These days, it is hard to imagine a football season without a full programme of warm-up matches prior to the season proper.
It’s no different for Albion, but it wasn’t always the case. Throughout the 1950s, pre-season preparation comprised a series of trial matches between all the players at the club.
Pre-season fixtures started properly in the 1960s, with Queens Park Rangers kicking off the 1961/62 season with a charity match at the Goldstone in August 1961. Chelsea visited the following season and in August 1966, the first foreign (pre-season) opposition came to Hove, in the shape of Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Into the 1970s, the warm-up programme became longer and we hosted opponents as diverse as Southampton, Portsmouth, Queens Park Rangers and a Gibraltar FA XI.
Later in the 1970s, the pre-season tournament made an appearance and in 1979, Albion travelled to Scotland for the Tenant Caledonian Cup. We played Kilmarnock in our first game, losing 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. This took us into a third place play-off against West Ham United, which saw us win 3-1 with goals from Malcolm Poskett, Andy Rollings and Brian Horton.
Three years later in 1982, we ventured overseas for the Townsend Thoresen Cup, hosted by PSV Eindhoven. After losing 3-0 to the hosts we lost on penalties to Ipswich Town after a 1-1 draw.
In the summer of 1983 we played two overseas tournaments. The first came at the end of July in Belgium, when we lost both games, to Standard Liege and FC Liege.
We then moved on to Palma, Majorca, for a tournament involving altogether more famous opposition. On August 18, 1983, we ran out against the mighty Real Madrid. We were by no means disgraced in a 1-0 defeat, watched by many Albion fans who chose to combine football with a holiday in the sun.
Two days after playing Real, we beat Vasas Diosgyori from Hungary 3-2, Albion’s goals coming from Steve Gatting, Tony Grealish and Terry Connor.
In August, 1985, we hosted a tournament of our own, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest visiting the Goldstone. We lost to Arsenal (1-2) and Liverpool (1-4) before beating Nottingham Forest 5-2.
Through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the financial situation at the club meant there was not much money available for overseas tournaments, although we did visit Bucharest in 1990 for games against Dinamo and Heart of Midlothian.
The 1990s were bleak times indeed, with very few pre-season fixtures played. It wasn’t until we moved to Withdean that pre-season was re-vitalised. The first game at The Theatre of Trees was a friendly against Nottingham Forest, in July 1999.
We re-visited the idea of the overseas tour, with trips to Ireland in 1999 and 2000. The following year we also went to Ireland, but the tour was cut short after an ill-tempered game against Longford Town.
Withdean didn’t host too many pre-season games, due mainly to the fact that many of the seats were uprooted and sent away to be used at the Open Golf Championship!
This brings us up to date and the upcoming game against Nantes tomorrow. They join Villarreal, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in visiting the Amex. We’ve come a long way since that charity match in August 1961.