Monday, November 19, 2007

My Football Club Re-Visited

It's funny how writing this blog ebbs and flows (no pun intended). A couple of weeks ago, I was really struggling to find things to put up on here and now I haven't got enough time to write as much as I'd like. Over the weekend I downloaded 800mb of terrible football songs from all around the world. The vast majority of them are untagged, so I've got no idea which clubs or players they're even about. Will I be posting regular selections of them up here for your delectation? Well, what do think? There will also be more vintage Baker & Kelly (probably later tonight, as it goes), a live commentary, no less, on the England vs Croatia match on Wednesday night (providing I'm not called up to play myself, and I haven't yet completely ruled that out), my thoughts on the man that must surely be football's biggest Judas (I think you can probably guess who that is) and much, much more.

However busy I am over the next few days, though, I am unlikely to be as busy as Will Brooks has been over the last few days. Will, after all, had to combine the enormous media interest in MyFootballClub with a long trip from his London home to Oxford United on Saturday to see his newly-beloved Ebbsfleet United play in the Conference and fit the time in to write a quick hagiography on his new project for the BBC. Interestingly, the media have been getting their claws into this project over the last few days, with The Times' Martin Samuels and The Observer's Jamie Jackson both coming to the conclusion that there may be more to this than the MyFC publicity machine would like you to believe. Now, I'm not going to suggest that anything underhand is going on here, but it would have been nice to see the BBC offer some slightly more balanced reporting of the matter. It might be unsurprising, given that Brooks was one of their own, but I would ask you to consider whether, having looked at their supporters' message board (the nearest that we have to an acid test at this precise moment in time), whether this is something that Ebbsfleet's own supporters actually want or not.

Before we go any further, I would like to reiterate a couple of points that I made in passing on here, which I really think should be made again. Firstly, I cannot overstate how very strange I find it that an IPS would make one of its main rules the need to maintain a contract with a private company. This is simply something that I have never heard of before. Secondly, for all the talk of Trust status (and, to be fair to MyFC Trust, they do appear to have copied and pasted a considerable amount of their Trust rules from the Supporters Direct pack), their trust document, I have it on very good authority, falls some way short of what SD themselves would describe as "best practice". To put it another way, this is quite simply not the sort of set of Trust rules that SD would endorse.

I have commented on here before that it is strange that, considering the standard Trust requirements for transparency and openness, their forum should be closed to anyone that isn't a fully paid-up member. How fortuitous, then, that the rest of us can get access to it if we know the right people to ask. I have decided not to post wholesale messages on their from the site's administrators that I find "of interest", so we'll just suffice to say, for now, that the message from "The Legal Team" dated 30th August 2007 was something that I found most illuminating. Points such as this:

7. As to the GBP7.50 and where it goes - we don't really want to get drawn into a long debate about this.

Do not exactly fill me with confidence. I would say that Trust members have the absolute right to know where 21% of their membership fees go. The key question, which I still haven't seen a convincing answer to, is this: What mechanism is in place for the supporters of the club, who will still be there long after the media circus has left Ebbsfleet United FC, to have a say in the running of their club? Saying "they can join MyFC" is a whitewash. Their 1,000 voices will, if they differ from those of the 20,000+ members of MyFC will be drowned out. If it all goes wrong, they will be the ones picking up the pieces. My position on the matter remains unchanged, and nothing in their PR machine has had any effect on me other than leaving me feeling most uneasy about this entire venture.

I don't disagree, in principle, with the concept of the supporters (or whoever) managing the team. You can do whatever you like to the team, and the chances are that there will still be someone for the supporters to support at the end of the day. At non-league level, a large number of the fans don't even really care that much if the team wins or not. Gravesend & Northfleet, for example, have bounced between the Conference, Southern League and Isthmian League for the last 30 years or so - if MyFC were in charge of the team alone and got them relegated, it wouldn't be the end of the world for their supporters.

You can't fuck about like that with the club, though. The problem with MyFC is twofold:

- No-one was going to just let them run the team. They'd have to buy a controlling share in the club in order to do what they wanted.

- In order to buy a controlling share in a club, they'd have to get tens of thousands of people to sign up and, to get tens of thousands of people to join, they had to promise something BIG. So, they couldn't start a club from scratch - too many overheads, and is Joe Average, who quite possibly doesn't give a shit about anything below the Premier League, going to want to start in the County Leagues and pick his or her way through the non-league system for five or ten years before they even get a sniff of Conference football? So, they had to buy a club that was some way up the ladder already and, in doing that, they're buying into something that is more important that "just a little football club". It's a contradiction to which there is no resolution.

This is why AFC Wimbledon and FC United could start at the bottom and build up. People that are fans of the club will stick with it for years. They'll probably get to the Football League (or close to it) in ten or twenty years, because they have people there willing to put the hours in to put the building blocks in place. So far as I'm concerned, the line that you draw is between the team and the club. Do what you like to the team, but don't take over a club and use it as the basis for an experiment.

(Some of you may recognise the last couple of paragraphs from OTF - it's as near as I've managed to crystallising my thoughts on the matter in less than 1,000 words so far)


Tom said...

I think you make an excellent point about why MyFC didn't start from the very bottom and build-up, Ian. You've captured the difference between local supporters' trusts or the efforts of AFC Wimbledon, FC United and this project very well in this post.

I'd like to see this idea tried on a regional basis, though, built from the ground up. I think it could work, on a small scale, and it'd be fun to try. It wouldn't get twenty thousand members or much discussion on 6-0-6, and it wouldn't make anyone rich. But it'd be more in tune with how community football should be developed by fans sick of the Premiership parade.

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