Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Voting For Christmas

Finally, with just over a week to spare in January, My Football Club has released the details of the deal that they at the point of striking with Ebbsfleet United of the Football Conference, and what extraordinary reading it makes. It is notable, as much for what is missing from it as from what is contained therein, and culminates with what I can only describe as being an exercise in "democracy" so lightweight that it gives every impression of being little more than a legal rubber stamping exercise. The vote closes at midnight tonight, and will be the determining factor in sealing the purchase Ebbsfleet United by MyFC. There is a lot of legalese contained within it, and it's too long to post up on here in one hit, but I think it warrants further reading, so you can download it in full from here.

It is a most peculiar read, coming across as being more like an advertising pamphlet than giving any real information to MyFC members to enable to them make up their own minds on whether to vote in favour of or against the proposal to buy the controlling share in Ebbsfleet United. The opening section confirms that MyFC are to buy a 75% share in the club, and explains that the legal firm DLA Piper have carried out due diligence and create documents and, somewhat confusingly (given that they name the legal firm) an anonymous accountancy firm to carry out due financial diligence. They also state that they are unable, for legal reasons, to publish the results of the due diligences in full.

It then goes on to discuss how "numerous" clubs contacted them with a view to setting up a deal, and that, when everything boiled down, three choices were on the table. Irritatingly (though I'll do some scrabbling around on the grapevine and see what I can find out), the other two clubs aren't listed publicly, but it does say this much: "The former would have been too much of a gamble, and relied on a very significant upturn in membership to work, whilst the latter was eventually discounted on the basis of ongoing issues with the stadium". I think I know who one of them was (a Conference North club, once of the Conference, with a famously small support), but the other remains a mystery. There are a number of clubs that have ongoing issues with their stadium - which one could it be? York City? Barnet? Cambridge City? We may never find out.

Next, it's onto the sales pitch. What is noticeably missing from the "plus points" listed to MyFC members is what the benefits or potential benefits are to existing supporters of Ebbsfleet United. We see a lot about how good it will be for "the club" (ie, the new and existing owners) and how good it will be for the local area (the club sponsors, Eurostar, aren't mentioned by name, but they must be thrilled with all the news coverage an area that they have recently poured millions of pounds into is now getting). There are also a couple of interesting references to Ebbsfleet's tatty but homely Stonebridge Road stadium. In one breath, it is described as "small, but [with] bags of character", and that it "can apparently be fairly easily upgraded to league standard if the club is promoted" (almost all Conference grounds are practically League standard, by the way - a rash of clubs didn't get promoted from it in the 1980s and 1990s after falling foul of the Football League's regulations and the Conference reacted to this by tightening its own rules so much that, for a while, you had to have a better ground to get into the Conference than you needed to get into the League), but in the next it talks loftily about "the fact that the local area is being re-developed means that there is a good prospect that a new stadium will be built for the club, free of charge".

Hang on a minute. "
There is a good prospect that a new stadium will be built for the club, free of charge"? I thought that this was poor, impoverished Ebbsfleet, with no cash, small crowds and desperate enough to try anything to keep themselves alive. What is becoming apparent is that there is more to this than had originally met the eye. There is a lot of talk about "regeneration", "opportunity" and, of course, "highly confidential". There's a lot of talk about property, generally. Interpret that as you choose. It continues in this vein for several more paragraphs, along with some almost incomprehensible guff about having three different tiers of shares, plenty more about what a great opportunity this is for MyFC and with practically nothing about what will be for the best for the people that really matter in this whole, sorry circus - the supporters of Ebbsfleet United.


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