Man Utd v Wrexham: 9 of the most bizarre pre-season friendlies in football history
Pre-season is a time of bleep tests, endless running and embarking on a mini-tour to get match fit ahead of the new season – which leads to some wonderfully bizarre match-ups.
Your typical pre-season tour doesn’t just serve as a means to get players fit, though. It’s actually often viewed as the perfect marketing opportunity for clubs, sending their teams away to every corner of the world to play in front of new fans, against all different kinds of opposition, weird and wonderful.
While that often throws up somewhat strangely poised super-matches you’d expect to see in the latter stages of the Champions League, it also gives us some of the most bizarre meetings of clubs you could imagine – often at stupid o’clock in the morning for many.
Wrexham embarking on a tour of the United States and playing MLS opposition as well as Chelsea and Manchester United is the most recent example, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Without further ado, here are football’s strangest pre-season friendlies.
Shrewsbury vs Galatasaray (2013)
Arguably the biggest club in Turkey, with titles galore, an illustrious back catalogue of players and European pedigree, visiting a small town somewhere between Birmingham and Stoke to take on League One opposition. Normal.
The then-Turkish champions were in England to take part in the Emirates Cup alongside Arsenal, Napoli and Porto, with the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Burak Yilmaz, Johan Elmander and Didier Drogba all descending onto Shropshire and leaving as 3-0 winners.
Shrewsbury would be relegated from League One at the end of the 2013-14 season. Clearly rubbing shoulders with the stars didn’t quite work.
FC United of Manchester vs Benfica (2015)
One of the most absurd yet memorable Friday nights that Moston will ever see, non-league outfit FC United were able to open their new stadium in stunning fashion.
Ober 4,000 fans packed into the brand new Broadhurst Park with none other than one of the most storied clubs in football history coming over to help christen the ground.
Benfica’s B-team won 1-0 on the night thanks to a goal from Diego Goncalves, but gave fans of the Manchester-based, fan-owned side a night to remember.
Hibernian vs Barcelona (2008)
Ah yes, the poetic beginning to Pep Guardiola’s career in management. The first step in a story that could well end with him leaving the game as its greatest-ever manager.
It all started on a sunny afternoon in Edinburgh as La Blaugrana headed to Murrayfield and completely destroyed the Scottish Premier League side 6-0.
The game would become the very first sighting of the total football philosophy Guardiola would implement at Barca, which would go on to set the tone for perhaps the club’s finest hour. A young Lionel Messi ran riot as Barca went 4-0 up inside 26 minutes; undoubtedly his fondest memory with the club.
Juventus vs Notts County (2011)
Quite a nice story, this. But still weird. Really weird.
With Juve moving into the brand new Allianz Stadium ahead of the 2011-12 season, they invited Notts County – the oldest professional football club in the world – to the new ground to help open it with a friendly.
Considering they were in League One at the time, it was a rather strange invitation to those not clued up on the story.
The friendship between the two clubs goes as far back as 1903, when Juve’s kit suppliers had issued them with pink shirts that kept fading. As a result, they were gifted new black and white striped shirts from Notts County, and have worn the colours ever since.
Real Madrid vs Plymouth (2006)
Then-Real manager Fabio Capello had regularly taken his teams to a complex in Austria for pre-season, but faced a dilemma when he realised that the complex was already occupied in 2006 – by Ian Holloway’s Plymouth Argyle.
In a bid to politely kick them out of the Schloss Pichlarn hotel, Capello offered to subsidise the rest of their pre-season tour and offer them a friendly against his Real side, which they obviously accepted.
The two sides then amazingly locked horns, with the likes of Guti and Antonio Cassano featuring for Real in a game that ended 1-0 to Los Blancos.
Fluminense U23 vs Exeter (2014)
League Two side Exeter City were invited to the Estadio de Laranjeiras to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Brazil national team playing its first-ever game, which happened to be against – you guessed it – Exeter in 1914.
More than 600 guests were invited, with 150 fans local to Exeter also tagging along to the 0-0 draw. But how and why do Exeter play such a significant role in the formation of Brazil’s national team?
In 1914, Exeter City embarked on a three-week long boat trip to go on a football tour of Argentina and Brazil, where a ‘selection’ of players from Rio and Sao Paolo were pulled together to create what is now recognised as the first Brazilian national team, and provide opposition for the visitors.
Leeds United vs Leeds United (2014)
While Exeter were out in Brazil, Championship side Leeds were doing very Leeds things.
The beginning of David Hockaday’s short and not-so-sweet spell as manager, Leeds headed to Italy for pre-season with them now owned by Massimo Cellino.
They beat local amateur opposition FC Gherdeina 16-0, and were meant to take on Romanian outfit Viitorul Constanța.
They failed to show up, however, so Leeds fielded two separate XIs and played themselves instead. It’s no surprise to learn that Hockaday was sacked after 70 days, with such a farcical pre-season fuelling his side.
Bournemouth vs Real Madrid (2013)
Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a brace as a star-studded Real side showed up to the Vitality Stadium and thrashed Bournemouth in pre-season.
Eddie Howe’s side somehow managed to blag themselves the friendly of a lifetime ahead of their first season in the Championship, playing against the likes of Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira.
We still have no idea how or why this happened.
Walsall vs Ajax (2018)
In 2018-19, Erik ten Hag’s Ajax side went on a spectacular run to the semi-final of the Champions League, boasting one of the most stacked squads of youth stars you could imagine.
Nobody would’ve seen that coming if they were paying attention to pre-season, though, when Ajax were beaten 2-0 by Walsall in a friendly, where the English side even had the cheek to field five triallists.
If Ten Hag goes on to be the man who restores Manchester United to their former glories, Walsall can be safe in the knowledge that they somehow played a part in that, shaping the Dutchman into the coach he is today.