Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ghosts In The Machine

With a Wembley cup final to look forward to and an outside chance of making the Conference play-offs, you might be tempted to think that now is the best time to be a member of MyFootballClub, the website that purchased Conference club Ebbsfleet United and is now running the club. Cracks, however, are starting to appear in the united front that everyone was putting forward between those that want to get on with their real time game of Championship Manager and those that are starting to wonder whether having members of the public that may not have any idea about what they're doing picking the team at this stage of the season might not necessarily be the wisest things that the club could do. Members of MyFC are about to vote on whether to pick the team, make suggestions to manager Liam Daish or let him just get on with it. This may seem surprising, considering that the whole project was marketed with picking the team as being a key element, but the following email was sent to all MyFC members last week by manager Liam Daish.

It's about five weeks since you took over Ebbsfleet United. And just 12 days ago your football club won an FA Trophy Semi Final to reach Wembley for the first time in its history. Not a bad start! Let's all hope it's a sign of things to come.

The MyFootballClub effect

I have to all say, all in all, it's been the most challenging, exciting and exhausting time in my managerial career. Meeting members in the supporters bar after matches has been an eye opener too. We've had a cowboy, someone from Moscow and a couple of lads who had popped over from LA to inspect their new purchase. After the Aldershot first Leg, a young lady dropped a red toothbrush in my pint of Guinness for luck. I was a bit miffed, but it seemed to work!

Joking aside, all the members have played a massive part in the team's success over the last four months. You've put your hands in your pockets to pay for new footballs and new portable goals. Honestly, the lads reacted like it was Christmas Day when they arrived. You paid for an overnight stay at Burton, where we got a draw on the road to Wembley. And the away support has been different class too. I know we bang on about it, but it does make a big difference knowing you are behind us.

Before MyFootballClub added some financial stability, there was a real danger I would have had to cut my playing budget. Instead, you've helped me hang on to players as well as extend the contracts of others. Again, this was key on our cup run.

I do read the forums, but excuse me for not posting. I do want to increase the interaction between us though. The relationship between manager and owners is vital at any football club. Even though there are over 29,000 of you, it's time to get the information flowing between us.

Picking the team

I have defended the team picking side of MyFootballClub from the beginning. Countless press interviews and live interviews on national radio and TV since 13 November 2007 are testament to that.

But with a month of this season left, I'm concerned about going from a standing start to members picking the team straight away. With two games a week, suspensions and niggly, persistent injuries to players like McCarthy and Akinde, I think it's a very tricky time to introduce our new system.

Some might say it's a perfect time to trial it, but I do think the opposite is the case. I believe, and I'm drumming into the players, we're still in the hunt for the play-offs. I've also drilled it in to the players that they still have their Wembley shirts to play for. My opinion would be that changing things now could affect mindsets and unsettle things.

That said, for the last month or so I have been looking at the team the members are picking each match. From now on, I want to give you all feedback on the team you pick. I'd also welcome any questions you have, like, 'why do you pick so-and-so?' or 'what are strengths of Woking? for example. There must be a million and one questions to ask, and I'll do my best to answer them.

I do see talk on the forums talk of a 'manager's choice' button and similar ideas. I think the members should decide if they want something like this and I'd feel more comfortable if this was addressed.

For background, please read the following article from the MyFC Board and thread.

I am more than happy to meet with some member representatives to discuss the team selection process. I hope this will put us in a strong position to be up and running, with everyone on side, for pre-season in July. In the meantime, the coaching staff and myself will provide as much feedback and interaction as possible for the last few weeks of the season.

I look forward to seeing many of you, thousands hopefully, at Wembley on 10 May when we take on Torquay United in the FA Trophy Final. Everyone at the club, including you, deserves it.



This is a significant message. Daish, presumably, is still "onside" with the people running MyFC, and herein lies their problem. They had to offer the "you'll be picking the team" aspect of it in order to sell it to most people, but it seems that the people running it are now getting cold feet about letting this happen. Originally, the plan was for the team to be picked by members by the end of March, but with the club in with a chance of winning something this season, there seem to be concerns that perhaps this isn't such a good idea after all. The web team has set up the following vote for members:

Which statement best describes your view on "Pick the team"?

* I want to pick the team but I don't want the manager to make any changes to the members' selection

* I want to pick the team and I'd like the manager to have some flexibility to make changes to the members' selection

* I want to pick the team and I'd like the manager to consider, but not necessarily follow, the members' selection

* I am not interested in picking the team

* I abstain

It has been picked up on the forum that there is a subtle variation in the language being used in the options above. Why is the word "but" used in the first statement on the vote and not in the others? To give it a more pejorative air? Possibly. The point has certainly been raised on the MyFC forum - some of the votes have not been quite as "democratic" as one might have thought. After all, Ebbsfleet was the only choice given to members as the club to purchase. Members were more or less instructed to vote fore Ebbsfleet and did so accordingly, but would Ebbsfleet have been the only choice had Will Brooks, the site's founder, lived in, say Leeds or Edinburgh rather than London? Communication between the people running it all and the membership has, by all accounts, been atrocious. Accusation and counter-accusation are now commonplace on their forum, and the suspicion is that members are only being allowed to vote on certain issues that suit the ends of the people running the show. Some long term members have already stated that they will not be renewing, and with only just over 2,000 of the 29,000 members having signed up for longer than a year, it's difficult to see how they're going to maintain anything like the membership that they currently have.

It's difficult to have too much sympathy for Daish, who seems to have done little more than toe the party line for the last six months or so. If the statement above is seriously what he thinks, it would be a safe enough assumption to believe that he felt this way six months ago. It is too late for him to now turn around and say that, actually, he should at least retain control of team selection until the end of the season. It's also, however, difficult to have much sympathy with MyFC members. They signed up for this on a promise which has been postponed time after time. They are quite happy to have decided that they know what is best for Ebbsfleet and complaints about this aren't complaints that have the best interests of the football club at heart. It doesn't give me great pleasure to say "I told you so", but I can foresee the wheels coming off this particular wagon sooner rather than later.


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