Myfootballclub.co.uk Purchases Ebbsfleet United, Fan Ownership on the Rise

Myfootballclub.co.uk and their thousands of members have agreed a deal to buy Ebbsfleet United, of the Blue Square Premier (Conference National), one rung below England’s Football League. Doubts are already being voiced by those within the footballing establishment, with Birmingham’s co-owner David Sullivan opining that it “it will be an utter disaster.”

“I look forward to the experiment but I think it will be an utter disaster, although I could be very wrong,” said Sullivan, who spoke to BBC Sport before the takeover announcement was made.

Sullivan predicted the website could face insurmountable hurdles if fans were involved in player transfers.

“If a player is in demand you need an instant decision, you can’t go on the internet for six or 12 hours and let people vote,” added Sullivan.


From the other side of the barricades, many fans of non-league football are concerned about the experiment, seeing myfootballclub.co.uk as coming in and messing with the existing community that surrounds a small club such as Ebbsfleet United. Blogger twohundredpercent, for example, rips into the entire concept:

A period of contract signing will now begin which, it seems likely, will result in another club being taken over by a group of people that know nothing and care little more about the long term wellbeing of Ebbsfleet United FC. Whether that organisation has 2 members of 20,000 strikes me as being utterly irrelevant. Ultimately, this club has been sold to be the plaything of a few thousand would-be Alex Fergusons. Whether this proves to be beneficial to the club and its supporters is open to question, but one thing remains certain. Myfootballclub and Jason Botley have done very nicely indeed out of this, and would appear to be the only thing that matters to them.

The choice is interesting as Ebbsfleet supporters seem to have accepted fairly meekly another big chance in recent times: they were previously Gravesend & Northfleet, but in May changed their name to reflect sponsorship by Eurostar, who use Ebbsfleet International railway station. We’ll soon find out how the supporters take to their new fan overlords, and how manager Liam Daish (who will stay on) deals with MFC’s role in team affairs.

Here’s Ebbsfleet are at play last month:

Ebbsfleet

This will shine a spotlight on English football far, far below the focus of 95% of coverage on the Premiership. Whilst some will argue a gimmick threatening a club’s tradition is unwelcome, English football still thrives in the lower reaches like nowhere else in the world. Indeed, supporter ownership there has been crucial in recent years, with supporters’ trusts stepping in to save numerous clubs threatened with extinction. That kind of native effort is, of course, vastly different from myfootballclub.co.uk’s approach.

But the latter does reflect a growing interest in supporter involvement; Drew Carey, a member of Barcelona himself, hinted the new Seattle team would give fans a role in running the club. There is already an American imitator of myfootballclub.co.uk attempting to launch as well.

But will this more extreme experiment work, on and off the field?

Update: see here for more about the concerns and questions about the ownership.

9 thoughts on “Myfootballclub.co.uk Purchases Ebbsfleet United, Fan Ownership on the Rise

  1. The Metrologist

    Tom -

    Random thoughts:

    As noted a couple days ago, I decided to throw my money myfc’s way a couple months ago, so I’m not completely unbiased on this. Waking up and catching this news first thing in the morning – I’m excited. Realistic, but excited.

    To comment on this part about supporter ownership in the lower leagues:
    “That kind of native effort is, of course, vastly different from myfootballclub.co.uk’s approach.”

    While myfc isn’t a “native” effort as some other supporters trusts, I think (in fact, I TRUST) that the “acquisition team” (for lack of a better term) and the 20,000-odd people who’ve stumped up their #35 have taken and will continue to take pains to preserve the existing traditions and culture of Ebbsfleet United, formally and informally. This is absolutely essential in my eyes, and I (for what it’s worth) would be against anything that degrades or overwhelms what the supporters. We as “owners” should tread very lightly.

    I suppose some unkind wags could question the very basis for such statements about club culture, since we’re talking about a non-conference club that has gone through an identity change of sorts not many years ago, to go with a merger decades ago. No, it’s not exactly Barca. But I’m particularly sensitive to this line, having been a fan of a third-tier, non big-league team (in the Metros) that others perceived to have “no tradition” when RB took over. Nothing pissed me off so much as that – how ignorant. A comparatively short and inglorious tradition, produced and shared by a couple thousand people, is a worthwhile tradition nonetheless; it was true for Metro and of course it is true for Ebbsfleet United, which is a far older club. It really doesn’t matter where on the pyramid it lies.

    That’s my stance, anyway. 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.

    Further, I think there’s some real validity to the “Wisdom of Crowds” approach (which, as some people on the myfc board have said, this is not *precisely*, though there are certainly important elements of it). Naif (and complex-systems-buff!) that I am, I do believe that the combined attention of thousands of amateur but motivated supporters-scout-critic-managers can be of benefit to this club. As someone else said somewhere, while the supporters, acting collectively, may not always make great decisions, this kind of process makes it extremely likely that the club will avoid disastrous decisions. I don’t necessarily think the team will now rise irresistibly to the Premiership – not that that should be the criteria. I do imagine it’ll be stable, well-financed, well-attended club for its level. And I believe (and hope) that beyond getting caught up with the fortunes on the field, the kind of people getting involved are likely to recognize the part a club plays in its community, and will seek to strengthen, not corrupt those ties.

  2. Antonio G

    This has already been done, in France, with Web FC, who played in one of the Northern regional leagues (9th tier on the pyramid). It worked quite well for awhile – though I assume it ended because their website has been dead for about 18 months now…

  3. Thomas Dunmore Post author

    Do you know if Web FC took over an existing club, AG? The 9th tier in France is also obviously far more obscure than the 5th tier in England, and I think that members didn’t even invest their own money. So it’s a precedent, but pretty different.

    Metrologist — I’m heartened by your comments. I think I may join myself to see what it’s like. But there are still concerns about the set-up that I’ll go into in more detail in another post shortly.

  4. The Metrologist

    You’ll have some work to do to get far on the site today :) Looks like they’re getting hit hard after the news hit the media.

    Just another note: I really like twohundredpercent, but really!

    “Ultimately, this club has been sold to be the plaything of a few thousand would-be Alex Fergusons.”

    As opposed to the bigger, ultimately more significant clubs being transformed into cash machines for leveraged-buyout mavens, human rights-abusing international fugitives, and litigation-happy thugs?

    I’ll take the idealistic “internet geeks” (what are we? we’re on the internet, right?) and Fergie wannabes everyday, thankyouverymuch.

  5. Adam Bird

    Having being born in Gravesend and lived there for most of my life, I find today’s news a sad state of affairs.

    I have a small blog which notes my personal thoughts on the matter, as well as the name change from earlier in the year.

  6. Ian

    I was a bit limited in what I could say because I was at work, but I will be expanding on my opinions on the matter this evening. I’m unlikely to be any more approving of it.

  7. Pingback: Pitch Invasion · Concerns Over Myfootballclub.co.uk: Tradition, Money, Power

  8. Antonio G

    If memory serves, Web FC was not an existing club, members did not invest their own money, but there was a hierarchy of decision-making. The more you logged on and “worked” on the team (through voting, etc.), the higher up the hierarchy you went and the more weight your opinion was given. You couldn’t get a bunch of mates together and vote to stick the striker in the net.

  9. Robert Tilling

    I am fascinated by the idea but cannot imagine how 20,000 people can pick a football team. You need a vision surely; not a average of what a group thinks. And how many will stick around in 6-8 months when their decisions don’t seem to be having any input on the team that they can see.

    Adam, I enjoyed your article and have cherry picked a bit for a round up of media on this subject for my blog :-) Please email me if you had rather I didn’t!