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Ebbsfleet and MyFC vote to stay alive

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Never say the British public, and indeed the world, can’t be persuaded to vote when the matter at hand is football. While the rest of England reluctantly headed to the polls to register their disapproval of the government, members of MyFootballClub.co.uk were being balloted not just once but three times for several key votes on the future of Ebbsfleet United.

The internet fan-owned Blue Square Premier football club have seen their budget slashed and many of their stars leave the club, but fans have still been having a say in how the squad will looks next season.

As per other major issues, the fans voted on manager Liam Daish’s future, along with decisions whether or not to accept bids for star players Michael Gash and Darius Charles, but it still looks set to be a long summer for the Kent club.

Scaled back ambition

In the wake of MyFC’s purchase of Ebbsfleet nearly 18 months ago, the membership rose to just over 32,000 at its height and Fleet won the FA Trophy five months after the takeover. Since then it’s not been an easy time for the website-owned club.

Daish’s team was expected to push for a playoff place, but instead they found themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table, although relegation was avoided with several weeks left to go. What’s more, when dissatisfaction with Daish was at its height, members nearly voted to pick the team ahead of the manager.

Except just 492 voted on this matter of picking the team, with a difference of 38 between the two votes, which would have been just 0.8% of the membership picking the team ahead of the manager.

Indeed, MyFC spent much of its first year suffering from voter apathy that makes the turnout at the recent European elections look impressive. The voting numbers on the site steadily decreased (the 18,112 who voted on the takeover issue remains a record high) to the point that, out of a membership of 32,000, between 3-7k were regularly voting on the big issues.

The first year renewals were a watershed moment for the club, when membership dropped from 32,000 to just over 9,000 on deadline day. The club had said that 15,000 was the minimum needed. Although numbers have slowly been increasing since then, MyFC are still well short of that target.

Less members meant less income and suddenly the £10,000 weekly wage bill voted for by members at the start of the 08/09 season became a heavy financial burden on a club hardly flushed with funds.

That budget has now been slashed by 50% to just £5,000 per week, which will be one of the lowest in the Blue Square Premier. Although Fleet officially still remain a full-time side, they will have less to spend than part-time sides, and the newly promoted teams from the Conference North and South are, on paper, stronger than the four promoted last year.

In addition, Fleet has had to release many of their key players to balance the books and don’t necessarily have the means to bring in players of similar quality of experience.

Star midfielder Stacy Long has signed for title hopefuls Stevenage, while Mark Ricketts departed for newly-relegated Woking. Full-back Sacha Opinel also dropped down the leagues to sign for Farnborough, while Conference new boys AFC Wimbledon snapped up striker Luke Moore.

That leaves Daish with just three contracted players: goalkeeper Lance Cronin, and Gash and Charles, and the future of the latter two is far from certain.

Testing transfers

Other lower and non-league clubs will have been watching the Ebbsfleet exodus with interest and, hoping to pick up a bargin, unnamed clubs have put in offers for both striker Gash and player of the season Charles.

Both players have their own small section in MyFC history. Gash was signed from Cambridge after a proverbial whip-round from MyFC and Fleet faithful alike. The 22-year-old repaid them by leading the Ebbsfleet scoring charts last season with 13 goals.

Defender Charles became the first player to officially be signed by an internet vote last January when MyFC members said yes to signing the 21-year-old from Brentford for £25,000, and helped the Kent club steer away from the drop zone.

But both players have their admirers and at the start of last week York City put in a bid of £10,000 for Charles. This was rejected by the MyFC membership, with 1,977 voting to keep Charles an just 60 saying yes to the offer.

Meanwhile, a £30,000 bid came in from another Blue Square Premier Club for Gash and again this was rejected with just 250 of the 2,835 voting in favour of selling the striker (37 abstained).

But the MyFC members will have to go back to their keyboards as another (as yet) unknown club have put in a £40,000 bid while a third team is rumoured to be monitoring the Gash situation.

Making the right choice

Here’s where the limitations of the MyFC mechanism come to the fore again. The voting numbers are still low, although the votes were organised at short notice and ran for a limited time, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that not everybody would have been able to vote during that period. It’s also encouraging that the turnout was higher for the second transfer vote for Gash, as it suggests that the desire to have their say is still strong with the membership.

But, again, the nature of transfer dealings mean the timescale on voting is necessarily rushed. It also means that players and clubs could get frustrated, or, in the case of other clubs, keep slowly raising the price triggering multiple votes until the membership decide enough is enough.

There’s also the issue of price for the players concerned, as there doesn’t appear to be any indication from the board as to what a fair price for Gash or Charles would be. Certainly, it would be unlikely to be anywhere near the £150,000 Fleet received from Bristol City for John Akinde last August, which the membership also voted on.

Some fans have suggested it would be helpful to have a minimum price for the two players, and if the bid is below this price then it doesn’t go to a vote. Certainly it’s in the Fleet board’s power to do this, and it’s somewhat of a surprise that they allowed the Charles transfer to go to a vote for just £10,000, given they paid much more for him six months ago. Given his performances, you would have expected Charles’ value to have risen not dropped.

So does this, then, suggest that Ebbsfleet are willing to listen to offers for all of their squad and putting all offers to vote is somewhat of a fudged compromise? Or is this genuinely a sign that MyFC are finally delivering on the long-promised democratisation of the club?

And how would it affect Fleet if they needed to get one or both of these high earners off their books yet the fans kept voting no, holding out for an unrealistic amount of money? Certainly, any money from the sale of Gash would free up wages for a good three or four cheaper players.

Taking MyFC into the future

It’s only now that the sometimes harsh realities of running a football club are filtering down to the membership. Yes, this transfer may be more open and above board than the majority of player dealings, but it doesn’t make it any easier for the fans to make a completely informed vote.

Similarly, MyFC may have cleared the clubs debts when they took over Ebbsfleet, but the subscription and FA Trophy prize monies not been spent as well as they could have been, which is why the drop in membership – and the loss of income that goes with it – has been so problematic.

How long Ebbsfleet will be able to hold onto Gash and Charles is one question. How long they’ll be able to hang onto the Blue Square Premier status is another. With such a small budget, large amount of their team gone, and strong clubs around them, Ebbsfleet may struggle next season. Part-time status may be forced upon them, whether they like it or not.

But if there is any positives to come out of Fleet’s problems, it’s that both the financial shortfall and the transfer bids have re-energised the membership and could be just what MyFC needs to get the project back on track.

This may involve a certain amount of pain for the supporters and members, especially if the star players are sold and the club is relegated. But they do have over 9,000 paid up members and around 3,000 regular, engaged fans (not even counting the Fleet regulars who haven’t signed up to MyFC). This is much more than many other clubs their size can boast.

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Comments (17)

  1. There would not only be many more menbers but also many more people voting and taking an interest if the site was more user friendly. To date, you have a totally unworkable password that only deters people from being involved. My fear is that next season there will be less members unless the site amends its current policy.

  2. I was a one year member who didn’t renew, basically it was will brooks the originator who wanted to play at football club owner with our money, he manipulated the votes to benefit himself, paid himself over 270,000 quid for the one year and when the members wanted more transparency and say he basically barred anyone who disagreed, oh and by the way the members don’t own the club they buy a membership in the website, that’s all, doomed to fail while brooks laughs all the way to the bank !

  3. Good story by Gary Andrews. A realistic take on the challenges MyFC Society, Ebbsfleet and its local fans are looking at during this closed season. We’re working on boosting our playing budget and if a realistic offer for one of our players comes along, I think the membership might take it. The bid for Charles was a joke and while the offers for Gash were more realistic, the lack of a sell-on clause for a talented young player was an issue. Also, Gash had a sell-on clause when we purchased him, so the monies we’d get to keep were reduced and that made the transfer less desirable. But it’s us, the members of MyFC, who are making the decision – which is really great. I would encourage football fans to check out the terms and conditions of our society at http://www.myfootballclub.co.uk/
    read about us and join if you want to participate in a great experiment in returning football to the fans.

  4. I was also a one year member who didn’t renew. There is no way that the membership will ever be able to run the club in a proffesional manner democratically or not while the operator runs the website. If the members ran the website there would be a direct relationship between the membership and the club. The middle man opertator appears to be more of an obstacle to the running of the club than a facilitator. This may be due to the ease in which it made it’s money the first year the club was bought.

    The operator exists to make a profit based on the number of members it has signed up which in turn benefits the club. This means that the club is not the first interest in everyones mind. Wouldn’t it be wiser that the membership looks after it’s own website and the first entity to benefit from membership money be the club? I can’t speak about the current membership because I don’t belong to it but the original membership contained a diverse set of people with web skills that would have happily worked for free on website functionality meaning that much of the £7.50 of every £35.00 that currently goes to the operator could have gone somewhere perhaps more useful like perhaps the club. Those diverse and skilled people were some of the biggest supporters of the original idea but when it came down to it their enthusiasm was mocked and ridiculed by the operator over a period of months on the forums for all of the membership to see until the club ended up in the state it is in now.

    The biggest question that needs to be asked is why did so many people leave and not renew despite supporting the idea and the answer the operator usually gives to this question is that people left because Leeds wasn’t the purchased club. Ok that might account for a fair number of non renewals but why did so many supporters of the idea who supported the purchase of Ebbsfleet not renew? The answer to this must be that the model in it’s current form does not work. Change the model and the support is out there. It’s doubtful that the operator will remove itself from the equation even if it realised that it was best for the club.

  5. Been eating lemons, veneztiger? You do sound a tad bitter, or maybe you’ve been at the sour grapes? So the project was doomed to fail yet you signed up as a member – hmm…contradictory as well as bittersour!

    Have been a member of MyFootballClub since Aug 2007 and loving it more than ever! Year 2 was always going to be a tough one and with the reduced budget, this season is going to be a most interesting rollercoaster ride and I for one can’t wait for it to start!

    John – not sure what you mean by ‘unworkable password’ – if you go to My Page, Edit Content, you can change the password to whatever you want!

    Up the Fleet!

  6. My goodness, there are some silly people around. ‘Veneztiger’, a mean-spirited internet inadequate, is just plain wrong. The originator did not manipulate votes to benefit himself, he did not pay himself anything above a small wage for the year, he did not bar “anyone who disagreed”…..it’s like listening to a rant from a clinical moron.

    The actual article, however, seems like a fair assessment of the situation. The coming season will prove very interesting. And I agree with ‘John’ that the site could be more user friendly.

  7. A reasonable article but Gary Andrews shows that he still does not unbderstand the set up. He consistently refers to the “fans” voting. Sorry, but the fans do not vote unless they are members of the society – and there are many fans who are not members of MyFC. The members of the MyFC Society are the owners and should be referred to as such.

    Further, Liam Daish is not the manager, he is the coach. This was one of the changes made when MyFC took over ownership. I know that the MyFC concept is new and there are differences to other team and club ownerships but you would think that, by this time, a reporter would be able to get it right.

    As to the drop in MyFC membership, at least we got rid of a lot of the whiners and whingers. As an original member, I must say that my observation is that the great majority of complaining and negative comment in the past came from UK based members. Interestingly, it looks as though the biggest percentage drop in membership (note I said percentage drop) came from the UK based membership.

  8. I am a member of MyFC and have to agree with some points that the “whingers” (as some folk call them) have made re website being a bit more “user friendly”.
    I renewed my membership for the second year so that I could see what is going to develop in what will be a watershed year for the club.
    The only complaint I woud have so far this year is that as a member who DID renew for year two I (and I assume all other members who renewed) appear to be “targeted” to try and make up the shortfall of those who didn’t renew by buying additional years membership, season tickets and club merchandise.
    Why are MyFC not chasing those that didn’t renew to find out WHY and why are they not also trying to bring in NEW members by means of advertising etc. ?
    I know that funds have been slashed for this year and advertising can be a costly venture but how else are the club going to attract new members if they don’t let the rest of the world know that we are here ?

  9. @7 (Nowich 1). Gosh, pedant much? I know only members of MyFC can vote. It’s been repeated in other articles, and when I refer to fans voting I mean MyFC members. That should be pretty self-evident (obviously we’re not talking all fans here…). Anyway MyFC members are also fans, so the fans vote. But fair enough, we have that clarified here, even if we both know that, at least we’ve cleared up any potential misunderstanting.

    Daish as coach or manager. Interesting. I know his title’s head coach but most people seem to refer to him as the manager. If it makes you happier, I’ll refer to him as coach. Anyway, care to put me right on every other bit you think I’ve got wrong?

    The problem with getting rid of the critics, is those critics helped pay the bills. While a lot of the critics often went very OTT (at times you’d think from some of their comments that the MyFC board were the new antichrist). Yet there have always been criticisms that, I think, still remain valid (and many of the worries have come to pass) and have been expressed in the comments already.

    @8 (Goose). That’s actually a really interesting point about finding out why people didn’t renew I’m not sure what the site is doing on that front, but it would be interesting to see what’s being done to boost membership after the first year slump (although the publicity surrounding the recent votes will have probably helped).

    @3 (Left Back). I can see a lot of clubs trying it on with daft bids for MyFC players (if I were the Fleet board I’d have recommended rejecting the £10k bid for Charles out of hand). Good on your membership for standing up to the other clubs. The test will probably come when a bid that’s juicy enough to be tempting without being stunning gets put through.

    As a general point, while there are still various issues around the MyFC model, and there are a lot of ex-members who have complaints, it’s also heartening that those who are still members do seem to really enjoy it.

  10. There was/is a Renewals team who did contact members with the sole purpose of getting people to renew and if not, asking them why not, and they conducted a survey of sorts. The main reasons for not renewing apparently was that Ebbsfleet was too far away, or that the member didn’t have the time to commit to support MyFC/EUFC or check the website. For many, I’d guess that it was a one off thing that attracted them to MyFC and they’ve just moved onto the next thing, eg Twitter or whatever takes their fancy.

    People forget that the original 25,000 members who signed up had no idea what club was to be purchased, so it was almost guaranteed that there would be disappointment for some people. Around 10,000 of them were Leeds United fans, prompted to sign up by Radio 1′s Chris Moyles, who thought they could buy Leeds United – um unrealistic but it caught the people’s imagination. So straight away, those people wouldn’t have renewed.

    It’s just one of those things, people lose interest and move on, maybe there were things that MyFC did that they were unhappy with, maybe it wasn’t what they thought it would be etc.

    Nobody has tried this model before for club ownership so there are bound to be things wrong. It can only improve and it is improving.

    Currently, we have a lot of initiatives to try to get the membership engaged but as with any community, some people want to muck in and be involved, others like to stay quietly in the background.

  11. Ah, ok, thanks for clearing that up about the renewals team. That’s definitely interesting that the distance to Ebbsfleet was cited as a reason. I know this is going into hypotheticals, but it would have been interesting to see if things would have been any different if MyFC had brought a more central club (I heard Leigh was very high up the list).

    I didn’t realise Moyles was involved in getting the Leeds fans to sign up. In the long term, he probably didn’t help things.

    Weirdly, despite MyFC’s current issues, I think there’s some very promising stuff bubbling around the surface and it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

  12. Perhaps it would also be intersting to know how many active members did not renew? There were many members still active on the forums who were not going to renew and did not care that Leeds were not the club purchased. The Leeds excuse is wheeled out far too often by people with their heads in the sand. The real problems with the model still exist and have still not been addressed. As long as there are happy positive paying yay sayers around who dare not ask difficult questions to anyone the model will continue, albeit a slightly smaller version of itself each year.

  13. Speaking as a first year member who has renewed, I feel that this year’s ‘confirmed membership’ shows clear signs of being more committed to promoting Ebbsfleet. The continual bickering and negative comments that were flying around for much of last year did little to encourage anyone- let alone the players. This year we have a smaller but more dedicated core group who can put their energies into building a club we can all be proud of. I’m glad that some of the moaners and snipers have gone. Those of us who remain can roll up our sleeves and get on with the job in hand. Helping the fleet move up and out of this division and onto the next.

  14. Unfortunately BillB you still need to attract greater numbers of new members, bickering or not, it unfortunately all comes down to the numbers. All the determination in the world won’t get past the fact that myfootballclub needs to turn over a lot more members if Ebbsfleet are to even stay a full time side, let alone challenge for promotion. It could also be dangerous to not have people questioning the wisdom of decisions if everything is as rosey and yay saying as it sounds. I realise that bickering and negative comments can become corrosive and ‘unhelpful’ especially when they become personal but sometimes differences of opinion allow better ideas to evolve and creeks without paddles to be avoided.

  15. Previousmember, we still have those that ask awkward questions and have ‘way out there’ opinions – the difference is that much of the sniping and bitching has gone, although on occasion it does manifest itself, such is the nature of a diverse membership. And as for the yay-sayers, without them, nothing would get done or get achieved if everyone disagreed with everyone!

    It’s true what you say about the membership and yes, we do need more members on board all the time – more members = more money, and unfortunately, that’s what it boils down to.

    Gary – Leigh was high up (and would have been a great choice for me) but I think the due diligence revealed that there were financial difficulties that even MyFC couldn’t sort out, hence their descent into Leigh Genesis and subsequent plummet down the football pyramid.

  16. That’s interesting, and not wholly surprising about Leigh (and God, Genesis was a predictable fiasco). I’m guessing Halifax (who I also heard rumours about) were rejected for similar reasons.

  17. Actually no – Halifax were apparently never in contention and didn’t want MyFC’s money. At least one fan was quoted as saying they would rather see Halifax “destroyed” than in the hands of a load of internet nerds who know nothing about football. I’d like to say Halifax’s loss, Ebbsfleet’s gain!