On the site, each registered user can pledge £35 per year and gain an equal share in the running of the chosen club. Once there are enough sign ups to buy at least 51% of the club, the move is made. Today, with 20,000 members paid up, they are ready to go.
Of course, lazy journalists have reported that it will be a 700k takeover, without bothering to read the site, which states that £7.50 of each donation will go towards administration of the trust, so the figure is actually more like 550k, but with 40% of the members now paying their fee, the purchase seems more viable than ever before.
The chosen club is Ebbsfleet, formerly Gravesend and Northfleet, who occupy ninth position in the Blue Square Premier, otherwise known as the Conference. The chairman of the club, who will lose practically all his rights but retain his title, and the manager, who becomes nothing more than a coach, are both fully behind the scheme.
But it is utterly ludicrous and will not work. You can quote me on that.
Initially, the club is likely to see an upturn in interest. How many people outside the area would be following their progress under normal circumstances? However, if this goes ahead, they’ll have the eyes of the nation on them, all keen to see which direction they go. Attendances may grow, especially at away matches when they play near some of their new benefactors, and if more members sign up, an injection of hundreds of thousands may be made into the club, enormous sums for a side in their division.
But that’s where the positives end. As it stands, twenty thousand people would be voting on every aspect of the club. Let’s look at some of those in turn:
Liam Daish, the current Ebbsfleet manager, will step aside to become Head Coach. The team will be selected, by majority vote, by twenty thousand people. That’s right. Each member puts forward their team, and the players are picked based upon the results.
At first glance, this seems workable. People watching the games will form their own opinions of the players, and vote accordingly. But that isn’t enough.
How do these members know who is struggling a little in training, maybe for confidence, maybe fitness? How do they know who is firing on all cylinders in the reserves? How will consistency be managed when a player has a poor game? How, conversely, will a team rotate? If the star striker is exhausted, but has scored fifteen throughout the season, is he really likely to be rested on a majority vote? Of course not.
The person in the best position to make all these calls is someone who attends every training session.
And it goes beyond that. Passionate fans of a football club know which players are best deployed against each type of opponent. But practically none of these members know anything about Ebbsfleet or their players. How can they tell whether the fast wily midfielder or the bruiser is needed for the upcoming game? And how frustrating will it be for the old manager to know that someone who would be perfect for the game is sitting out of the squad because no-one had the knowledge to make the correct call?
And crucially, if the site attempts to persuade the members to pick a certain side and formation by getting the Head Coach’s input, then the opposition can easily register and get all this inside information well ahead of the match. I’m sure each club in their division would consider that £35 well spent.
Imagine a typical day at training. It is Wednesday, three days before a league match. The coach has pinpointed a weakness in the opposition – they’re susceptible in the air. Much of the next few days will be spent practicing set pieces, with the big centre back planning the runs he’ll make, ready for the big day.
And then, on Saturday morning, he finds that the centre back hasn’t been picked because he didn’t have a great game the previous week. Never mind that he would’ve been a massive goal threat, he’s out. And with him, all that time spent on the training ground, preparing for the game.
How likely are players and managers to stay working in those kind of conditions?
Thankfully members will not be entirely responsible for suggesting potential signings. Imagine if no-one at the club could act until the majority of the members had identified and voted on a target, who may not even be interested in joining – nothing would ever happen.
And given that only half a million has been raised, yet Man Utd and Arsenal are high on the list of clubs suggested as the one to be purchased, the ‘intelligence’ of some of these members is clear. You can only imagine the suggestions that would be made – but surely Wayne Rooney is realistic with a 40k transfer budget?
Fortunately, the system is more subtle than that. Although members can suggest targets, the backroom staff also have that input, and can quietly go about setting up a transfer as they would normally, agreeing the transfer fee and contract details, before putting it to the vote. Members can allow or veto the move.
But imagine the frustration of the coach, who knows he needs a new left back, finds his man, agrees the deal, and then discovers that the members have vetoed it because they want the more glamorous option of a new striker.
Power of the individual
Quite simply, this is removed. I’m sure that each of the 20000 paid up members of MyFootballClub now think they’ll have some influence over Ebbsfleet. Individually, they are wrong. Especially as with the publicity they’ve gained from actually making the move, many more will sign up.
Picture the scene. You, as a paid up member, excitedly vote on team selection, transfers, and so on. You watch as the weeks go by, with the same team picked week in week out, your favoured player sitting on the bench again, and the transfer you thought was crazy going ahead.
Pretty soon you’ll realise that you have no power over the club at all. Not with this many members. Decisions are controlled by the easily influenced and fickle majority. Will you pay up for the second season?
And therein lies the key. There is probably a magic number of members that the Trust will have each year, once it settles down. Too many, and individuals feel that they have no power, and leave. Too few, and buying in becomes attractive for the opposite reason. The point is this – those who actually know what they are doing are in the minority. If they weren’t, being a football coach or manager would be a very low paid job.
And crucially, those intelligent members who have studied the team and the opposition, and figured out exactly what is required, will be shouted down and outvoted by the masses. There is a very good reason why The Sun is the most popular newspaper in Britain, and it isn’t because the majority like well thought out information that has some basis in reality.
The Head Coach will report back to the members on players and tactics after each game, complete with match reports. If a player is struggling, and the coach wants to drop them, how exactly does he convey this suggestion without destroying the individual’s confidence?
And given that members come from all over the world, mostly nowhere near Ebbsfleet, it can be expected that the vast majority will not be attending matches. So upon what information will they be making all their decisions?
Are there positives?
As already mentioned, Ebbsfleet are now getting publicity that they would not otherwise gain. They may also get a decent cash injection for new players. But is it really worth it?
I find myself wondering whether the club are in financial trouble, and seeing this as the way out. After all, they are doing fairly well in their league, not far from the playoffs, and seemingly well placed for the season. So why make this move? Why hand over the power to the public, taking it from those who know the players, and have the instinct to make the right moves at the right time.
Here’s my prediction – Ebbsfleet will start well, and the MyFootballClub experiment may initially seem a success while the players desperately try to impress the viewing public. But without the forward thinking signings for the future, or the knowledge and ability to progress the club in the right direction, it will be an unmitigated disaster after a couple of seasons.
It may appear a smart idea on the face of it, but this could be the ruining of one football club.