Was Ebbsfleet United project always doomed to fail?

Just over two years has gone by since Ebbsfleet United were taken over by MyFootballClub. The idea came from Will Brooks, a 37-year-old Fulham supporter, who launched myfootballclub.co.uk, in order to persuade thousands of people to contribute £35 each, to buy a football club.

By August 1st 2007, 50,000 people had signed up to MyFC, and after three months of negotiations, it was revealed that the pledges made, would go to a 75 per cent stake in Ebbsfleet United. Not only did the £35 buy the purchaser a share in the club, but also, it allowed them to have influence on the starting XI, tactics and transfer decisions. Ultimately, the opportunity was to dabble in a real-life Championship Manager.

However, Fleet’s financial woes have worsened, with membership falling drastically. It has emerged that just 800 of the remaining 4,000 MyFC members, whose membership was up for renewal last month, chose to continue their support.

With the recent news that the Fleet’s entire squad will be out of contract after April 24th, it seems inevitable there will be a repeat of last summer’s squad exodus, whereby Ebbsfleet ended the campaign with just three players signed on.

Chairman Duncan Holt revealed he would meet with manager Liam Daish, in order to prepare a list of players they want to retain.

Mr Holt said: “We had somewhere in the region of 20 per cent renewing. We were obviously hoping for a lot more, but it gives us something to work with. We are waiting to see how it affects our cash flow.

“We will now focus on two things, the share issue, and getting momentum for a campaign to get the budget to re-sign seven or eight key players.

“It was clear from the supporters’ forum that nobody wants a repeat of last year. I’ll sit down with Liam and talk about who to keep and get some numbers, so we can put them to the supporters as soon as possible.

“Hopefully, at the end of April when the 43-week contracts are up, there will be seven or eight contracts covered by a fans’ initiative.”

Therefore, in less than three years, the number of members is less than a quarter of what it was originally. The average home attendance is 1,006 and the glory days of winning the FA Trophy in the 2007-08 season, in front of 26,000 fans is a world away.

I empathise for the genuine, original fans of Northfleet and Gravesend who have been shafted, as they have seen their club turn into a farcical gimmick. There are fans that have been going for 40 years, and put thousands of pounds into the club, and all of a sudden, they have less say than a load of bored cyber-yuppies who have a spare £35, and have no association to the club or area.

The problem originates with football club’s being bought, sold and treated as normal businesses, which can be manipulated for profit and then sold on, or left to fail. If Ebbsfleet’s debts rise even further, the so called ‘investors’ will just go back to the respective football clubs they support, and the real Gravesend and Northfleet supporters will be left to pick up the pieces, that is if there is anything left to pick up.

Letting the fans run a club is wonderful in theory, it would probably make a watchable Sunday afternoon film, where Ebbsfleet win the cup, and the guy gets the girl at the end. However, this is real life, and it reports claim Ebbsfleet are around £150,000 short to even run the club to the end of the season.

It may have been viable had MyFC created their own club, and then existing fans wouldn’t be affected. Doing so, would mean more room to adjust investment and ambitions, depending on how well or badly the project was going.

I don’t want to see any club go out of business, but it seems that ownership by supporters is just delaying the inevitable. Football is eating itself, right down to the grass roots, where even at the lowest levels, players and agents are demanding more than clubs can afford, and are not concerned about the consequences. The founding principle should be: ‘live within your means’ i.e. at whatever level of the game, you can only do what your resources allow you to. It is better to be a successful Conference North/South outfit, than go out of business, trying to survive in the fourth tier of English football.

Ebbsfleet are now seeking to return to the realms of normality in their method of club ownership, with one or two of the wealthier members of MyFC, likely to become majority owners. In hindsight, MyFC was always an experiment doomed to failure.

Written by Joe Questier