SO WHO ACTUALLY WAS JOAN FARHAM?
by Rowena Mason
Joan Farham, namesake of the national stadium. Her name is synonymous with Nepharim football. And yet the simple fact is, it is no longer an era in which we can ask why? It's come so far that people are starting to lose track of the past, of a Nephara that was a fractured confederacy of individualistic states. But Farham, who turned 65 two months ago, is important, as important now as then, and we can't forget our gratitude to her.
Joan Melody Farham was born in 276 in the southwestern suburbs of Cranequin, the elder of two sisters. Family life was typically blue-collar, with money the main stress, but they got by well enough. Still, there wasn't much to do on those streets... but play football. Like many future stars, she was the best player her school team had by far and played up front, but would eventually shift to central midfield later in life. It wasn't long until she was picked up by the academy of Cranequin Wanderers, the biggest side of the Trident state league.
The key was that this was before Nephara. The Nepharim existed as a social identity, a race, a people, but New Sideburn was the nation, just a loose confederacy of states. There were nine state leagues (because, counting the colony of Brenecia, there were nine states), but nothing national, because there wasn't really seen as a need. And the players were part-timers, then, anyway - Farham moonlighted as a butcher. But even so, as she made her first professional appearances at the age of 17, everyone knew she was something special. Not world-class, but given time, the best player in the state.
She grew into that player within three or four years... but it wasn't saying too much. The Trident state league was among the weakest, and Farham craved a greater challenge. The general consensus was that Aries, the capital, had the strongest footballers, with Sabrefell Athletic dominant. But domination wasn't much of a challenge, either. So she let her contract expire with Cranequin and made personal contact with the management of Sabrefell Moths, one of the tougher challengers - saying she'd offer her services to them for the maximum wage, and $150 cash in hand after every game on top of that.
The Moths won the Aries state league in her second season in their number 4 shirt. Suspecting something, Sabrefell Athletic hired a private investigator to rifle through the Moths' books, and indeed there was money set aside to pay not only Farham but a couple of other great players. The enraged Aries FA banished the Moths from the league, and barred Farham specifically for five years. The Moths responded by telling the AFA to go f-ck itself.
It was the breaking point for the fractured, semi-professional state of Nepharim football in those times. Joan Farham rallied together a band of her fellow players and established the Nepharim Player's Union, while also rallying together a set of clubs from every state. If the state leagues were determined to stay wage-capped, well, so be it. But what stranglehold could they have over the game when their best clubs left?
The Moths were the foundation club of the new league, but from Aries they were joined by Raven River, Southfell United and Mainstream Fist. AFC Treason, North Laithland and South Laithland splintered away from the Crownsend league. Crisisbless joined from Chardonnay, as did the more rural Leichhardt. Rochford and Brinemouth from the Lazuli Coast, Maximum City and Iron City from Barossia, Chenoworth Rovers and Chenoworth Harriers from Fadden, Parrhesia United and Vermillion Rage from Parrhesia and Farham's old club, Cranequin Wanderers from Trident. Northern Union and Kingsgrove from Brenecia, which was then a part of the league, finished the 20 - though they weren't done yet, with a heroic stretch across the nearby nations of Serenes. AFC Integabad, Leopolis Hatemongers, Raging Fire Hares and Valkyrja Hawks made a round 24 for the first ever Premiership season. And players would be professional - this time there was a minimum wage instead of a maximum one.
The Moths won three of the first five seasons - Treason clinching the third and Crisisbless the fourth - and Farham was finally able to play on the national scale. The theory she'd fought so hard for had worked. Crowds swelled, the best players flocked to it, and what was arguably most important of all, Channel 21 picked up an exclusive contract to air the matches. Soon enough, clubs were clamouring to join, and a second tier was formed in its sixth season, a third in its eighth.
The sixth season was also notable for heralding the arrival of the last club giant to join. Northern Union and Kingsgrove had abruptly left the league. So, for that matter, had Valkyrja Hawks due to lack of interest, coming last twice and never above 20th, and crowds averaging just two and a half thousand - but their players still wanted to play professionally, and so found themselves hosted by the small city of Coret. The rebrand to Coret Hawks only happened very recently. But the departure of Union and Kingsgrove opened the door for the biggest abstainers to date. Tiny Cranequin City filled the demand for a second Trident side, but more importantly, Sabrefell Athletic (who had won the past five seasons and was the only state league side left not in a fatal tailspin) finally made their appearance. This time, flexing their financial muscle was not beneath them, and they were immediately a title contender - them and the Moths won the bulk of seasons before Nephara joined UICA.
Farham's influence on the game wasn't done yet, though. She was, after all, not a catalyst but a very strong player. But she was 34 by the time her constant insistence in a New Sideburn national team was finally adhered to - and, appropriately enough, she was given the captain's armband. It wasn't the strongest side Nephara could have turned out, which would basically have been 90% Sabrefell Moths or Athletic players (who hated each other), but it was a rather more diplomatic selection, at least one hailing from each state. They played a two-headed series with Integristan (home to Leopolis and Integabad) in a 4-4-2 diamond with Farham at its base, winning 2-0 at home through a brace from Darren Keynan of Crisisbless before winning 1-0 away, Sigrun Glass of Treason hacked down in the box. Farham converted the penalty.
She was the Sideburnese captain until retiring internationally at 36, though the Cormorants were not to officially enter WCC tournaments until Baptism of Fire 51, and they generally kept regional. She retired as a player aged 41, leaving a hell of a legacy behind her, and decided she couldn't cope with the stresses of the game. A couple of stints in management followed, but after championing the cause for New Sideburn to join the world game (a fight which, obviously, she won), she was largely done with public appearances. The most recent one, of course, was to cut the ribbon on the stadium the government named for her - the Farham Arena, in the heart of Sabrefell. 88,000 capacity, the country's first and to date only all-seater, completed just five months before the Baptism of Fire they would go on to win. Currently, she lives back in Cranequin - her legacy assured.
Already, the entire Nepharim side was born in the professional era. Soon, Farham herself will die - and already the national game has reached the point by which Farham wouldn't thrive as a player. While her natural talent and determination were great, she was... well, her developmental years were as a semi-professional. But she was - and is - the turning point in the development of football in this country, and it's important to remember that she's more than the name of a stadium.