Concerns Over Tradition, Money, Power

The news this morning that (henceforth MFC) are to purchase Ebbsfleet United has set-off a firestorm. Apparently BBC News has had over 600,000 hits on the story and the MFC website has crashed.

Our own discussion here earlier today reflects the passions the purchase arouses, and there are very interesting points made for and against it. Let’s consider this further: hell, despite my own doubts, I signed up myself this morning to see what the fuss was about on the inside (unfortunately, their forums broke under the strain of my addition). Yet there are genuine concerns about both the potential damage to a traditional club and where all of the members’ thirty-five quid is going.

Supporters’ Direct, who have been critical in England in assisting fan ownership in the lower levels of the football pyramid, issued a statement reflecting their considerable concerns.

Spokesperson Kevin Rye, said: “Fundamentally, playing fantasy manager is not about responsible democratic supporter representation or community ownership, which are the core values of the trust movement.

“Indeed we are one of the most vigorous exponents of reform of the ownership structures in football, but our interests are in long-term sustainability and governance of clubs.

“This might be seen as a one off gimmick, and harmless enough by many, however this is a real football club, these are real finances, and real fans. The question needs to be asked what happens to the club finances and its supporters if the novelty starts to wear off?

Yet it’s worth considering the MFC members’ defense. The Metrologist believes much of the MFC membership is not treating this as a gimmick, and says they will take the issue of local community seriously.

I think, just from gleaning the myfc forums a while, that the vast majority of people there “get it.” They may not all be local in the sense of living in the area, but that does not mean they aren’t driven to preserve the native character of the club. On the contrary, I think the group has a pretty high ratio of enlightened, right-on, participatory-democratic types, who are inclined to act in ways that enrich and serve the club and its community.

So the naysayers don’t bother me – they may be right in the end, for all we know. Only the people who don’t quite understand the project, and imagine that the next move is to rebrand the club MYFC FC or something gimmicky like that. That’s not on the agenda. No, I think there’s potential for a good marriage of technology and traditionalism here.

Frankly, only time will tell on whether the traditionalists such as Adam Bird or twohundredpercent are right to fear this venture or not. I think their concerns do need to be heard by MFC members, but at the same time, there is a certain joyous optimism to the venture as an expression of fan power that is hard to deny.

Most people that I’ve read about who have invested don’t seem interested in just playing Alex Ferguson for a few weeks. Some of the complaints seem to reflect a rather unpleasant view that this must be the idiocy of a plebian mob, with no evidence proffered to sustain that view.

Yet I’m not sure I would have wanted my team to be taken over in an experiment, either: conceptually, it’s a fascinating idea, but not one without dangers.

But there is one aspect of the actual implementation financially that concerns me. Whilst MFC is a registered Trust (similar to the many supporters’ trusts that have played an important role in lower league football recently), a significant portion of the members’ money also goes to a for-profit company. An informed member of One Touch Football explains:

The Mutual Society which I understand owns the club is separate to the private company which ‘administers’ MFC. That takes a flat £7.50 per member for admin, which is another way of saying that before any club gets a penny, the people behind the idea take 21% regardless. And presumably could sell this private company for a sum too.

So, in essence, a not-for-profit shell hiding a for-profit company run by the people behind the idea. As far from a supporters’ trust as you can be, really.

I suppose one could say, why shouldn’t they profit from their idea? Obviously there are significant administrative costs in running this venture, and they’ve been very professional and impressive in their handling of the website and the media so far. I also think it’s unfair to impute a motivation of greed to those running MFC without any real evidence.

But just speaking personally, as a member myself now, I would be far more comfortable if the administrative side was run on a non-profit basis. How about you?

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