The 1980 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, which spanned two years (1978–80) had 25 entrants. Cyprus and the Netherlands competed in the competition for the first time. 1978 entrants Austria did not enter. Due to 'irregularities', Turkey's first two matches were awarded (3-0) to their opponents. USSR U-21s won the competition.
The 25 national teams were divided into eight groups (seven groups of 3 + one group of 4). The group winners played off against each other on a two-legged home-and-away basis until the winner was decided. There was no finals tournament or 3rd-place playoff.