Fancy going halves with me in a Premier League football team? Well, not halves exactly, but if we split the expense between you and me and 49,998 others, we can sit in the big men’s chairs at our beloved club’s next team-selection meeting.
Sounds fanciful, but MyFootballClub is promising soccer fans the opportunity to vote “on team selection and on which players to buy and sell. Members will attempt to guide the club up the leagues, sharing equal ownership and control. Just like a football management game — but for real.”
Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovic, who seemed to have bought Chelsea as a personal plaything, might scoff at 50,000 average football fans paying 35 pounds each to buy themselves a rival club, but less than a month after opening its virtual doors, MyFootballClub has 22,540 registered members with pledges totalling 1,375,000 pounds in its virtual bank.
And if you think MyFootballClub’s creators aren’t serious, think again. “We will be instructing an international law firm, with specific football expertise, to oversee this,” Will Brooks told the BBC. “We have had offers from several television companies to tell the MyFootballClub story but we have put these on hold because this is exactly the kind of decision the members will make.”
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If sport is popular theatre, this takes the public’s participation in it to a new level, raising obvious questions about whether a bunch of miners, bus drivers, accountants and teachers should be running a football club.
Yes, it may be more democratic, but is it good for Leeds United, which currently tops the list of preferred takeover targets? Is it better left to highly paid experts who have been able to ignore what’s shouted at them from the cheap seats? Will it lead to the ruination of a shared source of community engagement, bringing damage more broadly to one of the world’s most prominent football leagues? Or will the collective wisdom of 50,000 ordinary people prove to be a better model for achieving on-field and corporate success?
In an interview in 1994 (parts of which I found here), Noam Chomsky talked about how the passivity of watching sport deadens the minds of fans (presumably, analysing U.S. foreign policy in minute detail has the opposite effect). But, he said, if fans could participate, perhaps by voting over the internet on what should happen next, it becomes more participatory and hence more valuable. And that’s precisely what MyFootballClub is offering, 13 years after Chomsky asked for it.
But it raises another question. Chomsky again:
These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.
The ladder position of whichever clubs falls prey to MyFootballClub will be the ultimate test of the idea’s value. And if it’s your club, how do you feel about your traditional rivals sabotaging it from within?