Because it’s the international break and we’re bored, the writers of Cartilage Free Captain have been experimenting with machine learning and recurrent neural networks. The Recurrently Generated Football League is an outgrowth of that experimentation: a collection of generated fictional English football club names. The stadiums and SB Nation blogs are also recurrently generated. This is a fictional biography of a fictional football club generated by a computer. For science.
Historically a stable, well-run, moderately successful club with close links to the communities of the small Essex towns that surround it, the fortunes of Fackenham FC (nicknamed “The Hoots” in tribute to their stuffed owl mascot) were changed dramatically in the summer of 2016 after a successful takeover bid from local billionaire Ricky Knight.
An entrepreneur who made his fortune by setting up alcoholic energy drink brand Dirtbag Juice, Knight initially wooed fans with the guarantee of an unlimited war chest for top players. This initial excitement soon gave way to dismay as Knight began aggressively remodelling the club in his own image, changing the colour of team’s home strip from the traditional blue and white to orange and purple, replacing the historic badge with his own company’s logo, and changing the club’s motto from Civitas Est Omnia (“Community is everything”) to Emere Dirtbag Juice (“Buy Dirtbag Juice”).
More controversially, he also gave permission in October 2016 for the club to be used as the subject of Playing The Field- an ITV reality show in which a group of celebrities spent four weeks living in the clubhouse competing for the affections of members of the Fackenham senior team. The filming process was criticised by the players (who were forced to take part or risk losing their contracts) as “distracting”, “degrading” and “particularly difficult for those of us who are already married”.
Worse still, in contrast to the early promises of new funds, the first few months of Knight’s ownership have in fact seen an alarming decline in investment in the club, whilst the club’s academy training facilities, superstore, community hub and parking facilities have all been sold to local developers with links to the Knight family.
Meanwhile the team’s fortunes on the pitch have suffered something of a downturn, due in no small part to Knight’s meddling in footballing affairs. His first year at the club has seen no fewer than 18 different managers come and go (including 6 player-manager stints from members of the first team and three short periods where Knight himself took the reigns).
Unsettled by what was seen as a rapid erosion of the club’s identity and values, a supporters group launched a peaceful protest campaign entitled “We Want Our Fack Back” in March 2017 with the aim of pressuring Knight into adopting a more transparent approach to running the club. Passing up the opportunity for reconciliation, Knight instead worsened the situation considerably by responding with a drunken, expletive-laden 90-minute Facebook Live broadcast in which he described the fans as “more disgusting and worthless than actual slugs”, in addition to other less printable slurs.
This behaviour prompted an intervention from the FA, who banned Knight from participating in all football-related activity for a year — a censure that Knight repeatedly flouted during the remainder of the 16/17 season by turning up to games wearing a fake beard and sat in a wheelchair (a trick which also enabled him to repeatedly make use of the disabled seats).
Question marks hang over the future of this cherished family institution as fans, staff, the PFA, and HM Revenue & Customs wait to see what the volatile owner will do next.