From behind the Iron Curtain: the Eastern Bloc’s top ten clubs

For contemporary football fans, clubs from the former Eastern Bloc represent little more than European competition cannon fodder for the superclubs of Spain, England and Italy.

The vastly diminished place in the grand order of things that these clubs occupy today is undoubtedly to the detriment of the game as these were clubs that contributed much to the fabric of European competition between 1955 and the collapse of communism at the beginning of the 1990s.

In those years, no fewer than sixteen eastern clubs reachedfFinals of either the European Cup, Cup Winners Cup, Fairs Cup or UEFA Cup and those appearances yielded five successes. To try to rank the ten most influential eastern clubs during these decades, we’ve eschewed out-and-out trophy success in favour of consistent representation in the latter stages – quarter-finals or better – of the various competitions.

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1 – Dynamo Kiev. 16 quarter-final appearances

The only Eastern European two-time winners with success in the Cup Winners Cup in both 1975 and 1986. Also reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1977 and 1987.

2 – Red Star Belgrade. 15 quarter-final appearances
The last winners of the European Cup in 1991 having come close on several occasions before, notably through reaching the semi-finals in 1957 and 1971. Other semi-final appearances include the Cup Winners Cup of 1975 and the Fairs Cup in 1963. There was an unsuccessful final, too, the 1979 UEFA Cup lost to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

3 – Spartak Moscow. 9 quarter-final appearances.
During their long and distinguished European history Spartak reached the semi-finals of all three competition – in 1991 (European Cup), 1993 (Cup Winners Cup) and UEFA Cup (1998).

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4 – Dynamo Dresden. 8 quarter-final appearances
Dresden could reach the last-eight of European competition regularly, but on just one single occasion did they progress to a semi-final. That came in the 1988-89 UEFA Cup in which they were narrowly eliminated by West German neighbours Stuttgart.

5 – Ujpesti Dozsa. 8 quarter-final appearances
Serial Hungarian champions during the first-half of the 1970s, this was also Ujpest’s best European era peaking with a European Cup semi-final defeat to Bayern Munich in 1974.

6 – CSKA Sofia. 7 quarter-final appearances
CSKA Sofia gained a reputation as an eliminator of reigning European champions – three times they faced and put out the competition holders. One of those occasions came in the 1981/82 European Cup, their best campaign, when they put out holders Liverpool at the quarter-final stage before exiting the competition themselves to Bayern in the following round.

7 – Sparta Prague. 7 quarter-final appearances
The Czech side achieved regular quarter-final placings but on just a single occasion progressed further; the 1972/73 season saw them reach the Cup Winners Cup semi-final and lose both legs to Milan.

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8 – Hajduk Split. 7 quarter-final appearances
The former Yugoslav club advanced to two semi-final appearances: in 1973 they lost narrowly to Leeds United in the Cup Winners Cup and in 1984 English opposition again, this time Tottenham, ended their UEFA Cup hopes.

9 – Steaua Bucharest. 6 quarter-final appearances
A club with a modest European record until that remarkable era between 1986 and 1989. The army club became the first eastern European Cup winners in 1986, reached the semi-finals in 1988 and were runners up in 1989.

10 – Dukla Prague. 6 quarter-final appearances
The Czechs were one of the most seminal club sides in Europe during the 1960s and came closest to European Cup glory in 1967 when they reached the semi-finals, only to be eliminated by Celtic. There was another semi-final appearance too, many years later, as the Prague club advanced to the semi-finals of the 1986 Cup Winners Cup.