10 of football’s weirdest pre-season friendlies
1. Plymouth vs Real Madrid (2006)
Who says football clubs can’t be courteous? Back in 2006, Real Madrid were planning a last-minute pre-season training camp in Austria, only to find that their favourite hotel was already being occupied by Argyle.
After much negotiating, the Championship club agreed to seek alternative accommodation, giving new manager Fabio Capello an early win. Much to Ian Holloway’s amazement, the Spaniards rewarded the south coast club’s good deed by agreeing to play them.
Two hundred fans made the 2,000-mile trip from Plymouth to the mountainous city of Kapfenberg, with only a dubiously-awarded penalty scored by Julio Baptista separating the sides.
2. Fluminense U23s vs Exeter (2014)
Exeter occupy an important place in the history of South American football – nay, football full stop. The perennial lower-league side became Brazil’s first professional opponents way back in 1914 during a tournament designed to boost the game’s appeal on the continent.
A hundred years later, the red-and-white army were invited back to the Estadio das Laranjeiras to play Fluminense’s under-23s. The game ended goalless, but was described by Exeter manager Paul Tisdale as one of the most enjoyable he’d ever been involved in.
3. Juventus vs Notts County (2011)
There was also method to the madness of Juventus inviting Notts County to open their new stadium in 2011. The Italian giants switched to their famous black-and-white colours in 1903 on the guidance of English import John Savage, a fan of the County team which had recently finished third in the Football League.
With Savage having inadvertently saved them from a lifetime of playing in pink, his beloved Magpies were belatedly rewarded with a five-star experience at the Juventus Stadium’s inaugural game – albeit one staged several weeks into County's season. Martin Allen’s men looked to be heading for a 1-0 defeat to the hosts, before Lee Hughes spoiled the celebrations with a last-minute equaliser.
4. Histon vs Real Sociedad (2013)
Tottenham Under-21s’ loss proved to be Histon’s gain in 2013 when Spurs’ youngsters pulled out of a friendly against Real Sociedad at the last minute. The then-Conference North side were given just 24 hours to prepare for their encounter against the Champions League qualifiers which, sadly for locals, was played behind closed doors.
The Stutes managed to keep Spaniards at bay until the 34th minute but eventually shipped eight, with Omar Beckles – now of Shrewsbury Town – grabbing a memorable consolation.
Histon’s accommodating nature wasn’t appreciated by everyone, though: Sociedad striker Carlos Vela headed for Twitter to vent his frustration at having to play such lowly opposition. “With matches like this it is difficult to prepare for a major season,” huffed the Mexican.
5. Deportivo La Coruna vs Pontypridd Town (2015)
Just 12 months after playing a friendly against Valencia’s B-team, Pontypridd went one better by securing a pre-season match against La Liga regulars Deportiva La Coruna.
The Welsh fourth-tier side were half-heartedly promised the fixture if they finished their first Spanish encounter below 10-0, so after restricting Valencia to just three goals, Deportivo stuck to their word. Pontypridd acquitted themselves well on their second Mediterranean adventure too, losing 4-0 at the former La Liga champs’ El Mundo del Futbol training ground.
The Welsh League minnows landed both games thanks to the contacts of coach Damien Broad, who had previously interned in Spain.