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What happened to MyFootballClub and Ebbsfleet United?

The view behind the stand for away fans at Ebbsfleet United
The view behind the stand for away fans at Ebbsfleet United

By Dave Lee
BBC Non-League Football Show

In a world of Chelsea, Manchester United and City, there really is only one Ebbsfleet United.

While the giants of the English game bankroll their dominance with funds from rich tycoons, the Kent-based club instead has been a guinea pig in an intriguing football experiment which satisfied every football fan's desire: to have real power over how their football team is run.

It meant supporters would no longer have to make do with just shouting "get him off!" into the air, or only being able to impart their tactical wisdom to anyone in the pub who would listen.

I don't have the time to sit and write blogs and podcasts or whatever they are. I have a lot on my plate.
Liam Daish, manager

Instead, fans could now join a website - MyFootballClub.co.uk (MyFC) - which would let them have the final say on transfer dealings, major club decisions and, most enticingly of all, the chance to set tactics and pick the players in the team. All for just £35 a year.

At least that was the plan. A wave of early publicity meant over 50,000 fans from all over the world showed an interest in the idea. And 27,278 of those stumped up the membership fee, giving the society the funds to take over Ebbsfleet, with 75% ownership.

So far, so good

The massive injection of cash stabilized a club which its current chairman says was headed for administration.

Just weeks after MyFC took over, the bliss continued: Ebbsfleet powered their way to an unlikely and historic Wembley win in the FA Trophy, the cup competition for non-league sides. Membership was increasing steadily, swelling to over 30,000 at its strongest point.

Chairman of Ebbsfleet United, Phil Sonsara
Phil Sonsara volunteers at the club as its full-time chairman

But already the scheme was showing early signs of strain. In their first decision - over whether or not to buy Ebbsfleet - only around 18,000 MyFC members registered their vote.

Fast-forward two and a half years and you now find Ebbsfleet languishing in the Blue Square Bet South, the sixth tier of English football, after being relegated last season.

The yearly fee has risen to £50, and the number of paid up members is now around 3,500.

"I think we failed to give many members the feeling of ownership and closeness to the club they had hoped for," admitted MyFC's founder, Will Brooks, who has since parted company with the society.

"Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality."

Tired

Phil Sonsara, a Tottenham fan, was one of those excited people - attracted the scheme despite having no previous ties with Ebbsfleet. After offering his financial expertise to the club, he has now found himself as its full-time, voluntary chairman.

"There is a tiredness about the whole MyFootballClub project," he conceded.

"I think a lot of people when it first started thought it would have been a large football club - someone like Leeds United. That would have been ridiculously optimistic to take on a football club like that. There's a lot of frustration that there were larger numbers and between us all we haven't achieved a little bit more. That's frustrating for a lot of people."

In amongst the rapidly changing Ebbsfleet, the one constant feature has been the team's manager, Liam Daish.

While publically backing the scheme when it first began, insiders knew that giving up any inch of control would not be easy for Mr Daish - a manager who patrols the touchline with a ferocity which suggests he, and only he, is in charge of his men.

"It's not just about just picking the side from a living room or in front of a laptop," he said.

"You are dealing with human beings. Ask any manager, he runs through everything in his mind maybe 100 times before he picks a side. I think [the fans] realised that."

'Damaging the club'

In the end, picking the team has never happened. Since the very first opportunity, members have always voted that Mr Daish should be the one responsible for action on the pitch, and have therefore never put the crowd-sourced team selection theory to the test.

"Personally I would have liked to have seen 'pick the team' come in," believes Tim Glynne-Jones, the scheme's former spokesman, and the man largely responsible for its wave of early publicity.

"It would have been fascinating to see how that did work. That experiment was never allowed to happen."

In truth, very little of the interaction promised by the scheme ever materialised, and Mr Daish insists the role of a football manager is too busy to then spend his time addressing the online community.

Ebbsfleet United fans on the terraces
The Ebbsfleet faithful now hope the club bounce back from relegation

"I don't have the time to sit and write blogs and podcasts or whatever they are. I have a lot on my plate. I'm not going to be sitting in front of a computer six hours a day, answering everyone's emails."

The club's former director and vice-chairman Roly Edwards left the club last season because he believed the MyFC scheme to be completely unworkable, both for matters off the pitch as well as on it.

"I honestly felt the club could never progress so long as MyFootballClub was involved. There comes a point when these people need to say this is damaging the football club now.

"When it comes to transferring players, for example, other clubs don't always want their details bandied about in the public domain. Decisions have been made in the past that don't involve the members. They're swept under the carpet. Nobody's probably trying to do that in purpose, but it's the reality of the situation."

For now, MyFC and Ebbsfleet United rumble on. Another director, Jessica McQueen, was concerned about the dwindling numbers, but hopes that with a new season and a soon-to-be new website, the club can build from the bottom up and attract new members.

But while the current head of the MyFC society, Keith Handley, says the members will be presenting a "suggested" line-up to Mr Daish, it seems certain, for the foreseeable future at least, that matters on the pitch will be left to the most qualified man - the manager.

The full documentary 'Ebbsfleet United - Where's MyFC?' was first broadcast on the BBC Non League Football Show, listen again here .




SEE ALSO
Supporters approve sale of player
29 Aug 08 |  Ebbsfleet
Ebbsfleet 1-0 Torquay
10 May 08 |  Non League
Fan website agrees club takeover
13 Nov 07 |  Ebbsfleet

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