It’s that time of the year again!
Pre-season is now upon us with all the usual far and wide destinations for the world’s top football clubs.
In light of Accrington Stanley beating Marseille and Charlton Athletic’s recent game abandonment due to a referee being manhandled, here’s a look at some of the more bizarre destinations and scenarios teams have ended up playing as they build up fitness and boost revenue ahead of the season…
5. Thailand vs Liverpool, 22 July 2009
Yes, you really are reading that correctly. Even a seasoned Liverpool fan can be forgiven for this forgetting this absolute classic of a matchup *cough*.
Liverpool played the Thai national team as part of their Asian tour in 2009. Some of the starters on the day for Rafa Benitez included Diego Cavalieri, Damien Plessis and Krisztián Németh (yeah me neither).
The tie (no pun intended) itself took place in Bangkok with the young starlet Ryan Babel taking the lead for the Reds in the first half, before second half substitute Sutee Suksomkit grabbed an equaliser for the ‘War Elephants’.
A frustrating evening for Rafa and co, which set the tone for a disappointing season which finished in seventh place, just ahead of bitter rivals Everton but behind Aston Villa. How times have changed.
4. Heaton Stannington vs Gabon, 22 July 2012
Exactly three years after the Thai national team took on one of England’s most prestigious clubs, it was the turn of the Gabon national team to play a warm-up game in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Originally, Gabon looked to play Newcastle United, however they, along with their Under 21 side, were both away on pre-season outings of their own.
Up stepped in their place English 11th tier outfit Heaton Stannington, willing to host the Gabonese at their home ground, Grounsell Park, which boasts pints for under three pounds and wayward shots going into the neighbours backyard, rather than into the Gallowgate End of St James’ Park.
The game concluded with a 4-0 victory for the African nation, hardly a disgrace for the hosts who were made up of complete amateurs.
However, the highlight for the majority of those in attendance was the presence of then St Etienne forward Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
Aubameyang, already a star in the making, would go on to sign with Borussia Dortmund the following summer for £13m, before moving to Arsenal in January 2018.
3. ATV Irdning vs Everton, 14 July 2018
From looking at the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be one of those classic 6-0 or 7-0 mismatches between a European minnow and a seasoned Premier League side.
This was Marco Silva’s first outing as new Everton boss and his players didn’t disappoint. Kevin Mirallas led the way, finding the net on five occasions against the Austrian side, with another eight squad members finding the net, as well as an own goal.
Despite a flurry of goals from Mirallas, he was quickly deemed surplus to requirements by Silva, and was loaned to Fiorentina for the 2018/19 campaign. Full marks for effort though Kevin.
Fair play to the Everton media team for keeping the highlights reel above down to just 12 minutes.
2. Walsall vs Ajax, 20 July 2018
For many, the 2018/19 season will be headlined by the rising young stars that came to fruition for Ajax on their way to reaching the Champions League semi-finals, knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus along the way.
Not so many however will remember the footballing lesson that then League One side Walsall gave the four-time European Cup/Champions League winners.
The Saddlers came through shock 2-0 winners thanks to a double from Andy Cook, leaving fans scratching their heads more than anything else.
Yes, this Ajax side did lack most of the star names that we all now know so well, such as de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Dusan Tadic, but there were seasoned first team members such as Kasper Dolberg and Siem de Jong on show by the side from Amsterdam.
Still, this was only a dead rubber, and despite the poor result, Ajax managed to send shockwaves around world football in the next campaign, at the same time Walsall were relegated to League Two.
1. Oxford City vs West Ham, 28 July 1994
This game, at least on paper, had the makings of a pretty bog standard pre-season friendly. Then assistant manager Harry Redknapp took a youthful West Ham side down for the friendly in Oxfordshire on a sunny July afternoon.
At one stage however, a rather rowdy supporter made one dig too many for Redknapp’s patience, who summoned him to the dugout and told him to get get a kit on if he thought he could do any better.
In the oft recounted anecdote, Redders told the officials that the ungainly looking sub was a new Bulgarian signing.
Amazingly, the fan even managed to score (although it was ruled out for offside) as the Hammers went on to win 4-0.
Despite the impressive debut display from the fan, who’d given up amateur football some years earlier, Redknapp wasn’t willing to hand him a contract. Shame.