As a lifelong fan of Everton FC, the club given the nickname ‘The People’s Club’ by David Moyes, I feel slightly reluctant to share such a moniker with another team. Everton are The People’s Club of Liverpool because the man on the street in that city supports Everton. It is a nickname that sums up the spirit of the club, and the spirit of its fan base. Everton is what it is today because of its fans, the people of Liverpool.
This is true in a much more literal sense of Ebsfleet FC. Ebsfleet United are a team that are owned entirely by an internet community, organised by the website myfootballclub.co.uk. Each member had to pledge £35 towards the purchase of a football club which would give them joint ownership of said club and the chance to vote online to help run the club. They can pick the team, buy and sell players and even appoint the manager.
I came across this little ‘experiment’ last year, before they decided to buy Ebsfleet United (there was a shortlist of viable clubs) and have been keeping a quiet eye on them since. It is in essence, the purest form of democracy. Anyone can buy into the club, and everyone gets an exactly equal say in how the club is run. There is no over-ruling chairmen, not power of veto. The members of the club vote, and the decision is final.
So taken was I with this venture when I first stumbled across it that I very nearly paid £35 to be a part of it. Indeed, had I not been desperately poor and up to my neck in a student loan then I would have done. I think it is a truly great idea, and the chance to witness the everyday workings of a football club and to actually have a say in how they operate would be incredibly interesting and rewarding.
Of course, I was slightly sceptical as to how successful a venture it would be. It looked like quite a risk to me, to place a club in the hands of a bunch of people on the internet, who don’t have to possess any football or business knowledge to join. But when I really thought about it, I came to see that actually, wasn’t this just a return to how things were? The fee should ensure that only those who are serious about the welfare of the club will commit to the scheme, as it is not excessive, but is just enough to keep the jokers at bay.
To me, this whole venture seems almost a throwback to simpler times. Because football clubs weren’t always global corporations headed by business moguls and backed by shady billionaire’s with mafia connections. When football started out, it was a working man’s game. The clubs were run by working men’s clubs, by teams of construction workers. Indeed, the very reason why there is football in foreign countries is because the teams of ex-patriot workers who were shipped out to continents around the world took the game with them.
From humble beginnings, football has recently exploded into something different altogether. From being run by a committee of members, football is now run, essentially, by the money that sits in the pockets of those in the board room. It is as far removed from the people, from it’s very origins as it is possible for it to be, because of course we still provide the essential role of financiers to their empires.
But Ebsfleet has changed all that. This is a club where the people can have a say. This is a club that is once again run by people. Real people I mean, people with regular, hard working jobs and not enough money and the constant feeling of worry that comes with living in the real world. It’s a club with heart, and a club with feeling and it’s damned refreshing to see.
The most refreshing thing though, is that the club has bloomed. It has been a success. Ebsfleet, under the ownership of their thousands of online members, won the 2008 FA Trophy with victory over Torquay at Wembley, and a very respectable 11th place finish in the football conference. It just goes to show that when it comes to running a club properly, one doesn’t need millions of pounds and some flashy CEO and business managers and all that jazz. The people involved with MyFootballClub have done incredibly well with Ebsfleet United.
I really hope that Ebsfleet can continue to succeed. It is great to see that real, normal people can still have a say in football today, and though Ebsfleet are only in the conference at the moment, one feels that if they can keep up good progress through sensible management, they may start to climb the Leagues quite soon. Of course, in football things are never certain, and indeed what brought my attention back to Ebsfleet today was an article on the BBC Sport website highlighting the crunch day that approaches for the club – renewal of memberships day.
If the club doesn’t get enough renewals of it’s memberships, it could have to cut costs dramatically and the MyFootballClub venture could be forced to sell up altogether. Alternatively, if membership levels are maintained by the renewals, the club will become, in terms relative to their League, very wealthy. Many factors will play a part in which way this day goes for the club, but I really hope that despite the recession, the real people involved in football will care enough to keep up their stake in the club.
By showing such commitment to the cause, they would continue to show up the ‘investors’ who put their money into clubs purely for their own personal gain. The members of MyFootballClub should be commended for investing in a club so that they can help the club itself to progress and grow, rather than their own interests. In a world where personal profit is becoming the be-all and end-all, especially where football is concerned, Ebsfleet United and the members of MyFootballClub are leading the way in showing that football truly belongs to it’s fans. And because of that, I think that Ebsfleet United thoroughly deserve the title of ‘The People’s Club’, and I am honoured to share it with them.