14 Aug 2013

Messi, Best, Pele – coming to a ground in Farnborough

The names – if not the feet and faces – of some of the greatest footballers in history will be on display at a small stadium in Hampshire this season, thanks to an unusual sponsorship deal.

Farnborough FC Paddy Power Messi Best Pele Mourinho

What football fan hasn’t sat down in front of an Xbox or PlayStation and assembled a dream team of footballing “galacticos”?

No need for tactical acumen: the combined skills of the players at your disposal guarantee victory over even the most sophisticated opponents. A win-win, in every sense.

Well, if you’re in the vicinity of the Rushmoor community stadium (now renamed Paddy Power Park) in Farnborough this weekend, you can see your gaming fantasies become reality.

That’s because from this Saturday, when Conference South outfit Farnborough FC open their season with a home fixture against Chelmsford City, the shirts on display will carry the names of Pele, Maradona, George Best, Lionel Messi and a host of other footballing legends .

Not convinced? Then just cast your eye over the club website’s squad list for the season: Gordon Banks, Roberto Carlos, Lothar Matthaus, Paolo Maldini, Alan Hansen, Cafu, Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer… You get the idea.

‘Six-figure sponsorship’

As readers may have gathered from a brief calculation of some of those players’ ages, Farnborough’s footballers are not actually the same as their illustrious namesakes.

In a publicity stunt that has already secured Farnborough FC what their website suggests is a “significant” six-figure sponsorship deal with betting giant Paddy Power, the entire squad, including manager (“Jose Mourinho“, but Spencer Day in a former incarnation), have changed their names by deed poll.

The club were up to having a bit of fun with the sponsorship. Paddy Power spokesperson

So where last season the team’s strike force rejoiced under the names Daniel Bennett and Elvis Hammond, it’s been replaced for the 2013-14 campaign by, respectively, Messi and Pele.

And a midfield made up previously of Reece Jones, Stephen Laidler and Scott Donnelly is now represented by an all-time great British threesome comprising George Best, Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham.

‘A bit of fun’

Paddy Power confirmed that the company’s sponsorship deal with the club had been dependent on the players changing their names.

A spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “At Paddy Power we hope to do things in a fun, entertaining sort of way, and the club were up for having a bit of fun with the sponsorship.”

The Farnborough team’s playing abilities are a world apart from those of their namesakes. Paul Trenter, Farnborough FC Facebook administrator

She said that the players had actually chosen the names of their footballing heroes. “Scott Donnelly is a great example of someone who really wanted to play as David Beckham because Beckham has always been his hero.”

Paul Trenter, who runs the Farnborough FC Facebook page, appeared relieved about the sponsorship deal. “Farnborough Town, the old club, went bust in 2007, so most of the fans have already seen their club go under,” he told Channel 4 News.

“It was getting close to seeing the same situation again. So just being able to watch football at the ground this season is a bit of a weight off supporters’ shoulders.”

Inspired to greatness?

And what about the possibility of team members actually assuming the skills of their better-known counterparts? Will Daniel “Messi” Bennett spend the next season confounding Conference South defenders in the manner of the Nou Camp maestro?

“We would certainly hope the names inspire them to a bit of greatness,” said Paddy Power.

Paul Trenter agrees. “Aside from playing in their positions, the Farnborough team’s playing abilities are a world apart from those of their namesakes.

“But hopefully wearing their names on their shirts will inspire them.”