Congratulations to the winner of this year’s WSC Writers Comp. It wasn’t me, but there’s always next year! Anyway here is my entry about a few people with an enduring dream. As an aside If you’re at all interested in Web FC here is an article I wrote for IBWM on the club.
Reddit FC have yet to kick a ball. They may never do so. They have no ground, nor even any players. The club is at present no more than a collective dream splashed across the bulletin-boards of the social media site Reddit. It’s sole possession the enthusiasm of a group of people who have most likely never met face-to-face, but who all want the same thing: a stake in the ownership and some sort of say in the day-to-day running of a football club.
The way they hope to do this, as outlined by the threads originator SimonFOOTBALL, is to mobilise the resources of a large online community, crowdsourcing the capital required to take-over a club. In return those contributing can expect to hold a stake which entitles them to vote on certain decisions. Since the first appearance of the thread on the Reddit site on the 10thApril the sites users have been engaging in a frantic exchange of ideas and debate. Discussions mainly focus on strategies of revenue generation, which clubs best serve as potential take-over targets (Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Bedford Town, Carshalton Athletic and Alfreton Town all receiving suggestions) and far-fetched talk of reaching the Premier League which nestles alongside more grounded debate about how to develop a club constitution.
The concept behind Reddit FC, is however, nothing new. Almost as soon as the internet began to become a fixture in peoples homes at the turn of the millennium attempts were made to harness it’s potential to operate a football club as a collective enterprise. Web FC, a club which the brainchild of Caen-based P.E Teacher and technology enthusiast Frederic Gauquelin began in 2002 playing in the lower reaches of the French regional football. Visitors to the clubs website could set tactics, training schedules and pick the team. In February 2008 MyFootballCub, an internet based community of over 20 000 members from around the world, took over Conference side Ebbsfleet Town with members similarly making decisions on the running of the club along with crowdsourcing the finance for player purchases and even volunteering in roles such as club Chairman.
Despite initial successes such as Ebbsfleet’s May 2008 FA Trophy victory over Torquay and Web FCs successive promotions both, like all other similar schemes so far, proved to be shortlived. Web FC failed to find a sustainable business model which would maintain early momentum and propel the club beyond regional football. The club finally folded in 2007 after two seasons of stagnation. For its part MyFootballClub, which operated on a subscription basis with members paying an annual fee, suffered a sharp and catastrophic decline in membership. After reaching a high of over 30 000 members by late 2010 only 3500 remained as disappointment set in over just what decisions members could vote on, with the lack of ability to pick the team being a particular point of issue. Other issues concerned the troubled relationship between the clubs indigenous fans and it’s online ‘owners.’
Such failures though have done little to deter the fans, such as those behind Reddit FC, who look to the internet as a way to give fans a place at the heart of a club. Starting with a Tweet in 2013 Nashville FC became the first supporter owned football club in the United States, taking to the field in the National Premier Soccer League for the first time in May 2014. Funded by a membership prospective owners can sign-up on the clubs website for just $40 a year in return for a t-shirt and voting rights on ‘all major club decisions’.
In part this desire stems from the desire of many ordinary people to play the role of football manager, evidenced by the embedded popularity of the management sim genre over the past thirty years. Although these have increased in sophistication, there is an added thrill, as pointed out by several Web FC members, which can only come from the action taking place in the real-world. More fundamentally though, there has also been growing unease over the current dominant model of club ownership. This season alone has seen battles over the renaming of Hull City as Hull Tigers and the continuation of the controversy over the decision to change the team colours at Cardiff City from blue to red; In both cases these were instituted by a single owner against the wishes of many in the wider fan-community. With countless other tales of financial mismanagement and the trampling of revered traditions support for alternative schemes of fan-ownership has grown.
The technology of the internet, which continues to evolve, promises much on both counts. Fan ‘owners’ even from a distance can become involved through watching matches, training sessions and meetings via a live-stream whilst text, or internet voting provides the kind of democracy one-time US presidential candidate Ross Perot was imagining in the 1990s when he ran on a campaign ticket featuring a vision for electronic town halls where citizens voted on individual issues.
The real-world barriers though remain high. For Reddit FC the odds that it’s founders dreams of owning a real football club will ever become reality, let alone their team reaching the Premier League, are perhaps very slim indeed – Although over 1800 subscribers have been attracted to the thread in little over a month this is still far short of the 50 000 paying members SimonFOOTBALL, estimates is needed for the project to succeed. As for whether Nashville FC will prove to be a more sustainable model than previous attempts is a question which can only be answered in the course of time, but whatever the outcome in either case what seems almost certain is that the dream of an internet-based community collectively owning and running a football club is one which will continue to endure.