2014/15: Pre-season Friendly – Sheffield United v Fenerbahce

The great thing about friendlies is the unlikely pairings they sometimes throw together. Take the fixture last night that pitched Sheffield United from England’s League One against Turkish Champions, Fenerbahce; brought about by Blades Director Selahattin Baki who hails from Turkey. It was arranged to mark the 125th Anniversary of Sheffield United and to raise money for the Turkish Mining Disaster Fund.

In many ways it was a strange evening and one of contrasts. The game itself was a pre-season friendly, but because of the size of the crowd (12,950) and the large contingent of Fenerbahce fans (who were housed in the upper tier of the Jessica Ennis Stand), it had the feel and edge of a league game. The teams themselves also provided a significant contrast, with The Blades starting with youngsters such as 17 year old Louis Reed, whilst Fenerbahce fielded a starting line-up of internationals, including Cameroonian international Pierre Webo and the Portuguese pair of Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves, who had featured for their countries at the recent World Cup in Brazil.

Given the strength of the Turkish side it was no surprise that they dominated the chances in the opening half, with their ease on the ball and slick passing and movement. Within the opening ten minutes Meireles had his effort on goal well held by Mark Howard, but the United keeper could do nothing on eleven minutes when Caner Erkin’s cross was headed home by Webo. Indeed, the Cameroonian could have had a hat-trick in the first-half, but he was unable to take any of the chances. Turkish international Gokhan Gonul also had a decent opportunity to increase the visitors lead, but it proved to be another wasted opportunity. Sheffield United though did have chances of their own, the best a header from Marc McNulty from close range, which unfortunately was put over the bar. The other significant ‘action’ came off the pitch as mid-way during the half, a number of flares were lit by the away fans which had the stewards scurrying to put them out – a glimpse of terrace life, Turkey style.

Half-time and a chance to grab a well-earned pint. However, after spending the half-time break queuing, when we eventually reached the counter, we were informed that it was a food-only stand. Rather than join another queue the decision was made to leave the ground and head for a pub and so then have a leisurely wait for the train. It’s not something that would normally be considered, but with it being a friendly and knowing that I had to make the train for my connection, it was a fairly easy decision to make.

So what was missed in the second-half (besides copious substitutions)? Two goals by The Blades in the last fifteen minutes (Chris Porter and Neill Collins) which sealed what seemed an unlikely win after the first-half. A strange evening indeed…

2014/15: Pre-season Friendly – Guiseley AFC v Bradford City

This was Guiseley’s second outing of the new season after a 2-0 victory over Albion Sports on Thursday. For Bradford City this was their opening friendly and it attracted plenty of Bantam’s fans in a bumper crowd of just under 1,800.

Guiseley have been busy in the summer with new drainage and playing surface and indeed it looked immaculate prior to kick-off. However, the pitch suffered during the game with a number of divots being created showing that the new turf has yet to bed in. It is hoped that the weather is kind to the ground staff in the coming weeks so that the pitch can settle.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on promotion to the Conference in the play-off final at the end of last season, there was a positive buzz around Nethermoor yesterday. Part of this is due to the fact that the club’s planning application for a new community building and general ground development are due to be submitted with a decision expected sometime in September.

On the pitch, it was what we have come to expect from friendlies with both sides looking at their squads including trialists. Bradford played two different teams in each half with Guiseley also making numerous changes during the second-half. The visitors won the game 3-0 with all the goals coming in the first half through, Lewis Clarkson (12 & 43 minutes) and Matthew Dolan (26 minutes). Steve Drench the Guiseley keeper was the sponsors ‘Man of the Match’ and it was well deserved on an afternoon when the League One team from Valley Parade dominated proceedings.

Guiseley can now look forward to next Saturday and another big crowd as Leeds United visit Nethermoor in an all-ticket fixture, whilst Bradford City jet off to Ireland to continue their pre-season.

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2011/12: Pre-season – Farsley AFC v Leeds United XI

Pre-season friendlies. Love them or hate them, they are part of the build-up to any new football season. For clubs, players, managers and fans they are a mostly a positive thing; however friendlies can have a downside too. Take for instance my visit to Throstle Nest and the Farley AFC v Leeds United XI fixture.

For Farsley this was their last game prior to starting their Evo-Stik First Division North League campaign and therefore a final opportunity to look at prospective players and formations. Leeds too used the game to look at three trialists and some of their young professionals. Given that the opposition were their professional city neighbours, Leeds United, it was a chance of a large attendance and all the benefits this brings in terms of revenue and publicity. The Villagers were also canny enough to move kick-off to 2pm, so as to provide an opportunity for those wanting to watch Leeds United’s opening game at Southampton in the Championship to do so, hopefully at the Throstle Nest clubhouse and therefore putting some additional revenue over the bar.

So far so good. Indeed as the players warmed up and the Farsley mascots played a mini-game on the pitch, there was a relaxed atmosphere amongst the crowd of just over 400. Leeds United included three trialists in their starting line-up as well as the familiar faces of Alex Bruce, Mike Grella and Aidan White.

The game kicked off in drizzly conditions, but before either side had chance to really settle, there was a major stoppage within the first ten minutes. After a Leeds attack, Farsley midfielder David Briggs was left on the ground in obvious pain. Unfortunately Briggs was stretchered from the pitch with what looked a serious leg injury and necessitated an ambulance to take the player to hospital. The Villagers official website reported that, “…Gareth Liversedge (the Farsley physio) commented after the game that Briggs was likely to have broken a bone in his lower leg but it would be confirmed in the next few days as x-rays would have to be carried out to determine the severity of the injury…” Briggs had left Ossett Town to join Farsley and had impressed in pre-season. Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but somehow it seems more shocking that it occurred in a friendly rather than the regular season. As yet the extent of the injury has not been confirmed, but it will obviously have repercussions. For instance, how will this affect his day-job? What impact does it have on his contract with Farsley? My hope is that David Briggs makes a speedy recovery and is back playing as soon as he can.

The injury seemed to rattle Farsley and in the remainder of the half were made to pay as Mike Grella put Leeds ahead and a brace from trialist Felix Luz, gave the visitors a 3-0 half-time lead. The second-half did see an improvement from Farsley but despite creating goal scoring opportunities, Luz completed his hat-trick and added Leeds fourth with 15 minutes to go.

From The Villagers perspective, the loss of David Briggs was a blow, but now have to regroup and focus on the opening game on Saturday at home to Lancaster City. For Leeds, well German trialist Felix Luz will have done his cause no harm with three goals. However, how do Alex Bruce, Mike Grella and Aidan White, see their first team chances after not being included in the squad that travelled to Southampton? Questions, questions – the football season is back!