Top 10 matches for your diary for the 2010/11 season
1. Tow Law Town v Jarrow Roofing Boldon CAFC, FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, August 14
Ritchie McLoughlin of Jarrow Roofing Boldon CAFC is Jose Mourinho’s nightmare: founder, chairman and manager of the club. But his meddling has helped them to some success in the Northern League, and they’ll take on Tow Law Town FC for a place in the preliminary round of the FA Cup. The Lawyers are surely favourites, having made it to the second qualifying round last year and once thumping Mansfield 5-1. This is going to be a classic.
2. Young Boys v Tottenham Hotspur, Champions League final qualifying round, August 17/25
For Spurs fans the waiting has lasted a lifetime – not just the Champions League, but the Champions League draw. And when at last it arrived and the perfect draw was presented – Young Boys of Berne with the second leg at home – the excitement hit an all-time high. Now wait for them to succumb to a last-minute bout of food poisoning and crash out before the group stages.
3. Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton, League One, September 25
Owls v Saints: a fixture fit for the Premier League. Well…not any more. Not even the Championship, in fact. Financial instability, unrealistic expectations and the pressure of past success weighing heavily on the shoulders of the players in both teams, both clubs not only hope but expect to return the second tier this season. No pressure in this clash then.
4. Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga, November 28
Messi, Villa, Xavi, Iniesta…unstoppable, surely? Not in the Special One’s eyes. Jose Mourinho proved he could stop Barcelona with Inter last season; now he’s determined to do it with Real Madrid in the most classic of el clasicos. To add just a bit more spice to the fixture, remember Jose’s spiritual home is the Nou Camp: he once pledged never to leave.
5. Bayern Munich v St.Pauli, Bundesliga, December 11
Bayern Munich: Champions League finalists, four-time European Cup winners and Bundesliga champions four years out of the last six. St. Pauli: a bunch of punk mentalists from Hamburg with a history of left-wing activism and a skull and crossbones for an emblem. Now the team which runs out to Hell’s Bells by AC/DC face the likes of Arjen Robben. Fight!
6. Manchester City v Aston Villa, Premier League, December 28
This promises to be a Christmas cracker of a tie fuelled with tension and animosity. Gareth Barry returns to play his former club, as does Richard Dunne the other way around, and as for James Milner, God alone knows who he’ll be turning out for on the day. With the departure of Martin O’Neill from Villa Park as a result of a feud with Chairman Randy Lerner over transfer funds and more specifically James Milner, could this tie possibly be anymore highly strung?
7. Bristol City v Cardiff, Championship, January 1
The New Year’s Day fixture is a special date in any fan’s diary, but when it draws two close rivals against each other, it’s even more mouthwatering. The Severnside derby between the Robins and the Bluebirds will be a fierce affair, not least because around 87 per cent of the fans will have just stayed up all night drinking. Expect fireworks.
8. Wales v England, European Championships Qualifier, March 26
Dragons versus Lions, and just a week after the finale of the Six Nations rugby tournament too. The only thing that will be more ragged than the Millennium Stadium pitch (probably still better than Wembley’s even after two months of rugby being played on it) is the fans’ emotions, as England look to smash their youthful rivals into touch and Wales seek revenge on centuries of imperialist oppression and patronising jokes about Gavin and Stacey.
9. South Africa v Egypt, Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier, March 27 Soccer City, South Africa: the scene of Andreas Iniesta’s winning strike in the 2010 World Cup final. But what about after the tournament? Will South Africa’s infrastructure allow a long-term investment in football or will the country be left with lots of ‘white elephants’ dominating their city landscapes? Here’s where we find out, in a positively wet tie between Bafana Bafana and Egypt, probably the best team in Africa. The World Cup hosts have a serious chance of not qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations – time for their fun-lovin’ fans to fill this giant stadium.
10. Manchester United v Chelsea, Premier League, May 7
Oh all right then, it’s time to be predictable: when you have a match like this in the third-from-last Premier League weekend, you can hardly ignore it. But just because we’re predictable doesn’t mean the game will be – far from it. United will be desperate to clinch this year’s title to pass Liverpool’s record, while Chelsea will be looking to clinch back-to-back championships. Ferguson versus Ancelotti, Rooney versus Drogba, Rio versus Terry…it’s a probable title decider that cannot be missed.