Ebbsfleet lose Akinde magic

After Dimitar Berbatov’s strange menage-a-trois dalliance with Mark Hughes and Sir Alex Ferguson, and Man City gazumping Chelsea, yesterday’s third oddest deadline day transfer was that of John Akinde from Ebbsfleet United to Bristol City for £150,000 plus add-ons.

The transfer wasn’t bizarre because of the player – Akinde has long attracted interest from league clubs and, at 19, is a great prospect – but because of the nature in which it was done. The Fleet youth product became the first player to have his transfer approved by an fans internet vote, as MyFootballClub.co.uk opened up their first real football vote to the 30,000 plus members who own Ebbsfleet.

While the club, and much of the media, have hailed this as a historic step forward for fan power, as with all things Ebbsfleet currently, there’s a lot more to the story than just fan power.

Democracy at work? Well, sort of

Ebbsfleet were braced for offers for their young star, who’d so terrorised Torquay in last season’s FA Trophy final, as the closure of the transfer window moved ever closer. Peterborough had followed up their summer interest with a bid and a host of other clubs were rumoured to be interested in the striker.

So, as MyFC had promised when they took over the club, they put the matter to a members vote – except this was the first serious footballing-issue vote since the internet site voted to take over the club earlier this year.

That takeover vote attracted 18,112 votes, which was under two-thirds of the total membership. The Akinde vote attracted 7,452 members, which is well under one third of the membership, suggesting a further descent into apathy among the MyFC ranks. Of all those who actually logged in to decide on Akinde’s future, 82.3% said yes to the transfer, although the ‘sell’ option was recommended by the manager, Liam Daish, and the board.

Ebbsfleet chairman John Moules told the Non-League Today that the Akinde transfer “shows again the responsibility of the 30,000 owners” while chief executive David Davis told the official site that “being able to share decision-making with the 30,000+ club owners and have transparency is what My Football Club is trying to achieve, and we would like to thank Bristol City for their flexibility and co-operation as we carried out the necessary voting process with our supporters.”

Both club officials neatly sidestep the low voting issue and, unsurprisingly there’s no mention of just how vital the Akinde money will be to the club.

Members mean money

When MyFC took over the club, the idea was the internet fans subscriptions would help bolster the club’s finances and help stabilise Ebbsfleet, while giving them something extra in the transfer market. There have been some successes in this regard.

When the takeover went through Ebbsfleet suddenly found themselves with more money to spend thanks to the cash from the year-long subscriptions to MyFC, and manager Daish talked of the impact this had, meaning the club could buy extra kit for training and other necessities. In July this year, fan solidarity again shone through when Fleet fans raised £20,000 to enable Daish to buy striker Michael Gash from Cambridge.

But the Fleet faithful aren’t the same as MyFC members. Many of the clubs long-standing supporters chose not to sign up to the internet scheme, while the level of voting on recent issues has been worryingly low. On current numbers, they’d be lucky to get around half of the 30,000 renewing their memberships for another year, although with the Akinde money just over half is the figure estimated the club will need to balance the books in 2009.

Cash flow is now becoming a real issue at Stonebridge Road, with figures of £800,000 estimated for the club’s current annual losses, with an extra £150,000 of that coming from an increased wage budget, despite their winning run at Wembley last season. There are extra fans slowly making their way through the gates this season but not enough to break even or support a full-time team.

Quite where Fleet go from here is a moot point. On one hand, the MyFC buyout replaced an unsustainable business model and debt-ridden club with an experiment with an undetermined cash-flow in the long term, which was always going to become more of an issue than the controversial and yet to materialise Pick The Team.

MyFC did do a great deal for the club in the days after the takeover, and are still paying off much of the debt accumulated by the previous owners. But the future is hardly rosy.

Now members – who voted for a recommended increase in the playing budget – and non-members alike are slowly getting their heads around the idea that the clubs operating losses and debts have increased, contrary to what MyFC promised when it took over the club, and in spite of Ebbsfleet seeming in a comparatively healthly positive at the end of last season. It’s not out of the question that, if matters don’t improve, Fleet may have to revert to part-time status.

Despite the hailing of the internet vote transfer as a historic first, Ebbsfleet have some serious number crunching to do in the months ahead and will need to make tough decisions to get the club’s finances back onto a more even keel, something that wouldn’t have been predicted so soon after the takeover. Quite how this will happen remains to be seen.

But beyond all the finances is the footballing side, and both Ebbsfleet and Bristol City can be happy for a deal for a talented young striker. For Fleet, a £150,000 fee plus a potential £125,000 in total add-ons represents great business for a player who has made just 34 appearances and scored 12 goals. This would be an excellent deal for any club at Conference level.

For Bristol City, anybody who’s seen Akinde in action can tell they’ve got a rough diamond of a player who has the potential to become a serious asset to the club. And for Akinde, who’s conducted himself with a professionalism that puts the sulking of Ronaldo and Berbatov to shame, he’s gone from a Conference apprentice to Championship player in a short space of time.

If he continues to impress and improve, there’s every chance that at some point in the future he could follow in fellow Fleet old-boy Jimmy Bullard’s footsteps and pull on the white shirt of the three lions.

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