The only way is up

Fancy buying a club for the price of a match ticket? As Ian Plenderleith reports, a website is halfway to giving its subscribers the chance to vote on team tactics. Plus, the Homeless World Cup is coming up

It is painting itself as “Football’s greatest ever adventure” – a democratic, egalitarian, online football club run by 50,000 people, all with a single vote each. My Football Club is a website now taking pledges from individuals who will put up the necessary cash to buy a single team. You will then sit back and at the touch of a few buttons help to run the club from the safety of your desk or your favourite coffee house. Who said you needed to be a megalomaniac
millionaire to own a football club?

The team you will partly own may come from the Premiership, the Football League or non-League, down to the North and South Conference level. Once 50,000 people have pledged, you will each donate £35, raising £1.375 million to buy 51 per cent or more of a club with no debt (or manageable debt) and with “the potential to reach the Premiership” (so in theory any team bar maybe Rotherham). As a shareholder, explains the site, “you will vote on team selection and formation. You will also have a say in tactics, by voting for your preferred style of play and
substitutions depending on match situations. The head coach will field the 11 players, formation and tactics chosen by ­MyFootballClub members.”

That sounds ideal, as long as you can find a head coach prepared to skim through a database on his laptop before deciding whether to stick the big lad on up front to try to get an equaliser with 15 minutes to go. “Wait a second, lino, my wireless connection’s down!” That head coach, by the way, will be in place of a traditional manager, but he can’t be sacked for picking a team voted on by you, the owners. Every week, the plan goes, the coach will present an online video with his thoughts on the team and the tactics. Then your votes on the line-up and formation for the next game will go into the database to tell the coach what to do and the days of the
manager’s handwritten team sheet pinned to a board will be over for good.

At the time of writing, the site was over halfway towards its target pledge figure, while the most popular team to be taken over was Leeds United. It’s hard not to suspect a mass online campaign to ensure that club is shut down for ever, but the team most voted for will not necessarily be the club that’s taken over, for the obvious reason that a takeover may not be feasible. A team will be chosen using “due diligence”.

The £35 will be an annual fee, to keep the club running and buy new players, and you will take part in all major financial decisions. It’s true that real fans of your new club might be alarmed at being taken over by 50,000 computer-based nerds, but according to the site many “will recognise the benefits of being owned by thousands of football lovers from around the world, rather than a single individual with unknown motives”.

Members, furthermore, “will all be putting money directly into the club, not looking to take any out, and will be solely motivated by the club’s success. No other takeover or new owner will promise that.” Even the players will love it, apparently, because they won’t be able to fall out with the ­non‑existent gaffer. Although you can see the site’s planned chat forum turning into a lively place when a journeyman left-back starts a thread asking about an extra ten grand a year (or ten grand a week and a racehorse, if you’ve managed the stated goal of reaching the Premiership).

Still, there have been many worse ways to run a football club down the years and, even if it doesn’t work out, it will certainly be intriguing to examine the reasons such a venture might fail. If it does fail, you’re only wasting the price of a Premiership match-day ticket and at least these players will be for real, not part of a sad fictitious fantasy team that only exists in your head and your hard drive. I’ve already pledged my crisp English pounds, although I’m not sure I could stomach owning even one fifty-thousandth of a swivel chair that Ken Bates’s arse cheeks might once have touched.

An altogether different but equally worthy venture is the Homeless World Cup , which is due to take place in Copenhagen from July 29 to August 4. An annual event now in its fifth year, the tournament’s website claims that 77 per cent of the players who took part in the 2005 finals in Edinburgh have now moved into training, jobs and homes, come off drugs and alcohol, or been reunited with their families.

“It also changes the attitudes of the public towards homeless people who are treated as heroes during the tournament and acknowledged for their courage and determination whilst encouraged and supported in transforming their lives,” the website says. It features numerous stories of individual players who used street football and the tournament to get their lives back on the rails. The site is still raising money needed to enable several teams from African countries to travel to the tournament and the Homeless World Cup is also looking for sponsors and volunteers. In the absence of a World Cup or European Championship this summer, you could do worse than fill the void with a competition focused on need rather than greed.

From WSC 245 July 2007