THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

{mosimage} 25 March ~ With social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook boasting millions of members, the concept of football fan ownership has become more feasible than ever. Of course, internet ownership is not a new idea by any means – the Ebbsfleet United example suggests that it might not be a solution. The club were taken over by 32,000 new owners under the guise of My Football Club, who each pledged £35 in 2007. Ownership numbers have since plummeted and the team now hovers above the Blue Square Premier drop zone.

Five Pound Football Club are using the internet to form an ownership model which is similar to that of the failed Ebbsfleet United venture, but its creators say there is a more realistic chance of success. They are targeting clubs in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and insist this is not a real life game of Football Manager. "The Five Pound Football Club community will definitely be football club owners, not football club managers," said Nick Thompson, the founder of the website. "There will be no 'pick the team' gimmicks. The price has been set low to ensure that membership will always be affordable, although members can contribute more if they like. At My Football Club the price of membership has risen significantly as the membership numbers have dropped."

To the possible alarm of traditionalists, a members' poll identified Scotland's oldest club, Queens Park, as one potential club, along with Livingston and Barry Town. Other big decisions on ownership matters will be decided via online polls, with those pledging more money having a bigger say in how the club is run, as they amass more "authority points", though these will be capped. Over 2,000 people have indicated an interest in the project, meaning the scheme has a way to go before they reach the targeted 5,000 members needed to take over a struggling club.

A lot of British football fans admire the more fan-friendly Bundesliga. Perhaps the "50 +1" fan ownership system used in Germany can be adapted to suit such a social networking model, with the online community holding 50 per cent plus one of the shares, while an owner retains the balance. Understandably, many will be sceptical about the Five Pound Football Club and it's unlikely to take seed overnight. But some fans of financially stricken clubs may feel they have nothing to lose. Lee Wagstaff

Comments (14)
Comment by kbmac 2010-03-25 15:21:10

5000 members x £5 each = £25000 = not a huge sum of money.

Am I missing something here?

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-25 16:07:54

Thanks for the mention. There is a possibility that there could be more than five thousand members and members aren't restricted to a five pound investment - so it's possible that our community could raise more than £25,000. Putting a value on a football club will always be difficult, which is why we intend on investigating all of the available options. This will allow our members to make an informed decision - the most important decision our community will ever make.

Comment by Cavalry Trouser Tips 2010-03-25 17:18:51

People won't sustain interest in a football club they don't support beyond a year or so. Look at the car-crash that is the Ebbsfleet United situation.

Please abandon this ridiculous plan and focus your efforts into promoting the supporters trust movement. Real fans owning the club they've always supported - that's a much more sustainable model.

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-25 21:44:09

You're right that if our members don't continue to support the model then it won't succeed. The online community will enable more opportunities to engage with the chosen club. Work and investment in the club's local community could lead to an increase in members of our online community.

With so many fans disenfranchised from "their" clubs - this model would allow the community (both local and online) to play an active role in running their club. The aim would be for our community to make the transition from owners to become supporters too.

The supporters trust movement is certainly worthy of support, but that doesn't mean that it's the only fan ownership model that should be considered.

Comment by Phoebe 2010-03-26 05:41:33

The admins really weren't joking about the quality control issues on the ads on this site were they? This is worse than the ones with sound.

nick_thompson: Will the fans of the club your members decide to buy have a say as to whether they want you taking their club? Or just invited to sign up and pay up? And how much profit will you personally be making from this?

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-26 11:34:09

Our community can help support the club and engage the local community. Consultation with existing fans of the club would be a vital part of the investment process - as we'd plan on upholding their club traditions and values. Of course, they could become owners too.

There will be an admin fee but it will be used to cover the development, management and maintenance costs of the website, which are quite significant for a community of our size. The fee, which is yet to be finalised, will definitely be no more than 10%. It will be clearly published on our website before people are invited to make a contribution. We have no reason not to be open and honest with our members.

Comment by Phoebe 2010-03-26 11:41:53

Very good. Politician answers that don't actually answer the question, even when the question was a nice closed yes/no one.

If the fans of that club made it clear that they did not want you taking over their club, does that mean that you would not buy their club and look elsewhere?

Will you personally profit from the admin fee and/or interest on the investment? If not, what exactly is your motivation - getting the opportunity to play "football chairman" with other people's money perhaps?

And will the members ever be given the opportunity to vote on who runs the company? In other words, if the members are unhappy with you, can they vote you out of office?

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-26 15:09:03

I am trying to answer all of the points that you have made, openly and honestly. The views of the fans would be taken into consideration and put to our members. The decision would be made by the community. Personally, I would vote against investing in a club where we would not be made welcome.

In time, it's possible that I could see a financial reward in terms of the website administration and management fees, but at a rate that would be well below the minimum wage. Any surpluses from the investment fund or profits made by the club would go straight back into the club. As for my motivation, maybe I'm one of the disillusioned fans that believes the gap between the fans and 'their' club has never been bigger? Personal experiences of coaching in some of the poorest countries in the world have reinforced my belief that football can - and should - make a real difference in our communities.

Successful and sustainable football clubs can be owned by the community that they serve. Technology now allows clubs to be supported by not only their local community, but by an online community too. Our community will have a board of trustees and an association president, which will be democratically elected. My role involves ensuring that decisions can be effectively made online. There wouldn't be an opportunity to 'vote me out of office' but it will be the members of the community that determine its direction.

Comment by Phoebe 2010-03-26 16:07:22

So if the club's fans don't want you, you'd vote against it, but if your members still voted to take the club over, would you abide by their decision against the wishes of the fans? Wouldn't that make the fans and their club even bigger? Look at the recent situation with Chester City and the Danish "Chesterprojekt". Football fans should be owned by their own community, not some "online community" who are just as likely to take flight when the first renewals come up, as has been shown by the similar situation at Ebbsfleet.

What if the members of the community determine that the direction they want the club to take involves £5FC, but they don't want any part of Nick Thompson for any reason. Is that a situation that can happen, or is that the only area of the decision making that will not be democratic.

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-26 17:34:13

The most suitable candidates for investment will be recommended for the members to vote on. If the fans were totally opposed to the idea then then they wouldn't be classed as a suitable candidate for investment. Chester is an extreme example of appalling mismanagement and fan neglect. Long live the fan-run Chester FC. Chester would not have been a suitable candidate for investment from our community.

Obviously, I don't think that it's unrealistic that an online community could support a football club. This might be where we agree to disagree? In a similarly extreme example, I doubt all of the Barca 'socios' are based in Catalonia. An offline community with members from around the world have helped create and sustain the best club in the world (at this moment in time).

I am not looking to spearhead the community when it is up and running, although I will be a willing contributer. It will be a member-led organisation, where my opinion will only be valued as much as the other members. It's possible that members might not like me or some of the other members but it's not a popularity contest - it's a community to ensure the democratic running of a fan-owned club.

Comment by Phoebe 2010-03-27 11:56:38

What if the members of the community determine that the direction they want the club to take involves £5FC, but they don't want any part of Nick Thompson for any reason. Is that a situation that can happen, or is that the only area of the decision making that will not be democratic? Can you be removed from having any involvement from £5FC by it's members? Yes or No? It's a simple enough question. It doesn't need a four sentence answer, one word will do. It's like you personally have something to hide.

Comment by Cavalry Trouser Tips 2010-03-27 13:06:46

If you're truly serious about this venture Nick, why don't you invest some of your own money upfront in getting a proper website built, instead of cobbling together a free one using a free template?

Or is it only the mugs you want to sign up to this nonsense that should put their hands in their pocket?

How old are you and what kind of background/experience do you have that would make you suitable for such a venture?

Comment by nick_thompson 2010-03-27 20:50:29

Phoebe: No, there won’t be the option to remove me from having any involvement from the community (unless I break the community rules). Although, as mentioned before, the people that help shape and give direction to the community will have democratically elected roles.

Cavalry Trouser Tips: A new version of the site has gone live this afternoon (yes, using my own money. We haven’t asked the members for a penny). There is also significant personal investment being channelled into the development of an interactive members area.

I’m 26. Before university I coached youth football locally and further afield, in Africa. At university I coached the women’s team and captained the men’s team. After graduating I joined a marketing leading technology company, which is where the idea of the Five Pound Football Club community has evolved.

Comment by friejose 2010-03-30 12:59:36

It's deja vu to read this thread. As someone who has been involved with MyFootballClub from practically the beginning and who flew from the US (twice) to watch the Fleet play after MyFC bought a controlling share in EUFC, these arguments by Phoebe and Cavalry Trouser Tips and explanations by Nick sound too familiar.

The idealist hope to bring fans closer to the game through the power of the internet/social networking. This is followed, like clockwork, by two interrelated criticisms by self-styled defenders of the game. First is the plaintive wail decrying the fate of the long-suffering fan of a small club, who will be supposedly muscled out by ill-meaning outsiders with short attention spans. Then follow the baseless accusations of financial impropriety or (gasp!) that someone may make some money off of such a venture.

I don't know if Nick's proposal can or will work and I have no idea about his personal financial integrity. What I do know is that professional football in the UK is broken. Lots of people have thought and written about the Premier League, so I want to put that aside and focus on the levels beneath that, in particular, non-league football.

This won't be popular, but it needs to be said: English non-league football as currently constituted is financially unworkable, as the very things that make it so endearing to long-time fans render clubs unable to budget or plan properly. Relegation and promotion is a great tradition that leads to heart-stopping fixtures and generations of captivated supporters, but it also leads to short-term thinking and a failure to follow a budget. Crumbling terraces and selling only bovril at the one concession stand are very atmospheric, but don't draw new fans to matches and actively discourage many potential fans from coming. The culture of selling players leads to incoherently structed teams and the inability to build a squad for years to come. The lack of geographic exclusivity means too many clubs and not enough fans.

And finally, utterly conservative and close-minded fans keep any sort of change from happening. It is in this way that the the very people who profess to love non-league football the most are also doing the most to destroy its future viability.

Supporters' trusts are one way forward, and FC United and AFC Wimbledon show how fan-controlled clubs can be phenomenally successful, both financially and on the pitch. But this cannot work in every situation, however. If people really want non-league (and likely League 1 and 2 as well) to survive, they have to start thinking creatively about how clubs and leagues are structured. If such a rethink is to mean anything, it must mean that everything is on the table and that no idea gets shouted down because it has never been done before or offends the sensibilities of a small clique of hard-core supporters.

I've used somewhat incendiary words perhaps, and left out a lot. But until fans like Phoebe and Cavalry Trouser Tips stop focusing on tearing down people with new ideas and start coming up with some ideas themselves, the non-league death spiral will only continue.

Related articles

New Kuwaiti owner takes over at Ebbsfleet United
MyFootballClub experiment over 17 May ~ Ebbsfleet may be most famous for its international railway station but the town's football team will...
MyFootballClub give up control of Ebbsfleet
Shares transferred to supporters' trust 26 April ~ The MyFootballClub experiment appears to have ended after their members voted to relinquish...
Ebbsfleet United need a boost, not an experiment
18 November ~ Tonight all eyes would have turned to Stonebridge Road, Northfleet, where AFC Wimbledon had a chance to set up a much anticipated FA...