The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was the idea of future senior FIFA Officials Ernst Thommen, Ottorino Barassi and Stanley Rous as a way to promote International Trade Fairs throughout Europe. Starting in 1955, the competition was originally only open to teams from cities that hosted trade fairs. The position at which these teams finished in their national league had no relevance, and a "one city, one team" rule was also in operation.
The early tournaments took two or three years to complete with matches timed to coincide with trade fairs, with Barcelona winning the first two competitions by beating English teams in the two-legged finals. For the third competition in 1960 both its name and its duration were shortened, with sixteen clubs taking part in the 1960-61 tournament, after which it was staged on an annual basis. Hibs became the first Scottish club to participate, beating Barcelona 7-6 on aggregate in the Quarter Finals before losing to Roma in the Semi Finals. By 1962 the number of entrants had risen to 32 and qualification by League position was introduced, with Hibs, Hearts, Celtic, Dunfermline, Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock taking part over the next four seasons as the competition grew in popularity.
In 1966, Dundee United became the 7th Scottish club to enter the Fairs Cup when they finished in 5th place in Division One - the club's highest ever placing at the time - and entered a European competition for the first time in their history. It was a memorable debut, with United facing - and defeating - the holders of the trophy, Spanish giants Barcelona. United qualified for the competition three times between 1966 and 1970, and played in some fantastic ties against Juventus, Newcastle United, Grasshoppers and Sparta Prague before the tournament was taken over by UEFA in 1971 and relaunched as the UEFA Cup.