When it is time for icons of the game to hang up their boots for good, all too often the fans want to get one last glimpse of their heroes, while clubs hope to pay homage to their faithful servants of so many years.
Originally devised to help set up a player for retirement, back when wages paled in comparison to those today, now testimonials tend to act as chance for an emotional goodbye. As a result of this tradition, football has seen some fabulous and memorable games, with players often getting the chance to let their hair down.
The latest in the line of farewell fixtures to catch the eye was Raul's triumphant return to the ranks of Real Madrid, for half a game at least. The former Los Blancos favourite and all-time leading goalscorer reclaimed his No7 shirt, and scored, in front of the Bernabeu crowd during a 5-0 win over Al Sadd of Qatar, who he joined in 2012.
He switched allegiances at the break, but was cheered throughout by the Spanish crowd, the former captain was touched by the sentimentality of the occasion. “I looked up at the scoreboard hoping that the minutes would not tick by,” he said. “I could not have had a better tribute, with the ground full and playing again in a Real Madrid shirt.
"There were a lot of small details in this match. Cristiano [Ronaldo] giving me his shirt, [Iker] Casillas his armband…everyone has made me feel welcome.”
The ex-Spain international is far from the first to find himself donning two different shirts within a single game, though, with none other than Pele choosing to switch teams, rather than ends, during his swansong for New York Comos against Santos.
The three-time FIFA World Cup™-winner scored a thunderous free-kick for the NASL side in the first half, before presenting his green jersey to his father in a special ceremony at the break, but he could not repeat the feat for his boyhood side, as Cosmos triumphed 2-1.
Early au revoirs
O Rei was present when the North American side appeared at what turned out to be a somewhat premature farewell for Paul Scholes in 2011. The Manchester United legend of 17 years finished the game, a 6-0 win, on the scoresheet with a screamer of his own before saying: “I am just looking forward to being one of them now, and watching this team go on to win more trophies.”
However, he denied himself the opportunity of watching their next triumph from the stands by opting to do it from the pitch instead, after coming out of retirement just six months after his send-off, and going on to lift the English Premier League the following season.
You can maybe forgive Scholes though for jumping the gun, as his manager Sir Alex Ferguson outstrips him by a decade in the race for the least apt testimonial match. United chose to honour the achievements of their most successful coach after their treble triumph in 1999, a whole 14 years prior to leaving the Old Trafford hot-seat and less than half way through his 27-year reign.
I looked up at the scoreboard hoping that the minutes would not tick by. I could not have had a better tribute.
These games are almost always light-hearted affairs, but every now and again they can be downright bizarre. Athletic Club's tribute to Joseba Etxeberria, as he bowed out after a decade and a half with the Basque team, fits into this category, as the first XI faced a side containing 100 local boys and girls.
The match was a sight to see, with children swarming across the San Mames pitch, boasting three goalkeepers too! The professionals could not even count on their superior fitness, as a further 100 kids were waiting in the wings to take over at half-time. But the young pretenders could not quite hold out for a famous victory, succumbing to their more vertically gifted elders in a 5-3 defeat.
Sometimes, however, the player themselves is the one who adds the spectacle to the occasion, and it is no surprise that some of Colombia's golden generation – which was never lacking in characters – brought some additional flamboyance to their swansongs beyond the usual celebrity players and returning legends.
Anyone who saw Faustino Asprilla – and his acrobatic goal celebrations – will not be particularly surprised to hear he added some additional showmanship to his match between Atletico Nacional and a team of his friends by entering the arena in a gleaming white limousine.
The script was clearly written from the word go for fellow Los Cafeteros team-mate Rene Higuita with it clear that fans and players alike were looking to see the keeper's famous 'scorpian kick'. After a few speculative – and fairly generous – lobbed attempts at goal, a chipped free-kick gave the crowd what they wanted, erupting as if a goal had been scored when the eccentric stopper cleared the ball with his heels.
However, the crowd does not always get what they want to see, as Colombia's captain at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA, Carlos 'El Pibe' Valderrama found out in his testimonial. He was denied a goal in a 3-3 draw when he struck the post from the penalty spot, but even so, the national hero was still applauded off the field as he was replaced by his son.
It wasn't a goal that was made up. It wasn't as if somebody tripped in the box and got a penalty kick.
Enzo Francescoli got his son on the field five years earlier, when saying goodbye to a fervent sea of River Plate fans in a bouncing Estadio Monumental, when the Uruguayan playmaker was given the chance to depart against the club he had supported as a boy – Penarol. While Enzo got on the scoresheet twice, the name Francescoli cropped up three times in River's 4-0 win, thanks to one of his young sons slotting home too.
Across Buenos Aires, inside La Bombonera, a similar scenario played out as a Boca Juniors legend said his goodbyes. Martin Palermo gave his son, Ryudan, the chance to appear on the big stage, and as a youth player for Estudiantes he was clearly no slouch. With 15 minutes to go a penalty was awarded, and Palermo Jnr. stepped up to the plate – but has father took the opportunity to don the gloves and go head-to-head with his son. After both tried their hand at a some mind games, Ryudan coolly slotted past the former Argentinian international.
Some have used the platform for a chance at redemption and forgiveness, with Diego Maradona making a memorable speech to fans in the same stadium. There were plenty of tears from the Argentinian icon in La Bombonera, before he looked to atone for some of the scandals that had befallen his career. “I made mistakes and I paid for them,” he told the encapsulated crowd. “But not the ball, the ball has always remained clean.”
It took a little longer for Johan Cruyff to get an apology after his Ajax testimonial, taking almost three decades for Bayern Munich to admit they were wrong for beating the Dutch great's side 8-0. While the result was borne out of a disgruntled Bayern side dating back to a previous fixture, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who scored four in the game, and Gerd Muller both said they were not proud of the part he played. While goalkeeper Sepp Maier simply declared: “Sorry, Johan!”
One thing you do not expect in a final game, however, is a first. Dennis Bergkamp's Arsenal testimonial was the first game to be played in the Emirates Stadium, but Tony Hibbert's for Everton gifted the one-club man his first goal for the Toffees. Striking a sweetly-drilled free-kick against AEK Athens, his team-mates declared it a “fairytale” and then-manager David Moyes beamed after the game.
“It was a genuine goal. I've been putting the wrong guy on the free-kicks for too long,” he said. “It wasn't a goal that was made up. It wasn't as if somebody tripped in the box and got a penalty kick.” As fans at St James' Park will admit, this is more than can be said for Alan Shearer's goal in his departing game for Newcastle United...