10 of football’s weirdest pre-season friendlies

Weirdest pre-season friendlies

Preseason exists for a number of reasons. Getting your players fit for the new campaign is the primary objective, of course, though there are obvious financial benefits that come with tours.

But sometimes, the lawlessness of clubs organising their own fixtures leads to random match-ups that you'd never find in common competition. How did that non-league team even get a phone number for the Bernabeu? Why on earth were those Champions League players in that part of Wales? And who exactly decided that seasoned internationals would get anything at all out of thrashing a Sunday League side? 

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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. Rematch, lads?

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.

One 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.

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.

6. Bamber Bridge vs Czech Republic (1996)

The Czech Republic proved dark horses of Euro ‘96, besting Italy, Portugal and France on their way to a runners-up spot. But Dusan Uhrin’s men warmed up for their heroic exploits with a rather random friendly against Lancashire semi-pros Bamber Bridge.

The Northern Premier League champions had only just been denied promotion to England’s fifth tier, with their Irongate home ground failing to meet the required standards for a step up. But spirits were temporarily lifted with a balmy summer’s evening friendly in front of 2,300 fans – albeit one which ended in a 9-1 defeat.

7. Aylesbury United vs England (1988)

The Czechs weren’t the first nation that attempted to boost confidence by steamrolling a bunch of non-leaguers on the eve of a Euros. Eight years previously, Bobby Robson’s England visited newly promoted Conference side Aylesbury United.

As expected, a Three Lions side featuring the likes of Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle and John Barnes ran out comfortable 7-0 winners in front of a record-breaking 6,031 crowd. Still, the friendly didn’t quite have its desired effects: England returned home from West Germany having lost every single one of their three matches.

8. Cabinteely vs Muse (2016)

Spectacular live visuals, crackpot conspiracy theories, unashamedly overblown prog-rock: Muse are renowned for many things, but football isn’t one of them. Yet amid the Hysteria, League of Ireland First Division side Cabinteely deemed them the perfect opponents to help kickstart their 2016 season.

Bassist Chris Wolstenholme was the only actual member of the group to line up at Dublin’s Kilbogget Park, with the rest of his team consisting of family and crew members. Although the Irishmen initially took little mercy, going in at half-time 7-2 up, they eased off in the second period to let Wolstenholme & Co. mount an unlikely 9-8 comeback. No Absolution for Cabinteely. 

9. Leeds United vs Leeds United (2014)

Having just been bought by entrepreneur Massimo Cellino, Leeds’s 2014 summer tour of Italy was a no-brainer. Less so was their decision to prepare for a gruelling Championship season by playing amateur side FC Gherdeina. Dave Hockaday’s men inevitably crushed the minnows in a 16-0 victory where second-half substitute Matt Smith netted six. Things got even stranger when their next opponents, Romania’s Viitorul Constanta, failed to show up at all.

Unwilling to disappoint their travelling fans, the Whites took the unorthodox decision to simply play themselves, splitting their squad into two for three 20-minute sets which ultimately finished Leeds 3-1 Leeds. Hockaday's proudest moment at Elland Road, we're sure.  

10. Dallas Tornado’s 1967 tour

Bankrolled by their oil tycoon owner at the height of the Vietnam War, the Dallas Tornado’s 1967 Asian tour was intended to serve as a goodwill trip. It ended up being anything but.

Their match against Singapore FC descended to a full-scale riot in which one player was attacked with a corner flag, half the side were temporarily left stranded in the Bengali jungle due to visa complications, and their two matches against Vietnamese select teams were played just weeks before the Tet Offensive.

Unsurprisingly, the battered and bruised Tornados returned home shellshocked to finish their inaugural NASL season rock bottom with a goal difference of -81.

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