Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why (and why not) Ebbsfleet United?

Another in my occasional series of posts about why I follow the teams I do. I've done previous posts about the Colorado Rapids, Queen of the South, and Blackburn Rovers. This post is a little different however because I was following Ebbsfleet United FC but I've lost interest.

About a year ago Class VI Grand Poobah Mark Bodmer sent out an email about the My Football Club (MyFC) project. Simply it was an idea to give fans the ability to buy a vote in a professional soccer team and have a say in everything from sponsorship deals to picking the starting 11 for the team. It was founded by a group in England that was tired with seeing the big money in soccer take the game away from the fans. They set up a organization that would allow the average fan to pay 35 pounds to buy in, and with the combined money they would buy a professional team in England. In return for supporting the project each person that bought in would get an equal say on decisions. This would include sponsorships, player contracts, transfers, and yes, picking the starting lineup.

I thought it was an interesting idea and decided to sign up. After a few weeks the group announced that they had enough interest to start the process of buying a team, and by December they announced that MyFC would purchase a controlling interest in Ebbsfleet United FC. Immediately I started following the Fleet, and added them to my list of teams I kept regular track of.

The problem was that what brought me to Ebbsfleet is also what drew me away from them. Since I had no real attachment to the Fleet, other than through MyFC, when I started losing interest in MyFC I also lost interest in Ebbsfleet. Reading the website about MyFC before buying in and all the talk leading up to the team was how we would know everything and make all the decisions. What actually happened was very different.

Instead of having a say in sponsorships the membership was presented a vote that amounted to "Vote for Nike providing the kits, or we won't have a kit sponsor next season". No financial details, no competing offer, just Nike or nothing. The organizers told us that due to confidentiality agreements that Nike required, we couldn't have that information. This would continue through all the early votes, from transfer fess to player contracts. Many times the votes would be presented as "this choice or no choice". As opposed to actually being asked to make a decision we were being asked to rubber stamp the decisions of a few leaders. not only that, but we were being asked to rubber stamp them without having all the information we needed. When asked to decide the weekly player budget we were given 5 numbers and asked to choose one for a weekly budget. It wasn't until months after that we found out that the number we voted on would have to be increased by about 35% to cover player bonuses and other occasional expenses, so when we voted for 10K a week we were really saying 12.5K a week.

While this was going on, the long-promised "Pick the Team: wasn't happening. The tag line for the project is "Own the Club, Pick the Team" but it was decided, again by the leadership, that adding voting for the starting 11 in the middle of the season, especially while Ebbsfleet was in a Cup run, would be "too disruptive". My frustration culminated with a vote near the end of the season where the membership was essentially told that due to confidentiality agreements we were not able to be involved in transfer decisions, and instead we would vote on what procedure the board would follow in their choices for transfers. At this point I felt like any idea that the membership would control the club was gone, and we were now just an extended silent partner in the club.

Given all of that, I just stopped being interested in Ebbsfleet United FC. I didn't find myself looking for match reports, player signings, etc. like I do for my other clubs. Rather than continue to try to stay interested I wrote the 35 pounds off as an interesting experience and decided to move on. to be fair to the MyFC team, I know they have gotten better in the last month or so. They've now hired a Chairman who is communicating directly with the members, and they set up "Pick the Team" for this new season. Still for me it was too little too late.

I think I'll take the 35 pounds I was planning to use for another year of membership and put it towards buying some shares in Queen of the South. Its a team I've been dedicated to for 10 years, and buying a share is a one time cost instead of a yearly membership like it is with MyFC.

Not to leave you with less to read though, I've added a new team to my list of teams. I'll now include the results for Kildare County FC, in the Irish First Division. I know everyone is probably going "Why a team at the second level of a third level European league?", but explaining that will have to be another post. ;)

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