Football Media Watch: Non-League may not be ready for OWNA

THE proposed takeover of Hednesford Town by OWNAFC fell through this past week, disappointing some people but probably inducing a sigh of relief among non-league football.

This was – will be, for this is not the end of the saga – a project for the Football Manager generation, providing to some extent, a crossover between fiction and reality. Fan ownership can be a very good thing – Game of the People is a firm advocate – but this was different, and perhaps a little worrying.

Both Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation detailed their concerns in a joint statement: “Despite their doubtless enthusiasm, we are concerned that the lack of meaningful engagement with the club’s existing supporters and a business model similar to that of MYFC means that a repeat of the ultimately failed takeover of Ebbsfleet United back in 2008 is likely.”

The Non-League Paper pointed out that an online community taking on a team can be equated to MyFootballClub 2.0, the body that took over Ebbsfleet United in 2008. Matt Badcock commented: “Again the promise was the chance to live out the real-life version of Football Manager. Membership numbers topped 27,000, initially it saved Fleet and there was an FA Trophy win at Wembley. But, with no vote on the actual picking of Liam Daish’s team – the big selling point – and perhaps the lack of a star name club, renewals dwindled. Eventually the Kent club were running on empty, bargaining with clubs who had sell-on fees with players, like Stevenage with Michael Bostwick, to bring in quick revenue before they eventually dropped out of Non-League’s top flight in 2013 on the brink of non-existence before being taken over again.”

The NLP, rightly, pointed out that to some people, non-league football may be a “bit inconsequential” but these clubs are part of people’s lives. “Football at this level isn’t a giggle…running a football club through a mobile phone isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. There are rules and regulations to be adhered and there needs to be a long-term plan….a football club as a plaything will make many people uncomfortable.”

Seb White of Mundial magazine said that democracy would be very welcome at some clubs that are badly owned. But he also suggested that dig a little deeper into the OWNAFC proposition and “you have to wonder if it will really benefit the football club and its supporters”. He adds that non-league is all about intimacy and connection and concludes: “I don’t think you get an authentic connection with a football club making a few snap decisions on a mobile phone app hundreds of miles away while sat in your pants on the sofa.”

From GOTP’s perspective, schemes such as OWNAFC sound “cool” but sustaining interest will always be a problem. Running a club is not easy and consensus thinking is not achievable in many cases. The danger is, like many fun creations, they become fashionable and then fade away, should that happen, the football club could suffer. Furthermore, what would it do for the club in terms of support? Having App-based owners is comparable to having anonymous shareholders in different parts of the world. And as Mundial said, non-league is all about authentic connectivity. It’s doubtful that will ever be achieved in cyberspace. Watch this carefully.

Photo: Matthew Roach via flickr CC-BY-2.0

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