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Recurrently Generated Football League: Stradley Old Lovers

With cheap tickets, a transfer-free transfer policy, and attacking football, who doesn’t love the Old Lovers?

Stradley Old Lovers crest (revised) Tyson Whiting, designer

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.

Stradley Old Lovers began life in the early 1870s as the elite invitational Stradley Rovers. The London club's initiation was the subject of salacious gossip for years until December 1879, when young hopeful Jonathan Phelps was caught with the wife of Kickstonians captain Wilfred Dalrymple and badly beaten.

Stradley Rovers wilted away in the subsequent scandal, but fifty years later they burst back into life. A defiant Phelps, whose heroism in the trenches at Ypres earned him nationwide fame and an eventual fortune to match, bought an unused athletic stadium on the outskirts of London and converted it for football, re-founding the team with the declaration "Stradley's Old Lovers return today."

Though their reputation for permissiveness still defines them (Stradley's supporters, never afraid of a tall tale, claim primacy in the etymology of the verb "to straddle"), the club's foundational beliefs manifest themselves in many other, and perhaps more unusual ways.

Uniquely among professional clubs, Stradley refuse to purchase contracts on the transfer market (they are, however, perfectly happy to sell anyone who wishes to leave), waiting instead for other clubs’ players to reach Bosman free agency before signing them to long-term deals. This imbalance allows them to pay far higher wages than most other sides in the league, attracting top-quality talent without the monetary outlay typically associated with big buys.

Stradley are committed to passing that savings to their fans. To watch the seven-time champions at their home ground, expect to pay no more than £5, with the notable exception of their £50,000-per-match corporate box seats, which come with a mandatory £25,000 donation.* The club also heavily subsidises away travel, making their voracious support one of the selling points of the English game.

On the pitch, supporters are treated to a team whose attacking verve is the benchmark for the rest of the division. Fast, strong, and skillful, Stradley at their best are capable of scoring by the bushel. They are less attentive, however, to their defensive duties. Once, in response to a question about whether his side was conceding too many goals to stay in the title race, legendary manager Emmanuel Pluton said "We attack; they defend," then walked out.

But their ambivalence towards defending only makes them more fun to watch. Stradley are comfortably the neutral's favourite and most football fans' second team. Apart from fierce rivals Ex Town, now in the Championship, the only club that seem immune to Stradley's charm are Kickstonians. With the history between the clubs constantly referenced in Stradley's match day programmes as well as the sly jokes and winks in their press conferences, it's not hard to see why.

*The price tag has, inevitably, made the somewhat-creaky Stradley boxes the most popular football destination for London's hip ultra-wealthy.

Tyson Whiting, designer