This summer, cash-strapped Farnborough FC were unsure if they would be able start their Conference South campaign. The sixth-tier Hampshire side were fresh out of administration and needed to post a £100,000 bond before the league would let them play.
At the eleventh hour, Paddy Power kindly stepped in and offered to pay the debt, but like a stereotypical mafia boss, the attention-seeking bookmaker wanted a favor in return: they assumed naming rights of the stadium and made all the players change their names to those of football legends. Cue hilarious photo opps with a team made up of Leo Messi, David Beckham, Maradona and Johan Cruyff.
Sadly, not even a publicity-stunt rescue from an Irish bookie could get the season off to a flying start. Farnborough had their first few league matches postponed, with the league insisting they still had not met the relevant criteria.
But now there is good news — after missing their first five Conference South matches, Boro have finally been cleared to play. They were only allowed to reassume business, however, if the players all changed their names back.
Judging by their sharp-tongued press release, Paddy Power are not happy that their stunt has been quashed:
Farnborough FC have finally been re-admitted into the Skrill South today, but it will be without the likes of 'new signings' David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Pele as Football Conference killjoys failed to overcome a catastrophic sense of humour failure.
Despite bringing waves of positive publicity to the division and gaining Farnborough FC new fans from all over the world, the spoilsport administrators of the Conference refused Farnborough FC entry to the league unless the famous names were dropped. Today it was confirmed that, following the team changing their names back, Farnborough FC are back in the Skrill South.
In a turbulent couple of weeks following the sponsorship announcement, the cowardly Conference hit Farnborough FC with a wall of bureaucratic barriers in an attempt to derail their admission to the league – despite Farnborough's sterling recovery from administration. Working alongside the club, Paddy Power fought to ensure that all financial conditions were met, but it became apparent that the legendary names were the real bone of contention.
One would imagine Farnborough fans are relieved to have swerved the whole name-change publicity debacle, but a cursory glance at their forums suggests they are too preoccupied with the delight of being rescued from the precipice of extinction to give it much thought.
Until the point where Paddy Power converts the stadium into an aquarium and insist they field a team of otters and sea lions, the yellows will live to fight another day.