After Accrington Stanley casually saw off French giants Marseille, we look back at some of the strangest pre-season match-ups ever seen.
There’s something magical about pre-season. Before the cold, harsh reality of a new season sets in, pre-season is a time when everything seems possible – it’s a time when Arsenal sit proudly top of the Premier League (albeit alphabetically), the ‘next Neymar’ is definitely, probably, maybe going to sign for your club and a few goals against a local non-league team leave you certain this will be your year.
However, the true beauty of pre-season lies in those fixtures that have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.
We’ve already seen Accrington Stanley beat old rivals Marseille and Kuwait are playing Marlow FC and Maidenhead United, obviously. But what are the pre-season games that have most sounded like hallucinations?
Aylesbury United 0-7 England – 1988
Before Euro 1988, England boss Bobby Robson agreed that his Three Lions would take on Aylesbury United in what we can only presume was a joke that went wrong.
The tactic of boosting the team’s confidence ahead of a major event had been trialled successfully ahead of Mexico ’86 when England played local clubs, University teams and children’s football parties, so maybe the plan was to nurse the fragile egos of the nation’s best players by convincing them that beating a non-league team meant they were on the way to vanquish the greats of European football.
England picked a full team, eschewing any Aylesbury United players, even the brilliantly named Cliff Hercules, in case they would feel split loyalties, and sent the likes of Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle and John Barnes out to face a team that had just been promoted to the Conference. A crowd of 6,000 bemused fans watched England run out 7-0 winners in what remains the only clash between the two sides to date.
In the end, England lost all three games at Euro ’88 to the Republic of Ireland, Netherlands and the Soviet Union, so it’s quite possible that they found the level of football a little higher than their preparations had led them to believe.
Leeds United 3-1 Leeds United – 2014
The phrase ‘a tough place to come’ is used a lot in football, but rarely is it to be taken literally.
In a scene that perfectly set up Massimo Cellino’s Leeds reign, Leeds’ squad ended up playing amongst themselves when Romanian side Viitorul Constanta didn’t turn up for their friendly in Italy.
Basking in their glorious 16-0 win over FC Gherdeina, who may or may not have been a local Sunday League team, Leeds then played Leeds in a 60-minute match and ran out 3-1 victors, proving they were definitely ready for the season.
Everton played Everton in 2010 but that was a more interesting affair as the opposition were Everton Vina del Mar of Chile – a team that was set up after the Toffees’ tour of South America in 1909, long before anyone could’ve realised what calling their team Everton would mean. Everton (the English one) won 2-0 in the Brotherhood Cup, but the visitors got to go back home and live in Chile, so it’s hard to say who the real winners were.
Sheffield FC 2-5 Inter Milan – 2007
Okay, this is technically not a pre-season friendly, but it deserves a mention.
The oldest club in the world, Sheffield FC, generously agreed to play against whippersnappers Inter Milan at Bramall Lane to mark their 150th anniversary in November 2007. Marco Materazzi and Mario Balotelli played for Inter who saw off the Northern Premier League Division One South side and Pele came on the pitch to greet fans before the game, which is relatively rare in the Northern Premier League Division One South.
Sepp Blatter was also present, so Sheffield was probably only one envelope full of cash away from hosting the next World Cup.
Histon 1-8 Real Sociedad – 2013
The fact that La Liga side Real Sociedad took on a team that had just been relegated from the Conference North to prepare for tests against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid is good enough, but better still it came about through sheer desperation.
Finding themselves in England with no team to play after Tottenham’s Under-21s cancelled, Real Sociedad’s club secretary must’ve been desperately Googling and was just one step away from gatecrashing the nearest Goals five-a-side centre before stumbling across Histon, who were willing to make a gap in their busy pre-season schedule.
Sadly for the people of Histon, the game was played behind closed doors. The Spaniards squeezed past the Stutes 8-1 with ex-Arsenal man Carlos Vela bagging a hat-trick before going on Twitter to huff: “It’s difficult to prepare for a major season with matches like this.”
Club Brugge 2-1 Otelul Galati – 2013
When Club Brugge announced a training camp in Manchester, their players probably didn’t envisage a friendly against Romanian club side Otelul Galati at Radcliffe Borough FC. Brugge’s staff were less than impressed by the pitch and on the spot relocated the game to another pitch next to a local golf course – a decision made minutes before the scheduled kick-off time.
The few hardy fans who had come to Radcliffe ended up chasing the team bus to the site of the game where they sat in a collection of golf buggies that made an improvised stand.