Experiencing A Pre-Season Friendly in England: The Heart Of English Football
Going to your team’s first pre-season friendly game is a bit like meeting up with a good mate you’ve not seen for months.
You’ll be a bit out of sync at first. You make small talk about how your summer has been, have a bit of a chat about soccer, but soon enough, you effortlessly fall back into the same old groove. After an hour or so, it’s as though you’ve not been away from each other at all.
It’s always a drag when the domestic soccer season ends. There’s a void to fill during the weekends and you convolute the summer months by watching tennis, cricket and cycling, anything with a competitive edge, really. But it’s just not the same.
Admittedly, a fine World Cup did plenty to plug the gap throughout June and July, but when you get to games frequently, nothing quite stands up to a live contest. So for myself, the curtain raiser on Everton’s pre-season couldn’t come around quick enough.
The first game of the Toffees’ pre-season campaign was against Merseyside rivals Tranmere Rovers at their home, Prenton Park. There was a massive demand for tickets for Evertonians, and subsequently, those of a blue persuasion packed out two sides of the stadium.
Tranmere didn’t really seem quite prepared for the amount of supporters that descended on Prenton Park, though. The club had confirmed pre-match that you could either order a ticket in advance or buy one on the way in. But regardless of whether you’d pre-booked or not, everyone had to use the same entrances. This meant that around 1,500 supporters had to use the same three turnstiles to get into the ground.
So as you’d expect, before the game it was pretty chaotic. Even though we arrived at the stadium 20 minutes early—much earlier than we typically would do—we still didn’t actually get into the ground until 10 minutes after the kick off, such were the enormous queues outside the stadium.
Without wanting to sound extremely patronizing, the levels of organization were befitting of a club that pull in pretty paltry attendances. But all things considered, it’d be pretty harsh to be overly critical of Tranmere.
At the start of last season I wrote a piece about the potential struggles that lay ahead for Rovers, and unfortunately for the Super White Army, they were relegated from League 1 on the final day of last season. If that wasn’t bad enough, the club was plunged into disarray towards the back end of the campaign, as the since departed manager Ronnie Moore was suspended for a reported breach of betting rules and club icon Ian Goodison was investigated for match fixing.
When speaking to my Tranmere supporting mate prior to the game, I was also informed that the club had laid off a host of staff in order to cost cut following their relegation. So perhaps the club can be forgiven for not being completely streamlined in their pre-game preparations.
As such, you suspect another tough season lies in wait for Tranmere. The club’s attendances took a hit last season due to a combination of their own poor form and the relative successes of the other two Merseyside teams. Relegation to the fourth tier of English football will do little to attract punters or players either.
Two clubs in the local area—Vauxhall Motors and Camell Laird—have gone out of business recently, and while Tranmere are considerably more established than both of them, it shows how difficult it is for teams to flourish in a region dominated by two of the biggest clubs in the country.
Hopefully a strong start to the League 2 campaign will help bring the supporters back to Prenton Park and help galvanize the team towards a promotion push.
From an Evertonian perspective, I was just looking forward to the match. Once you get into the ground all of those familiar sensations hit you. The hybrid smell of hot dogs, cheeseburgers and the freshly cut grass, the gentle hum of spectators muttering and the sight of traveling Evertonians getting behind their team. But the new kit, the new songs and the young players gives everything a refreshing edge, festering an excitement ahead of the big kick off in August.
The crowd at friendly games is typically a mixed bag. You get the hardcore fan base there, who travel to every single game throughout the season, but for local friendly games like the one at Prenton Park, you’ll also get sporadic match goers who have decided to sample a cheap 90 minutes—tickets were £10—and watch their team in action.
The latter of those two groups understandably take the game a little more seriously and as a result, you get the odd person getting very wound up about a match in which you can read next to nothing into. After all, when substitute Seamus Coleman hobbled off midway through the second half, Luke Garbutt replaced him; a player that had been withdrawn at half time. When Everton scored, a fan ran onto the pitch and jumped into the back of the net without a steward even moving. You get the idea, it was that kind of relaxed atmosphere.
Anyway, the result is wholly irrelevant at this stage of the team’s preparations and a 2-2 draw gave the supporters in attendance an entertaining game and something for everyone to go home happy about.
For Everton, there were a smattering of impressive individual performances. Aiden McGeady showcased his abilities with some wonderful trickery and pinpoint crossing, while youngsters like Garbutt and Conor McAleny also showed glimpses to suggest they can push for first team opportunities this season.
The club have a very strange set of friendly matches to come. They play FC Porto and FC Padeborn in the coming weeks. They’ll also clash with opening day opponents Leicester City in Thailand and will play Celta Vigo at Prenton Park, in order to preserve the Goodison Park pitch.
Then the serious stuff begins. Everyone on zero points, every team with their own dreams and every supporter with lofty ambitions of a stellar season. Anybody else beginning to get excited?