Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ebbsfleet united and my football club

Part of me thinks this myfootballclub initiative, where 50,000 football fans have paid £35 to buy a controlling stake in – and make day to day decisions affecting - an English football club, is built upon an idea that could go terribly wrong. It’s not so much that I think the notion of fans owning a club is poor; indeed, far from it, I think it’s a super idea. It’s rather that I simply can’t think of any practical way that the investors could be as well informed as the current management of the club in question. Under the rules, fans will be able to decide everything from transfer targets to the formation and starting eleven. It appears to be styled on a massive version of Football Manager, the computer game that convinces every user that he or she is qualified to run a football club, when of course they’re not.

Nevertheless, it seems that a deal is in place to buy a controlling interest in the Conference National team Ebbsfleet United who, despite an unfamiliar name, actually have a long history in football, if you trace them back via Gravesend & Northfleet FC to the two original clubs who merged in 1946 but existed independentally as far back as the 1890s. Based in Kent, the club has a small support but a promising team, and are currently sitting 9th in their division, which isn’t bad at all.

Only one division below the Football League, the club seem like a decent choice for a couple of reasons; their physical location, which is slap bang on the new ultra-fast Eurostar line from St. Pancras, and the league they play in, which is (unlike lower divisons) national rather than regional, making it easier for investors to make it to away games right across the country (including one, Crawley Town, which is near me, which is great).

As that last sentence indicates, despite my misgivings, I have bought into the project and paid my fee. Apparently as much as £700,000 has been raised so far and that will be enough to allocate club manager (now restyled ‘Head Coach’, and presumably none too happy about it) Liam Daish transfer funds in the transfer window (which is more than he’s had previously). A new ground is a possibility and, well, who knows? It might just work.

Oddly – particularly since I like football management games – I don’t think I’m likely to take an interest in voting on team selection and stuff like that. It would be impossible for me to do so, when I’m extremely unlikely to see the team play regularly, and I suspect the same is true of most participants. I’d like to see the first action the members take being a vote to defer selection to the manager, with no more than input from the online investors. How are we to assess at a distance, for example, a player’s morale or physical fitness?

Equally, I’d like to see some representation on the board of the club’s real fans – ie those who watch them every week and actually have some real understanding of the team and the level they play at. I can’t imagine them being all that happy about their club being snaffled from under their noses.

So involvement on decisions is not something that motivates me. No, rather my interest stems from the appeal of a scenario where a tiny club, playing to half-empty stands, will suddenly acquire a vocal and loyal support. I’m a strong believer in the concept of football fans (this is a terrible cliché, sorry) being the 12th man on the pitch, and it excites me to think of this incredible invigoration of support.

When I was a kid I used to go and watch Barnet FC (who in those days were at the same level as Ebbsfleet) play every other week for a season or two, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The idea that football is only rewarding at the highest level is absolute nonsense, and I remember my year or two supporting Barnet with as much affection as the time I used to go (with my next door neighbour, Michael) to go and watch Tottenham Hotspur play at White Hart Lane.

Sadly, football has become a terribly expensive hobby and that as much as anything has meant that I’ve not seen a football match since I was about 14. Admittedly, I’m nowhere near as passionate about it as I was when I was a child, but if the My Football Club project encourages a broad section of people, local or otherwise, to engage with a small, inclusive club again, then I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Just don’t ask me who should be playing upfront.


the other jonathan said...

Eeeh I didn't know about this initiative at all- I'll be keeping an eye on it now though.

Come to think of it Ebbsfleet did play up here at Altrincham the other week- unsurprisingly enough the local match reports made no mention at all of the visitors' intriguing managerial arrangements. Maybe if all 50000 online fans had turned up to fill the away end it would have merited a couple of paragraphs.

Will said...

I have joined the Myfootball crowd. It seems such a great idea but I fear it may ultimately be floored. My online discussions have taken me as far as Ebbsfleet fans forums where I have been met with a fair level of hostility. Would you want this to happen to your club?