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Ebbsfleet lose Akinde magic

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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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Comments (13)

  1. Personally I was surprised by this transfer. If you have owners who can bankroll the club AND you have a player who can fire you towards promotion, wouldn’t you prefer holding on to him?

    I suppose that if MyFC wasn’t around then we wouldn’t be asking, but the point is that they are around, so why sell? Figure it was the player agitating for a move?

  2. Sadly most of this article very accurately portrays what is going on with MyFC. Involvement of the membership has fallen away considerably and as a result one would have to question how many will renew next season. With the club making large losses every month these renewals are crucial to keep the club going.

    Ahmed rather misses the point in that the MyFC members don’t really have the cash to be able to bankroll the club and the Akinde money is going to be a big help in funding the day to day running of the club.

    The one thing I would dispute is that of picking the team. It is an available option, but since people can select the “leave it to the manager” option it has yet to be put into practice.

  3. Pete,

    Fair point. I suppose if this was a successful operation where members were actually fans, we wouldn’t have this problem, would we?

  4. It’s the nature of the Conference that most players are on short contracts. Akinde was only on a contract until the end of the year. If he wasn’t sold now he would walk away for much less at the end of the season.

  5. The vote was conducted within 48 hours with very little warning that it would take place. 7500 is a very good number. You are quite correct about the financial problems. How many clubs do you know who have published their current and projected finances in detail, or discuss them with 30000 interested parties? We are trying to work our way through it. I doubt we are the only football team in this boat. We are just the one that allows its members to participate in this way and do so openly.

  6. Clearly, the reality that Akinde was only under contract until the end of the season and then the transfer compensation would be set by a third party was relevant. It was also relevant, however, that it is neither decent nor good business to deny a young man a potentially life changing opportunity. I wish John Akinde all the best, thank him for his services to date and sincerely hope to see him playing in the Premiership next year.

    Elaine
    Norman, Oklahoma USA

  7. Ahmed,

    The reason the vote was so lopsided was that Akinde’s contract was up in a few months and he had already said that he wouldn’t resign. He’s also been in slightly suspect form recently, seeming to suffer from a lack of confidence–he’d not started a game yet this season, actually. Given the cash crunch EUFC is in, it just made sense.

    On a more positive note, gates have been over 1,800 for home games, up 400-600 over last year. If Ebbsfleet can stay afloat for a few more years, we’ll be in good shape. The next year will be scary, though.

    Oh, and I pick a team every game. Those who vote choose to let Liam pick his team–so far, they’ve been almost identical every time. I think the member-chosen team will be put into effect some time this season, the votes are pretty close.

  8. This is the reality of football today – the Fleet are losing a quarter of a million a year, and so too are most of the other top 100 clubs. The difference is that for the others one or two people have to find the quarter million, for the Fleet’s owners we each only need to front up 35 quid. Join us for the ride, it is fascinating, believe me!

  9. Great balanced journalism.Perhaps the best article I have read about this matter

  10. tomchaps,

    I would love to see MyFC work – fans running football is a heart-warming idea.

    Thanks for clearing up my confusion on the matter though – I knew MyFC needed the money but I didn’t know Akinde was looking to jump…

  11. Good article – but there were one or 2 inaccuracies.

    The £20K raised for Gash was not just a local whip round from Fleet ‘faithful’ fans – it was embraced by MyFC website and the contributors to the fund came from MyFC subscribers as well as local Fleet faithful. Indeed, it was raised so quickly BECAUSE of the website … credit where credit is due I think.

    Also, it is easy to pick up on low turnout … but the real story is that MyFc mustered SO MANY many votes in just 48-hours. Bearing in mind the timeframe and time of year (yes some people were still on holiday, others away from home etc..) the figure is encouraging. Besides – we struggle to get 30% of people to vote on their local issues at elections shows how much apathy there is to break through.

  12. As a MyFC member I would also like to point out that low voting numbers will continue, because there is SO much information and discussion going on. So I, for one, will only take part when I have the time and “need”.

    I will also resubscribe, this is just too much fun and social interest to be missing out on.

    Thanks also for the review – I got to know of this site through the daily MyFC e-mail.

  13. Some very interesting points in the comments, and yes, I’d echo what many have said (and may not have emphasised it enough in the article) that the Akinde deal was really a no-brainer, and any other club at that level would have been daft not to accept that kind of cash for a 19-year-old prospect.

    The voting turnout… yes, the numbers aren’t bad in such a short space of time but it also highlights one possible shortcoming with the MyFC model – transfers move fast and to mobilise a vote could end up costing the club a transfer.

    @11 Yes, there’s apathy at local elections, but that’s largely because they don’t attract as much passion as your average football club does (having covered both local elections and small football games during my career I can safely say the small football games spark up much more interest in the local community). Also, MyFC members have specifically paid cold hard cash to get involved. If I parted with my money, I’d be damn sure I got involved with as many aspects as possible.

    ‘Fleet faithful’ – writers licence, sorry! I was referring to MyFC as well but it was late and I like alliteration. But yes, point taken.

    @12 I’m really lost with that comment? There’s too much information to get enough people voting? Does that not suggest (and I’m speaking partially blind here as I’m not a MyFC member) that communication lines could be clearer and simpler. Information is a good thing, yes, but not if it puts people off voting. Also, as a company, I’m not sure I’d fancy making so much of my information easily available to potential rivals, but that’s a whole new discussion.

    @5 true, more clubs need to be more open and honest with fans, but a lot of clubs with active supporters’ trusts are pretty open and transparent (up to a point, see above as to why). Hopefully more will follow that example. I’m not optimistic, though.

    A couple more general points. Firstly, I’d still be a bit worried as to where and how these debts have come into being, especially as MyFC did promise not to take on any more debt (although debts are a reality of life at any football club). It’s also concerning (if not overly surprising) that they’re predicting such a large dropaway in renewals, which I’d imagine makes it quite hard for long term planning.

    Secondly, while MyFC is a great idea that would be great if it succeeds, there are still a lot of issues, both with the voting and the business model. So, to throw another question out there to MyFC members and Fleet fans, would a scaled back version of MyFC be acceptable?