Pre-season friendlies: Football's strangest fixtures remembered


With Europe's top leagues now just weeks away from getting underway again, it's that time of the year where the football calendar is chocked full of pre-season friendlies.

The primary reason behind these fixtures, of course, is to get players ready for the upcoming campaign. Over the years, though, circumstances have seen some very strange contests put together. 

Saul Niguez to Liverpool ADVANCED (The Football Terrace)

Here, via, is a look at some of the weirdest friendly matches in football history. Needless to say, you won't be seeing any of these matches on the calendar during the regular season!

Plymouth vs Real Madrid (2006)

When Fabio Capello's Real Madrid realised that they couldn't stay in their desired hotel in Austria during a pre-season tour in 2006 because then-Championship side Plymouth Argyle were already booked into the complex, a bit of negotiation was required to sort the situation.

Ultimately, Plymouth agreed to move out of the facility, allowing the La Liga giants to proceed as planned. So appreciative, though, were Real of their English counterparts understanding that they agreed to play a short notice friendly match against them.

Sadly the last-minute nature of the game meant that only 200 Argyle fans managed to make it over the see the action. The contest, which Real won 1-0 thanks to a Julio Baptista, will not be forgotten by those Plymouth supporters who were lucky enough to witness it.

Bamber Bridge vs Czech Republic (1996)

As it turned out, the Czech Republic did rather well at Euro 96, narrowly missing out to Germany in the final. Their preparation for the tournament involved a curious friendly against Bamber Bridge, a semi-professional side from Lancashire. It was, however, a match in which they definitely found their shooting boots.

Former Liverpool duo Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer were among those on target for the Czechs, who ran out 9-1 winners on the night.

Aylesbury United vs England (1988)

The Czech Republic weren't the first side to warm up for a major international tournament by playing non-league opposition, either. As part of the build-up to the 1988 European Championships, Bobby Robson's England took on Conference outfit Aylesbury United. 

A crowd of more than 6,000 packed into Aylesbury's Buckingham Road to see the national side blitz their overmatched opponents 7-0. The walkover did England no good in the tournament that followed, though, as they were eliminated in the group stage.

Deportivo La Coruna vs Pontypridd Town (2015)

When Welsh fourth-tier side Pontypridd took on a Valencia reserve side in 2014, they were jokingly promised a friendly against La Liga opposition if they could keep the score below 10-0.

Valencia B only managed a 3-0 victory, meaning that Pontypridd coach Damien Broad was able to negotiate this 2015 match with La Liga's Deportivo. 

The Welsh outfit coped pretty admirably again against their far-superior opponents, restricting their margin of defeat to just four goals.



Juventus vs Notts County (2011)

Another case of a European powerhouse taking on a team from the lower reaches of English football. Juventus invited Notts County over to Turin for the first match at their new stadium in 2011 as a way of repaying a debt that was more than a century old.

The Serie A side are now synonymous with their black-and-white colours, but it wasn't always that way. Juventus switched their strip - that was previously pink - on the suggestion of player (and County fan) John Savage in 1903.

In order to recognise that contribution to their history, Juventus insisted that Martin Allen's men visit for a friendly. The match itself ended in a 1-1 draw, with Lee Hughes snatching a late equaliser for the Nottingham side. 

Histon vs Real Sociedad (2013)

Players for Conference North side Histon must have been overjoyed to get the call to play La Liga outfit Sociedad in 2013 when Tottenham's U21 side pulled out of a friendly.

However, what was career highlight for the non-leaguers did not go down well with Sociedad's former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela.

After the Spanish side breezed to an 8-1 victory, Vela tweeted: "With matches like this it is difficult to prepare for a major season," he complained.

Leeds United vs Leeds United (2014)

Former Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino is not fondly remembered for his time in charge at Elland Road. The eccentric Italian businessman made a string of questionable calls during his reign - the among the first of which was to take the then-Championship side on a last-minute pre-season tour of Italy.

To be kind, the quality of the opposition during the trip wasn't great, as evidenced by the Whites' 16-0 victory over amateurs FC Gherdeina. With that said, at least Gherdeina turned up!

Later in the tour, Leeds' scheduled opponents - Romania’s Viitorul Constanta - failed to turn up for the game at all. This led Cellino to demand that an impromptu inter-squad game be played. Leeds United went on to defeat Leeds United 3-1 in the match that followed.

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Fluminense U23s vs Exeter City (2014)

Exeter City carved out their own slice of history in 1914 when they became the first-ever opponents of the Brazilian national team during a tour designed to promote the sport in the South American country.

A century later, the Devon-based side was invited to make the trip back to Brazil to take on the Fluminense U23 team. A goalless draw did little to spoil what was a great occasion for all involved with Exeter.

Barcelona vs Brazil (1999)

While Exeter no doubt enjoyed their involvement in the centenary celebrations mentioned above, they weren't a patch on Barcelona's in 1999.

In conjunction with their preparation for that year's Copa America, the Brazilian national team visited the Camp Nou for a one-off friendly, designed to celebrate the Blaugrana's 100th birthday.

A star-studded occasion, the Selecao named the likes of Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Romario and Ronaldo in their line-up. Louis van Gaal's Barca side wasn't too shabby either, with Luis Figo, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola and Patrick Kluivert all appearing from the start.

As friendly matches go, this one was pretty special. You can read more about the match, which ended in a 2-2 draw, here.

The benefit of many of these matches in preparing players for their upcoming competitions is questionable. With that said, unique fixtures like these are all part of the pre-season fun.

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