Is FAN power a recipe for disaster at football clubs?

Full participatory involvement in the running and managing of the club by the fans, it sounds like an ideal situation for every football fan. But this level of direct democracy in a football club is not without its drawbacks.

Ebbsfleet United Football Club from the Conference South has formed the prototype for this kind of experiment. In 2008 the website MyFootballClub bought a majority share in the club becoming the first online community to own a sports club. Yet the dream of an egalitarian club being created through fan involvement does not appear to have materialised.

20,000 members of the online community paid £35 each to gain control of the club and as such, by electronic vote, have control over the side selected as opposed to manager Liam Daish. Involvement has dwindled as the novelty of making decisions for a football club has worn off; now down to 4,000 members only 15% vote on team selection.

Having been around fans and being one myself, I think generally we’re a bit too fickle inpatient and sentimental to have the responsibility of taking a club forward so directly. Indeed it is one of the few instances where football is different to politics and mass participation isn’t really desired.

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Football, and in particular deciding of a team and tactics and therefore transfer policy are all interconnected and require a degree of football knowledge and application. This is why decisions made by the masses could not work. Even if say everyone voting on the possible transfer targets and team selection, was reasonably knowledgeable and engaged with football and the club and not susceptible to voting on a whim then the end result would still be chaotic and not work. As it needs to be a sole mind (the manager) who decides how the team plays, and how can he know how to train them or what tactics to employ if he doesn’t know what eleven is taking the field?

All those who vote could have different desires on how the team should play, one person might be visualising a fluid passing team that press the opposition and maintain possession, another a team that sits deep enticing the team forward before breaking away with pace on the counter. One voter might build his team around congesting the midfield, where as another sees tricky wing play as the way forward. But all these systems can’t be employed at the same time and with it not being one man’s decision you’ll end up with a mishmash that falls far short of playing how anyone desired.

No the best way to keep fans involved is a system similar to Barcelona’s or St Pauli where fans have a say over the general trend of the club and the way it is going, have a voice on ticket prices and club initiatives. And decide on the major aspects like who leads the club, for a fixed term, but leave the team selection, day to day running of the club and transfer policy to an individual or small team whose job it is to train and assess the playing staff.

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