final Score

Ipswich 5-4 Az Alkmaar

2 Mechelen

You might not have heard of K.V. Mechelen, but the Belgian club have a strong history. Having won the Belgian Pro League four times, most recently in 1989, they finished 13th in the league in the 2022/2023 season. They’ll be hoping to get back to their glory days when they even conquered Europe. In the 1988 Cup Winners’ Cup final, they beat neighbours Ajax 1-0, thanks to a 53rd minute strike from Piet den Boer. With a population of just over 80,000 Mechelen were underdogs, but after beating Atalanta in the semi-finals and then Ajax, their dream came true.

Key Information

Year Won

1988

Competition Won

European Cup Winners’ Cup

Final Score

Mechelen 1-0 Ajax

1 Villarreal

Villarreal Europa League

Last, but not least, Villarreal shocked the world by winning the Europa League in 2021, beating Manchester United – one of the world’s biggest clubs – 11-10 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. The Spanish side had steadily been improving in the 21st century, and – with iconic manager Unai Emery in charge – they claimed victory in Poland. David De Gea missed the crucial penalty, yet it was the story about Villarreal’s population that impressed everyone. With a population of just over 50,000, nearly half of the town could sit in its 23,000-seater stadium. It’s a remarkable story, leaving them at the top of the table.

Key Information

Year Won

2021

Competition Won

Europa League

Final Score

Villarreal 1-1 Manchester United (11-10 on pens)

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