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MyFootballClub: taking over Ebbsfleet, and redefining ‘Fantasy’ Football



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Ebbsfleet, playing 4 leagues below the Premier League in the Blue Square League, have agreed to be taken over by MyFootballClub.

£700,000 is a lot of money and kudos to MFC and its owners for negotiating this deal and turning fantasy football into reality.

From Wikipedia:

On November 13, 2007, it was announced that the website MyFootballClub had entered a deal in principle to take over the club. Approximately 20,000 of the purported 50,000+ MyFootballClub members each paid £35 to provide an approximate £700,000 takeover pot and all own an equal share in the club but make no profit nor receive a dividend. Members have a vote on transfers as well as player selection and all major decisions. Because of the nature of MyFootballClub, it was announced that manager Liam Daish would become instead the first Head Coach. His backroom staff would remain at the club.

The full details can be read here, some praise here, and some criticism here.

Of course, I’m going to offer you my own version of events, but in any case please realise that the only concrete thing we know at the moment is that this takeover will help Ebbsfleet buy more players in January which could help them reach the playoffs and get a shot at being promoted to League Two.

That and the fact that the manager is good at kissing ass, if nothing else.

While the chairman (Jason Botley, who in my view was just as excited to be interviewed by BBC Sport) was clear on why he had agreed to this deal (“This extra finance and support will enable our club to progress.”), the manager – Liam Diash, took bending over to a whole new level.

“Picking 11 players and formations isn’t a precise science and luck often plays its part. During and after matches, Ebbsfleet supporters often give me their opinion on which players should or shouldn’t start games. Now they can have their say.

My job won’t change that much. As a club, we’ll select the starting 11 players and formation together. But just as before, what goes on at the training ground and in the dressing room on the day of the match is down to me.

It’s the supporters’ money that finances this club and pays my wages and those of the players. So there’s a good argument for them having a say in what players they want to see.”

I would dissect this sentence by sentence but at this point its enough to say that he’s talking bollocks.

The MyFootballClub meme works because of two reasons: One, it gives football fans the opportunity to believe that they are individually in control – an illusion, perhaps, but the opportunity nevertheless – and two, it feeds the belief that fans should have a say in a club’s affairs because they are the ‘customers’.

Both beliefs are bogus.

The average fan does not possess the information nor has the relationships or proximity with the players nor has access to statistics gleaned from research. In short, the fans don’t know enough in most cases to make decisions.

It gets worse – if lack of knowledge wasn’t enough of a problem, most fans also suffer from a lack of consistency – one day Ryan Giggs is playing well and they’d back him, the other day he’s not playing well and they talk about benching him. Football doesn’t work like that – you look at long-term trends as well as immediate battles, not just one over the other.

Would the majority of fans side with the manager? In most cases, they would and as a result surreal experiences of a manager picking a player but being forced to drop him thanks to the fans’ view will be kept to a minimum. There are problems – people who pay wages should not pick players (that’s the one lesson we’ve learned from the Mourinho-Abramovich saga) – but in most cases ‘things won’t change’ because members will go along with the manager.

This brings us to my first observation: The brilliance of MFC is in how they’re playing the fans – giving them a sense of control while effectively little gets changed. It’s democracy all over again, and I can hardly wait to see them takeover another club.

Next club? So soon? Expect the success of Ebbsfleet to spawn a flurry of investment as more people jump in for the chance to own a piece of a club.

There are a few people who think that the novelty will wear off, but that’s an underestimation of the average football fan. We’re easy to please, and £35 is cheap enough for an yearly installment to be known as a voting shareholder in a club.

Why are fans buying shares into clubs they don’t care about (I’m certain that not every member is an Ebbsfleet fan)? Here’s the second observation:

Fans wish they could own their favourite teams and have a say in running them. MFC’s premise gives hope to that fantasy, regardless of whether it’s feasible or not.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy seeing people fall into the false security that MFC provides, and I commend them for playing this the way they have (unless, god forbid, they actually believe their own BS). MyFootballClub won’t crash and burn – Ebbsfleet should flourish and in the future more small clubs will benefit from such investment.

However, will the two fantasies – the sense of control and the chance to own your favourite club – will be unfulfilled for an overwhelming majority of members.

Of course, MFC could just have talked about investing in grass-roots football (I’d pay £1000 right now for that if I knew there would be tangible returns for the community), but that’s not as sexy as running a club, is it?

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.