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August 12th may be a date that changes the history of Farnborough FC forever.

Rumours were abound that the club had agreed a unique sponsorship deal with Paddy Power, Europe’s largest bookmaker.

Farnborough FC: Latest in Paddy Power's long list of marketing stunts

Farnborough FC: Latest in Paddy Power’s long list of marketing stunts

With an annual income of almost £400million, the Irish company have targeted the Skrill South side for their latest marketing ploy.

They’re no strangers to publicity stunts and controversial marketing ploys – infamous advertising campaigns from them in the past include short-sighted footballers kicking a cat, placing a transgender woman in the crowd at the Cheltenham Festival – “spot the stallions from the mares” was their distasteful headline – and a man shooting tranquiliser darts at ‘chavs’ at the Cheltenham race track.

They also convinced Danish footballer Nicklas Bendtner to sport a company-branded pair of underpants, which the forward revealed after scoring a goal. It’s safe to say that the Danish national side’s sponsor, rival betting firm Ladbrokes, were not overly happy with this – Bendtner was slapped with a €100,000 fine – kindly paid for by Paddy Power, of course.

Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner fined €100,000 for his antics at Euro 2012

Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner fined €100,000 for his antics at Euro 2012

However, this latest stunt may be their most extreme yet.

Farnborough FC, only formed in 2007 after Farnborough Town went into liquidation, made their way from the Southern League Division One South & West up to the Conference South in only a few years – a respectable rise up the non-league pyramid, but one that was pretty much expected bearing in mind the local support that remained for the town’s football club.

Whilst their form on the field was positive, behind the scenes things were once again looking grim – they faced a winding-up order in 2010 and the club was very close to folding once again.

They beat this, but the demon would not go away – in April this year, just four months ago, they were placed into administration, with ‘historic debts’ cited for their problems. Debts of £2million are a massive amount for any lower division club, and a buyer – or heavy investment –had to be found quickly.

Their financial difficulties caused them to be deducted ten points from their total in the 2012/13 campaign, and coupled with a four-point loss for fielding an ineligible player, they ended in a respectable 13th position.

So, what now for manager Spencer Day and Co? Nothing.

Spencer Day, or the name at least, looks like it no longer exists. Paddy Power’s latest wise move in the world of football is to invest a significant amount of money into the club – a six-figure sum so we’re told, which won’t clear their debts but should ensure the survival of the club for a reasonable period of time, at least until a buyer is found.

Admirable that a multi-million pound company would plough money into a struggling non-league side, you may think. But at what price?

Paddy Power have, if reports are to be believed, requested that all of Farnborough’s player change their name – legally, by deed poll – to that of a legend of the game. Defender Adam Doyle becomes Paolo Maldini, Stephen Laidler takes on the unfortunate mantle of Paul Gascoigne, whilst David Tarpey could hereon be referred to as Diego Maradona.

New signings David Tarpey (Diego Maradona), Scott Donnelly (David Beckham) and Paul Massaquoi (Cafu)

New signings: Tarpey (Maradona), Scott Donnelly (Beckham) & Paul Massaquoi (Cafu)

At least we may finally find out if Lionel Messi can cut it on a wet, windy night.. in Maidenhead.

Except I, and many non-league fans, players and chairman I have spoken to today, feel this is making a mockery of the game we love.

It’s a tough position to be in. On one hand, the money invested by the Irish firm will undoubtedly help secure football in the area for a while longer, but many fans are disappointed – nay, angered – by the decision.

A glance at the club’s forum is evidence of this. Comments are generally along the lines of the following:

“This has been done for pure financial gain and no respect for the history of the club or its supporters”; “surely we will become a laughing stock now”; “this is embarrassing”.

Sure, there are some fans of the club who see the positive side. Yes, this could ensure they still have a club to support but where do we draw the line? This will certainly bring extra publicity to the club, and the league – headline writers are already preparing their headlines about Zidane sinking Eastbourne Borough, I’m sure – but is it welcome publicity?

It is believed that Paddy Power first approached a Skrill Premier club about undergoing this change in return for investment – I’m led to believe that it was Aldershot – which is understandable, bearing in mind their own current financial perils. Having been advised against it, though, Aldershot rejected – and PP have set their sights on the side just ten minutes down the road.

Personally, like many of you reading this, I’m passionate about non-league football – it’s what I was brought up on, and I’ve visited over a hundred different grounds watching sides many supporters of League football don’t even know exist. But if this deal goes ahead, I won’t be visiting the newly-named Paddy Power Park – I know I’m just one paying customer and they won’t miss my solitary fifteen quid, but it’s a personal stand against something I feel has gone way too far.

We may not have the best players in the world – after all, if they were as great as we want them to be then they wouldn’t be playing for our clubs – they grounds we visit are often tinpot, and the style of play can leave much to be desired – but it’s OUR league. The moment we sell our identity – whether that’s the club itself or, as now, the player’s names – in return for a quick buck is the moment we lose our club.

It remains to be seen if this does get ratified by the Conference, and questions need to be answered – in the lovely world of the Conference South, players aren’t allocated numbers as such – your striker could be playing 9 one week, 10 the next, and 15 the week after. For each player to have their new ‘name’ on the back, there’d need to be a hell of a lot of combinations – each player would have to have a shirt with quite a lot of different numbers on, just in case they changed shirt numbers between games – starting line-ups in our league are numbered 1 to 11.

Of course, if that does need to happen then Paddy Power would foot the bill for these shirts to be made up, so perhaps that’s not a great problem.

What happens if a player is sold or released during the season? Does Gary Lineker go through the rest of the football season with his ridiculous new name, and will other clubs sign him with his new moniker? If I heard that my club were interested in signing Franz Beckenbauer, then I’d be equally as annoyed – this is a serious game, and a serious league, not one company’s toy/

Even their boss is rumoured to be changing his name to José Mourinho – (I can guarantee you now that he’s not that special) – and assistant manager Leigh Dynan is set to become Mr Sold Out himself, Paddy Power.

Club owners should always listen to the fans when making huge changes. The majority feeling in football is that this move would wipe away any credibility that Farnborough FC have built up over recent years. They would, literally, become a laughing stock. If Farnborough fans – or fans of any football club, be it league or non-league – are against this happening, then we all need to speak out now.

Skrill Premier side Macclesfield Town recently ran a scheme to allow one fan to play in a competitive fixture for them, in return for £20,000 – this offer was withdrawn, though, after the club made an “error of judgement”.

I’m desperately hoping that, if the rumours are indeed true, Farnborough Football Club will realise the colossal damage this will do for the club’s reputation in non-league circles – although not for their bank balance.

Do the right thing, Paddy Power – leave non-league football alone and stick to your unsavoury television commercials.

Originally published at sotdoc.co.uk

Post written by Jack O’Sullivan
Twitter: @nltipping

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

Image Credits
Farnborough FC New Signings © Press Association

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