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3:00 PM UTC
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Sheffield United
ESPN3 12:15 PM UTC
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6:45 PM UTC
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Portland Timbers
Orlando City SC
12:00 AM UTC Sep 25, 2017
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Putting Alfreton on the map

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, a Sheffield Wednesday XI are spanked 14-0, Mario Balotelli is on the receiving end of a rotten prank, Joey Barton keeps us entertained on Twitter while Rio Ferdinand gets a dose of his own merking medicine.

Lucky number 14

Now, as ESPNsoccernet's resident Sheffield Wednesday fan Dale Johnson will remind this scribe, more than once in the space of an hour sometimes, this was in fact a Sheffield Wednesday XI, made up of youth team players. Regardless, they still lost 14-0 to Alfreton Town. Yes, 14-0. And, yes, Dale, that's 14 goals conceded. In. One. Match.

Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley was, understandably, delighted by the result, in particular as it put Alfreton Town on the global map, the club even trending on Twitter. Bradley said: "The coverage has gone worldwide and that's got to be good news. I guess we'll see in future fixtures and events whether people take it upon themselves to come and have a look first hand."

A crowd of 568 watched on at the Impact Arena as Alfreton Town, who won promotion to the Blue Square Bet Premier last season, gave Wednesday a proper hiding. Bradley added to The Star: "It was a bit of a mismatch. They sent boys into a man's world and were not at the races. Someone got it awfully wrong and under-estimated the calibre and playing standard of our team. It was not the test that we were looking for at this time in the season."

Hook, line and stinker

In Mario Balotelli's defence, this headline-grabbing story is not self-inflicted. No, this time it was his Manchester City team-mates. Indeed, it was reported in the Sun that prior to the club's tour of America, a handful of hilarious scamps snuck a bag filled with kippers behind the front seat of Balotelli's Maserati.

So, following a two-week stay across the pond, Balotelli returned to quite the pong, apparently. A source said: "Mario had his head in his hands when he realised he was on the receiving end of a training ground prank.

"The smell nearly made him sick. It was revolting. There were flies in the car and the leather seats in the back had rotting fish all over them. He has absolutely no idea who is responsible as he has wound up so many of his team mates over the past year. It won't put an end to the pranks, though. He's already formulating plans for revenge."

Intrigue and conjecture now rages over just what Balotelli might be about to do to get his own back. Be sure to read next week's edition of Off the Ball when we will (hopefully) have found out. May the force be with you, Mario.

Barton soap opera

Just describing what has gone down with regards Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton over the past week simply wouldn't do it justice. So, here's a selection of his 'best' Tweets that led to, and followed, him being made available for a free transfer. The [sic] is implied.

"Song of the day: Milburn "What will you do (when the money goes?)" #decent"

"Quote of the day: If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. George Washington"

"Just because ur told to jump, it does not necessarily mean u have to. I may choose to stand perfectly still. It's my right...just a thought"

"'I am human and I need to be loved, just like anybody else does' #thesmiths"

"Made to train alone today, how predictable........."

"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act. George Orwell"


As you are probably aware, Manchester United have recently been in America. And part of their pre-season tour included a visit to Washington DC. So, like any proper tourist, when in the United States' capital you're obliged to visit the White House.

Red Devils defender Rio Ferdinand was, indeed, excited to be shown around the inside of Barack Obama's abode, and duly started snapping away with his mobile phone. Being the serial Tweeter that he is, Ferdinand proceeded to upload a few pics of the interior of the famous building.

However, Ferdinand shortly Tweeted: "Whoa....some1 has got into my phone + taken down my pics off twitter....this is jack Bauer in Washington?!" One of the removed photographs had been given the caption: "the security needs beefing up here at the White House....!!," and the England defender later tweeted: "My pic of the security was £removed quick, rapido, sharpish, fast....they don't play here in DC...I feel like I'm on 24 right now £baffled."

Photographs of Ferdinand in the State Dining Room and his team-mates eating cookies were allowed to remain online, thank goodness. But the issue was still on his mind the following day, as he wrote: "Training just done in DC....feels kinda weird...feel like I'm being watched by some undercover jack Bauer type hacked into etc."

Video of the week

Two examples of shocking simulation for you. First up, FC Twente's Peter Wisgerhof, here ESPN Videoand second, Shakhtar Donetsk's Luiz Adriano, here ESPN Video. Enjoy.

More than words...

A plump-looking Ronaldo is on the receiving end of a spoonful of cruel fate during the recent 2014 World Cup qualifying draw ©Getty Images

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