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Fans' club website faces key vote

Ebbsfleet United are owned by
Ebbsfleet United celebrate winning the 2008 FA Trophy in their first year under the ownership of the fan-owned website

By David Ornstein

An internet experiment that saw fans buy non-league football club Ebbsfleet United faces a major test on Thursday.

Memberships of 25,000 MyFootballClub owners are up for renewal - a year on from the website's 635,000 takeover of the Blue Square Premier side.

"I'm confident most of those involved are in it for the long term and not just some passing fad," Ebbsfleet coach Liam Daish told BBC Sport.

"What the owners have here, you won't get anywhere else in football."

Daish, who guided Ebbsfleet to their 2008 FA Trophy triumph, has been won over by the unique venture, which gives owners the chance to vote on club matters such as team selection and player transfers.

David O, BBC Sport

"I could easily have been more a showman and played the game a little bit more for the sake of getting renewals but that wouldn't have been right," said the former Birmingham and Republic of Ireland defender.

"We're giving the owners genuine, transparent insight into, and control over, how a football club is run.

"I've put a lot of effort into keeping this club running smoothly and now we've reached a crucial day. Everyone wants to know what's going to be happening in the coming year."

MyFC founder Will Brooks, who is hoping for 20,000 renewals of the 35 annual fee, added: "If everyone renews, the club will be phenomenally wealthy but if numbers are low then we could become just another struggling club."

The deal that saw MyFC purchase a 75% stake in Ebbsfleet was completed on 19 February 2008.

On that day, the 26,000 members who had joined the website since its launch on 26 April 2007 became equal shareholders in Ebbsfleet.

A further 6,000 people have since signed up - boosting membership to around 32,000 across 122 countries - and their memberships will come up for renewal at various stages throughout the year.

"Thursday is a key, key day - this couldn't be more stark. It will be a very exciting day but it's also going to be slightly white knuckle as well," said Brooks.

"In the first year, people's membership money was taken up with buying the club and clearing debts.

Report - Ebbsfleet United one year on

"If everyone renews, the club will be in a very strong position because pretty much all of that money will be used to invest in the club and buy new players."

"The whole point of this ownership model was to not be just another club that is struggling every month, but to be a club with a unique income stream."

About 19,000 renewals are necessary to cover Ebbsfleet's 500,000 annual losses and low renewal levels would result in the club having to embark upon a significant cost-cutting exercise.

At the beginning of this season, owners voted on a weekly playing budget of 10,000 for Daish but next season that budget would have to be drastically cut.

The worst-case scenario would see MyFC forced into putting Ebbsfleet up for sale.

One reason why renewal levels might be down is because thousands of people, who are still able to pay 35 at any time to join or re-join, signed up before a club had been identified.

When Ebbsfleet were eventually purchased some of the owners found loyalties split.

Ebbsfleet coach Liam Daish
Daish will work with a much-reduced budget if renewal levels are low

"I am a Weymouth Town fan and therefore have a conflict of interest; I didn't know we would end up buying a rival team," said Steve Frampton from Portsmouth.

Some have expressed concerns about renewing their membership in the current economic climate and others feel that they do not have the time required to make informed decisions about the running of Ebbsfleet.

If the team are playing on a Saturday, owners have from Monday until midday on Friday to decide whether they wish to pick the team or leave it to Daish.

To date, the vote has always fallen in favour of a side picked by Daish, who led Ebbsfleet to their FA Trophy triumph at Wembley last May.

In January, the owners voted in favour of paying 25,000 to sign Darius Charles from Brentford and in September 2008 they voted to sell John Akinde to Bristol City for 150,000.

The website also raised 20,000 to buy striker Michael Gash from Cambridge City.

"I realised that to fully engage in the experience, and make thought-out decisions on the votes, I needed to put a lot more time in reading about, and analysing the issues," said Andrew Williams from Woking.

MyFC hopes the majority of those who renew for a second year will be in it for the long haul and if membership levels are high and matchday attendances continue to rise, Ebbsfleet could be staring at a bright future.

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see also
Ebbsfleet make historic signing
29 Jan 09 |  Ebbsfleet
Daish has fear over fans' website
05 Dec 08 |  Ebbsfleet
Fans' takeover beneficial - Daish
30 Sep 08 |  Ebbsfleet
Ebbsfleet 1-0 Torquay
10 May 08 |  Non League
Fans' website to seal Fleet deal
19 Feb 08 |  Ebbsfleet
Fan website agrees club takeover
13 Nov 07 |  Ebbsfleet
Supporters approve sale of player
29 Aug 08 |  Ebbsfleet

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