Back in the mid-90s, before Mrs Williamson was a snowboarder, we’d often spend the Martin Luther King long weekend (mid-January) flying down to Miami and hanging out in South Beach. It was a fine break from the freezing New York winters and allowed me to transform my pasty white skin into a marginally less pasty white, although I never made it past #1 on Von Luschan’s chromatic scale (Scottish people start at 0).
In 1998 the Scottish Premier League was formed, and one of the first things they did was introduce a winter break. Dick Advocaat was managing Rangers at the time, and he must have felt the same way I did about Miami in January, because the ‘Gers used to visit and play a friendly or two in the pleasant Florida evenings.
One year, and to this day I swear it was after I’d booked our holiday, it turned out that Rangers had arranged a trip coinciding with our visit. I wasn’t quite sure how to break the news to Mrs Williamson that half a day of our long weekend would be spent driving up to Fort Lauderdale and watching Sergio Porrini, so I didn’t tell her – until we were packing, and she saw me tucking away my Rangers top. The conversation went something like this:
Mrs W: “Why are you bringing your Rangers top? Is there a game on?”
Me: “Err… yes. I swear it was arranged after I booked our holiday.”
So if you’ve planned your summer holidays, take a look at the pre-season tours happening, because you might need to pack your replica shirts. And if you haven’t booked your holidays, here are some ideas, and good luck pretending it’s a happy coincidence.
(In reverse alphabetical order)
New manager Danny “Don’t Call Me Danny The Fanny” Lennon is staying close to home for his first pre-season with the Buddies. The only overseas travel is to Northern Ireland, where on the 31st July and 2nd and 3rd of August they rattle off games against Ballymena, Crusaders, and Derry City. Prior to that, they face Morton in the Renfrewshire Cup on the 27th, and they’ve already completed a trio of games against Ayr United, Dumbarton, and Brechin.
I can’t believe that’s all they’ve arranged as it leaves them with almost two weeks before their SPL opener, so expect them to arrange another game or two but it will be close to home – so if you’re visiting Paisley you might be in luck (as much as you can be if you have to visit Paisley).
St Mirren’s home opener is with Dundee United.
Derek McInnes always had a fondness for bridies and kippers and now that he’s the manager of a football team, he’s able to indulge this with early pre-season games in Forfar and Arbroath. This Friday he gets down to real business though, with a game against Rangers – not The Rangers, but Berwick Rangers (more on them later.)
Northern Ireland is popular in these cash-strapped times, so it’s off to the Stranraer ferry next for a couple of games either side of Lough Neagh: on the east with Lisburn Distillery and to the west with Dungannon Swifts.
But on the 31st of July, the glamour week kicks in: back to Perth for Manchester United in the Alan Main testimonial, then Premiership Bolton Wanderers (2nd), and Real Valladolid (7th) of Spain’s Segundo Division – they are having a Scottish pre-season. A week later, the Saints start their league challenge at Tynecastle.
By the time you read this, Rangers will be in spectacular Sydney to play Blackburn Rovers (25th July), Sydney FC (28th), and AEK Athens (31st) in the 45,500 capacity Sydney Football Stadium (“the city’s premier rectangular field”, says wikipedia). This is billed as the “Sydney Festival of Football”, which makes me think the Aussies haven’t seen much of the SPL lately. At least they’ll serve pies and alcohol in the ground.
After the long return journey from down under, the Gers have a short trip to Cumbernauld for Clyde on 4th August before the big home match against newly-promoted Newcastle on Saturday 7th (I wonder if they will trot out Gazza for that one, the poor bastard). Finally, on the 10th, a Rangers select will take on Glentoran in Northern Ireland, meaning a geographically-home game for more than a few of the Rangers support before Killie come visiting on league duty.
When Jock Wallace was manager of the Steelmen, his pre-season training regimen matched that of his time as Rangers manager – he had his squad running up and down the sand dunes of Gullane.
Interesting Jock Wallace fact: while it’s well known he was player-manager of Berwick Rangers when they shocked The Rangers in the 1967 Scottish Cup, it’s less well known that he also played in the FA Cup *and* the Welsh Cup that same season. How is that possible? Don’t ask me, I just read it on a website so it must be true.
Back to the ‘Well. Their season is well underway (more puns later – stop reading now if you can’t take it), having won the first leg of their Europa League second round qualifier 1-0 over Icelandic semi-pros Breiðablik. Hopefully a further win or draw on the 22nd will see them through to the third round on the 29th July and 5th August, before their league opener at home to Hibs.
Back in early July, while the rest of us were watching the World Cup semi-finals, Motherwell made the fashionable trip up to Angus to warm up against Forfar and Brechin, as well as a shorter journey to Somerset Park. They had the same early start last year – when do these poor Motherwell players get a holiday?
Mixu has a brand new combine harvester, and he’ll give you the key (*) if you join him in the southwest of England. Killie are playing in the “Joma South West Challenge Cup”, with exciting ties against Bideford (as I write this, their website account is suspended, Charlie Adam’s Blackpool (**), and, eh, maybe some other teams if they make the semis or final. Rushden and Diamonds, anyone?
(*) younger readers will have no idea what I am on about
(**) for as long as he is with them and they are in the Premiership, I will refer to them as Charlie Adam’s Blackpool. OK?
INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
The highlight of pre-season at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium was undoubtedly Rod Stewart’s concert there last Saturday, but on the footballing side the Handbags And Gladrags will be out for Valladolid’s visit on August 3. There is speculation that Baroness Thatcher will attend, and while Maggie May or may not show up, the Downtown Train will be packed full of Caley Thistle supporters. No doubt the Spaniards will be showing off their Hot Legs, and it won’t be plain Sailing for the Scottish team – I don’t think This Old Heart Of Mine would take it if I were there.
There’s no Reason To Believe that Terry Butcher’s Young Turks won’t get a result – I’m sure before the game he’ll be telling them Tonight’s The Night and if they play like Brazilians and follow the Rhythm Of The Heart, then it definitely won’t be a case of It’s The Same Old Song, and that they’ll be dancing in the Purple Heather. If that’s the outcome, for the Spanish, It’s A Heartache, but such is football – Some Guys Have All The Luck.
Sorry if these puns offended – I Was Only Joking. I’ll Get Back to normal now, with a list of their remaining pre-season fixtures:
Saturday 24th July Fleetwood Town (Away)
Monday 26th July Stockport County (Away)
Wednesday 28th July North of Scotland Cup v Golspie (Away)
Saturday 31st July Queens Park (Home) CIS Cup
Wednesday 4th August Huntly (Away)
Saturday 7th August Royal Antwerp (Home)
…and they start the campaign with Celtic visiting. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?
Hibs had to get cracking early this year as they enter Europa League qualifying at the third stage on the 29th of July. Back on the 10th – when we were enjoying Germany-Uruguay – Hibs fans were pleasuring themselves over a 4-0 win at East End Park, while two days after Spain-Holland they must have been thinking Yogi Hughes was Joachim Low as they matched that score against Queen of the South in Dumfries.
Hibs then headed to Holland for a 10-day trip against some sides I’ve heard of, which means they can’t be entirely bad. Heracles Almelo, NEC Nijmejen, Den Haag (I’ll bet the CCS hoolies will be loving that), and finally Vitesse Arnhem. (Will that be A Bridge Too Far? I’ll get me coat!)
Between the Europa League games and their SPL kickoff in Motherwell, they’re hosting Charlie Adam’s Blackpool on the 7th.
HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN
It’s a decidedly un-sexy pre-season for the Jeffries Jambos – after a trip to Dunfermline on the 27th it’s down to the sarf of England for Gillingham (29th) and Milwall (31st). Back home it gets marginally better with Wolves (3rd) and Blackburn Rovers (7th) though the latter will probably be an ugly game with Sam Allardyce’s long-ball merchants.
Is that the best you can do, Romanov? Hibs are playing total football then hosting Charlie Adam’s Blackpool, and you give us this?
Anyway, Perth’s saints come marching in to start the season, which will be a welcome relief in Digger’s Bar, I expect.
Sorry, that was cruel. The SPL’s least-supported club has the least interesting pre-season, at least that I can find: having already played Stirling Albion away, Queen’s Park at home, and Queen of the South away, there’s nothing I can see planned before their journey to Aberdeen for the first game of their new season. Surely some mistake?
Hitler was an Austrian, and he wouldn’t have been too happy to see Arabs in his homeland – but thankfully he wasn’t around to stop Peter Houston’s squad playing a couple of games there against Unirea Urziceni (who we all know are Romanian, after last year’s Champions League shenenigans against Rangers) and Arka Gdynia (Polish – can’t you guess?).
Looking ahead, the Arabs join the cadre of SPL teams visiting Northern Ireland (Glentoran, 24th July) and Fife (Raith Rovers, 27th) but take a detour on the 31st to Hull City’s KC Stadium, the only stadium in the world named after the lead singer of a sunshine band.
Quick hop up the road to Forfar on August 3rd, insert obligatory bridie joke here, then United host Wigan Athletic on the 8th. Away to St Mirren for the first real game.
Celtic have returned from a hectic week playing four games in Toronto and across both coasts of the USA – where they faced the Philadelphia Union, Manchester United, the Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Lisbon. Between the two legs of their Champions League pre-qualifier against fellow Sporting Portuguese team Braga, they will attend the Emirates Cup in London, facing off to Olympique Lyonnais on Saturday 31st and the Gooners on Sunday 1st.
The highlight of Real Valladolid’s time in Alba comes on August 10, when they visit Parkhead, Celtic’s last game before heading up the A9 to play Inverness (and presumably pick up their share of the knickers left on the pitch from the Rod Stewart concert).
The Dandy Dons spent this past weekend visiting the North Sea fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead – maybe getting in some practice for those chilly home games at Pittodrie.
They’ll also have just visited the fly Fifers of Dunfermline en route to a the footballing hotbed of Staffordshire for a glamour tie on the 24th against Tamworth (I had to look it up) and then a trip to Burslem (ditto) to take on Port Vale. The Mark McGhee connection then kicks in as their caravan continues south with a game on the 31st in gay mecca Brighton (the Mark McGhee connection being that he used to manage them, of course, nothing to do with it being a gay mecca).
They return north for a 3rd August memorial match in Brechin honouring the late FIFA vice-president and Brechin chairman, David Will, before rounding off their preparation a week before their SPL hosting of Hamilton with what is likely to be their only European game of the season – a trip to the Ruhr Valley to face just-promoted-back-to-the-Bundesliga Kaiserslautern.
My thanks once again to the excellent pre-season fixture list compiled over at fitba daft.