The weirdest friendlies tend to involve non-league clubs and this fixture was no exception. So, why did Bamber Bridge end up playing the Czech Republic National Team?

Bamber Bridge FC, located on the outskirts of Preston, were tasked at being the Czech’s final opponents before Euro 1996.

Russ Rigby, the former groundsman at Irongate, recalled how he nearly dropped the phone in surprise when asked whether the team would be interested in the encounter.

He said: “It was the hotel’s manager and he just asked if we would be interested in playing the Czech Republic in a warm-up game for the European Championship.

They were playing Germany in their opening game of Euro 96 at Old Trafford and Preston North End were busy so they called me instead.”

The offer was accepted quickly as the prospect of turning down international football was never in Rigby’s mind.

Tickets were sold out well in advance and crowd congestion led to the game being pushed back by 10 minutes.

The Czech manager warned Bamber Bridge that he did not want a physical game in the run up to the competition, and threatened to take his players off if things got out of hand.

2,300 fans piled into Irongate and were treated to some incredible talents like Ballon D’or winner Pavel Nedved and ex-Manchester United winger Karel Poborsky.

The game went pretty much how you would expect. Bamber Bridge found it hard to keep up with the quality of the Czech National Team and fell to a 9-1 defeat.

But, the unforgettable moment of the game came in the 52 minute mark when Steve Denny netted a consolation goal for the hosts.

Irongate erupted into chaos as their local club had scored a goal against future Euro 96 finalists.

The village of just over 12,000 people welcomed the Czech Republic with open arms, with streets becoming full of celebration.

The Czech team made it all the way to the final of Euro 96, falling short 2-1 to Germany.

However, Bamber Bridge’s impact still lives on till this day and it is worth wondering whether the Czech’s successes was all down to that trip to Irongate.

The club sit in the Northern Premier League Premier Division and are yet to break the record attendance set in the summer of 1996.

A match that will remain in the memories of everyone in the village of Bamber Bridge, the unsung heroes of Euro 96.