It’s difficult to imagine anything that more succinctly captured the perils of the modern game than the MyFootballClub takeover of BSP club Ebbsfleet United. The takeover, which was completed this time last year to a largely unquestioning media fanfare, has proved to be not far short of an unmitigated disaster, with the number of MyFC subscriptions having slumped to well below the level at which the Society which runs the club may have to give up control of the club. Indeed, the levels of returning subscribers have been so low that there is even a possibility that the club may have to enter into administration unless it can rein in its currently uncontrollable losses.
It did look briefly as if those of us in cynics corner might be wrong. Ebbsfleet flirted with a place in the BSP play-offs last season and won the FA Trophy at Wembley. However, disenchantment at the way that the organisation was being run grew and grew, an atmosphere of civil war developed on the site’s forum (leading to numerous members being banned from it), and this malaise spread around the entire project. In a sudden about turn of policy, one of the main selling points of MyFC membership, the right for members to pick the team rather than the manager, was put to a vote, but only after an impassioned plea from head coach Liam Daish (which, since it was sent out through official club channels, one can only assume was officially sanctioned) it was eventually voted down.
It is fair to say the the Ebbsfleet has had everything going for it that the organisers could have hoped for. The club received global media attention, which was almost universally positive. Although Ebbsfleet failed to reach the BSP play-offs, making the final of the FA Trophy gave them another massive publicity boost. They beat Torquay United 1-0 at Wembley, with it being widely reported that “26,000 Ebbsfleet supporters” had turned out to support the team. It was at this time that membership of MyFC peaked at just over 32,000 members. The club also benefitted from the sale of striker John Akinde to Bristol City for £140,000 at the end of August. Just these two events on their own are highly significant for a non-league club. Each of them are revenue streams which might ordinarily only come up once or twice every ten years or so for a club of Ebbsfleet’s size. Somehow, though, MyFC managed to squander these cash injections in just a year. Their estimated losses for the last season are said to be in the region of £800,000. There is no question whatsoever that these are circumstances (even with new memberships giving them a small boost, the black hole seems likely to be something like £500,000) which cannot be allowed to continue.
MyFC has always been big on spin and low on transparency. As such, the exact current membership level is a difficult figure to come by, though the current figure is believed to be a shade over 9,000. Those of you with long memories may remember that MyFC’s cut off point – the point at membership levels become theoretically too low for the project to be viable – was 15,000 members. The well being of MyFC, however, should not be anyone’s major concern at the moment. Some people may not get to play Championship Manager in the real world. Some people may lose – or already have lost – £35. Such is life. For one group of people, however, the ramifications of the last twelve months could be ruinous. This group is the one group of people that have been ridden roughshod over, and who will now most likely be left to pick up the pieces after the part-time supporters, internet entrpreneurs and visionaries have left Stonebridge Road for the last time – the supporters of Ebbsfleet United Football Club. These supporters have been let down by everybody. They have been let down by MyFC, who have been proved to be incompetent in their running of the club. They were let down by their own Supporters Trust, whose supine reaction to events (in spite of a terse public statement against the whole concept by Supporters Direct when it was announced) was to accept it and take a seat on the new board of the club.
Will Brooks, the founder of the project, was reported in The Guardian as saying “Technically, yes, the club’s bank account is at zero”, whilst Fleet Trust’s Jessica McQueen says that, “There are a lot of people who have paid their money but would be willing to pay a lot more money, for example £250 for their yearly subscription” in order to plug the financial shortfall, which seems optimistic to say the least. No matter which way you look at it, the figures don’t add up. Brooks’ initial aim was 50,000 members. He currently has lss than one fifth of that number. At it’s peak, he had 32,000 members. He currently has less than one third of that number. His own break even point was 15,000 members. He currently has just over half of that number. MyFC should accept that this project is failing and, rather than hanging on grimly in the hope that things will get better, hand over control of the club to someone else and promise never to set foot in Kent again. Then, perhaps, Ebbsfleet United can regroup. They may have to go part-time, and they even may have to drop a couple of divisions over time, but they will at least have a sustainable club which may be able to climb the ladder again.