1) North-east neighbours get naughty
Joey Barton may have ended the 2011/12 season by booting Sergio Aguero up the arse, but he began it as unlikely peacemaker for Newcastle in a game that proved there’s no such thing as a friendly derby. In bizarre scenes at the Darlington Arena, 300 members of the Toon Army flooded onto the pitch after Sammy Ameobi put Newcastle 2-0 up, leading to violent clashes with their Darlo counterparts as Barton pleaded in vain for calm. Proof that Geordies and sunshine don’t mix.
2) Friendly fire, Victorian-style
In the 19th century, football was described as “a gentleman’s game played by ruffians”, but there was nothing gentlemanly about some fans. The first recorded instance of hooliganism in English football actually took place after a pre-season friendly. In 1885, after Preston North End had thumped Aston Villa 5-0, both teams were pelted with stones, attacked with sticks, punched, kicked and spat at by supporters described as “howling roughs” by press reports. Oof.
3) Making an impression
Joining a new club is rarely easy – at the start you have to settle in, impress and earn your stripes. New Bayer Leverkusen man Ryu Seung-Woo, a summer signing from Jeju United, thought he'd done just that by netting the equaliser against second-tier Aachen with 10 minutes left of his side's pre-season 1-1 draw. Three minutes later, however, he saw red – quite literally, after being sent off for headbutting an opposition player. The DFB didn't take too kindly to the incident, banning him from Bayer's three remaining pre-season tussles. Naughty.
4) No fun in the sun
We all love the Mediterranean. The sun, the sand... the squabbling. Things got particularly heated over one close-season weekend in 2010, when two inter-island games turned into wars on the shores. First, the match between Sardinians Cagliari and northern neighbours Bastia of Corsica was abandoned after 75 minutes following a succession of fouls and scuffles. Then 48 hours later, it was the turn of the Sicilians and Cretans. Catania vs Iraklis was halted after yet more fisticuffs, this time with just 70 minutes on the clock. We thought the Med diet was supposed to calm you.
5) ‘The blond arrow’ vs the gunmen
Nothing gets in the way of a good pre-season like having your star player kidnapped – just ask Real Madrid. Alfredo Di Stefano was nabbed at gunpoint from the European champions’ Caracas hotel on their ‘friendly’ tour of South America in 1963. “At first I thought they were going to kill me,” said the Argentine, but he was released unharmed two days later and reunited with the main perpetrator, Paul del Rio, 42 years later for the launch of a film that recounted the incident. Bygones and all that.
6) Football’s fieriest hotdogs
Friendlies in Argentina are, it’s fair to say, a little different. For a start, they take place in January – between the traditional Apertura and Clausura halves of the season. Secondly, they’re not friendly. During the ’90s, these traditional summer round-robins turned into ‘revenge’ tournaments, with so many red cards the authorities were forced to suspend players for subsequent competitive games. River Plate gaffer Ramon Diaz even resigned in 1993 after losing one of these ‘friendlies’ to a team of Boca youngsters, while in 2002 another superclasico was suspended because of crowd trouble, with a hotdog vending cart set on fire and thrown from the upper stand into the lower tier.
7) George’s not-so-marvellous medicine
Getting injured in a pre-season friendly is careless. To do it in your own testimonial is just plain daft. But that’s exactly what happened to Denis Irwin in 2000 after the Manchester United full-back was the victim of George Weah’s only meaningful act in a Manchester City shirt, a hefty challenge in an otherwise friendly derby. The Irishman was stretchered off but thankfully recovered to play two more seasons at Old Trafford.
8) “Does your husband know you’re here?!”
Protest was in the air at a host of friendlies in summer 2011, with fans of Bayern Munich, Birmingham, Feyenoord and Egypt’s Al-Ahly all using the off-season to demonstrate against their clubs’ various crimes. But in Turkey, Fenerbahce turned the tables on their unruly element by banning male supporters for two games after violence at a pre-season friendly against Shakhtar Donetsk. It didn’t hit the Istanbul giants in the pocket either, as 41,000 women and children under 12 turned up in the men’s absence.
9) Older but no wiser
Pre-season tours are the perfect time for a bit of team bonding. Shame nobody told Dennis Wise. On Leicester City’s 2002 trip to Finland, a late-night game of cards reportedly got out of hand and as Wise squared up to an unnamed player, Callum Davidson tried to intervene. His reward: a broken nose and jaw. Wise’s punishment: the sack. Incredibly, he initially won his case for unfair dismissal, before a Foxes appeal eventually succeeded.
10) From Saint to gonner
Spare a thought for Lloyd Morrison. While most managers enjoy the honeymoon of pre-season and at least the first few real games to see if a marriage is going to work, the unfortunate gaffer lasted just five days in charge of St Helens Town after a disagreement with the North-West Counties Premier Division’s hierarchy over where the club should do their pre-season training.
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