Bah humbug to the new season – we’ve already had a glorious summer of football. TMN reviews the pre-season games that mattered – and says there’s no such thing as a friendly.
As football fans spend this week grappling with their free, bumper, 98 page, all colour, no-holds-barred, no detail too inconsequential, brand spanking new, Premiershite season preview supplements – courtesy of every newspaper in the land with a financial interest in raising football excitement levels from regulation close season neurosis to ‘oh my god I have to renew my Sky subscription RIGHT NOW’ hysteria – TMN thought it would buck the trend by penning a review of the glorious summer of football that’s just passed.
Because there are, after all, no such things as ‘friendlies’ – that’s no fitting description for the titanic encounters and massive upsets that have been reverberating across the land all July, as lower leaguers, part-timers and comically incompetent triallists who will never emerge from Sunday League ever again have pit their wits against England’s finest teams.
Our new limited edition ‘TMN’-branded fedoras first go off to Hednesford for holding Aston Villa to a thrilling 2-2 draw at Keys Park on July 20th, a result which should have left Martin O’Neill on the edge of an ignominious sacking, but didn’t because Randy Lerner was naïve enough to fall for the ‘It was a good work out for our reserves and we’re happy with the current fitness levels’ excuse trotted out by the cunning elf from Kilrea.
Next up, an Ince-spired (honk! Oh come on…) MK Dons side humiliated West Ham 3-2 at their new home which, from the photos online, appears to be built entirely out of lego and polystyrene – a construction technique presumably founded on the assumption that there’ll never be more than 3000 fans present to fully test the structure’s integrity. Now, TMN has had some unkind words to say about the most cynical franchise since McDonald’s but West Ham’s reputation is no less sullied (the man behind the biscuit baron, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, was convicted in 1991 of accounting offences and embezzlement after the collapse of the shipping line Hafskip, then Iceland’s stormiest financial scandal, before rebuilding his empire in post-Communist Russia…) so this qualifies as a victory for the (slightly less evil) little man. It’s all relative.
Hull City, led by 47 year old Wayne Rooney lookalike Dean Windass, dispatched Newcastle United by a goal to nil at the end of the month. Brentford beat a Chelsea XI 1-0 at Griffin Park the same weekend, the presence of Paolo Ferreira not enough to stop the Bees exposing Mourinho’s damaging lack of squad depth. With only 22 first teamers away in Los Angeles, Chelsea’s youngsters could muster only two shots on target. No excuses, says TMN.
But enough of these pseudo-upsets. What about silly score lines and goal action? Game of the pre-season was undoubtedly at Plymouth where the Pilgrims hammered Bristol Rovers 7-3 – with four of the goals wonder strikes that Home Park will never see the likes of again. Reading knocked nine past Didcot Town. Northern Counties East Leaguers Liversedge FC held Blue Square new boys Farsley Celtic to a thrilling 3-3 draw. Forest Green crushed the Sport Italia Hellenic League’s Pegasus Juniors 4-1. Fleetwood Town cruised past Lancaster City 6-0 in front of 253 fans…(You’re just picking out random friendly results from the internet, aren’t you? – Ed)
In a match that sums up the farcical joy of the best kind of pre-season game, around 60 Exeter fans made the trip to Hayes and Yeading on August 1st under the misguided assumption that they would watch Exeter City FC take part in a friendly. Having forked out £9 each to get into the ground, the Grecians fans were confronted with a team composed entirely of trialists and a couple of token youth players. The Exeter goalkeeper on the night was in fact Hayes & Yeading’s very own third choice John Peacock. Peacock, who stands at an imposing 5’3”, saw his sometime team mates mercilessly fire past him four times as the ‘underdogs’ stuffed ‘Exeter City’ 4-1. The perverse glory of being present at that game was surely the only consolation for the 60 Exeter nuts heading back south.
Of course, pre-season friendlies aren’t quite what they used to be. The Premiership prima donnas now prefer lucrative strolls in Asia to being subjected to bone-crunching competition at non-league grounds in England, where Unibond midfielders seek to use their afternoon in the sun as a showcase for slide-tackling and wind-up merchant skills. Fleeing all this might make sense for Manchester United, but even Fulham have been gallivanting round South China in a vain attempt to impersonate a global marketing brand. Northampton Town managed to blag a trip to California this summer, playing glorified training sessions against San Jose University rather than local derbies with Kettering and Rushden and Diamonds.
Soon the cold nights will draw in, the nine month marathon season will be in full swing, and TMN for one will be anxiously awaiting its favourite time of year: July pre-season. When the sun shines brightly (apart from the occasional biblical flood) and every weekend is like the FA Cup third round, minnows battling big clubs for the only prize that really counts – bragging rights, glory and the chance to injure a cocky midfielder on £50 000 a week…..
Now, where DID I put that Guardian Premiership Preview Guide? Ooh, a double page spread on Roy Keane’s crossing tactics! Emmanuel Petit’s verdict on Wayne Rooney! Meaningless filler disguised as statistics!