No, we can't play you every week...
As managers and coaches are always so keen to point out, the result of a pre-season friendly is unimportant - it’s all about getting the players fit and ready for the new season. So why not get a little creative when it comes to choosing the opposition?
From colossal mismatches to absent opposition, via teams made up of a band’s bass player and their road crew, here are 10 of the most unusual pre-season friendlies ever played. Just remember: the result isn’t important...
1. Plymouth Argyle vs Real Madrid (2006)
There can’t be much that Plymouth Argyle and Real Madrid have in common, but one thing they do share is a favourite hotel in the Austrian city of Kapfenberg. Who knew?
Back in 2006, with Real planning a last-minute alpine training camp, they discovered their favoured accommodation was already in use by Ian Holloway’s Pilgrims. But what Real Madrid want, Real Madrid tend to get, and after much negotiating the Championship club agreed to vacate the hotel and make way for Fabio Capello’s Galacticos.
The Spaniards rewarded Argyle’s good deed by agreeing to play them, with 200 fans making the 2,000-mile trip – only to see their side go down to a dubiously-awarded Julio Baptista penalty. Good show.
2. Fluminense U23s vs Exeter City (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. So that’s nice.
3. Juventus vs Notts County (2011)
It’s a marginally well-known fact that Juventus only play in their famous black-and-white shirts because of a Notts County fan called John Savage, so when it came to inaugurating the Old Lady’s shiny new stadium in 2011, there could only be one choice of opposition.
Despite being several weeks into County’s season, Martin Allen’s men made the Turin trip to celebrate saving the Italian giants from a lifetime playing in pink. It looked like the original Magpies were heading for a 1-0 defeat to the hosts, until Lee Hughes popped up 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)
Pontypridd are no strangers to top-class opposition. Twelve months before taking on Deportivo, the Welsh fourth-tier side played Valencia’s B-team and were optimistically promised a follow-up clash if they kept the score below 10-0.
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)
Many will remember the Czech Republic’s exploits at Euro ‘96, with players such as Karel Poborsky and Patrick Berger becoming household names in England after they beat Italy, Portugal and France on their way to the final. But could Dusan Uhrin’s men have done it without thrashing semi-pro Lancashire outfit Bamber Bridge beforehand?
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, although the end result wasn’t quite the same.
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, but 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 the Devon trio the perfect opponents to help kickstart their 2016 season.
But three against 11 just isn't fair, especially when bassist Chris Wolstenholme was the only actual member of the group to lace up his boots for the game. The rest of the band’s team was made up 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 sessions which ultimately finished Leeds 3-1 Leeds. If only Hockaday knew what madness was to come...
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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