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Tuesday March 3, 2015

Psst ... wanna buy a Football Club?

Phill Chadwick
Monday August 6, 2007

It sounds a bit dodgy at first glance, however, as Phill Chadwick reports, there are people in England that have plans to buy and run a professional football club, and run it as a democracy.

I suppose it could be a hoax or a scam, but it certainly seems legitimate, and if things really are as they have been reported, soon subscribers to myfootballclub.co.uk will be the proud owners of a professional football club.

Their web site claims to have over 53,000 people already registered, pledging 35 Pounds (about $85) each, and are currently in negotiations with several clubs that may be for sale.

A budget of more than 1,500,000 Pounds will surely be tempting to some poor, struggling League One, or Conference club. They will even vote on which club to buy. At present Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Cambridge United and my favourite, Accrington Stanley are the top four targets.

No only will the subscribers be the owners, they will be actively controlling every aspect of the club, from staffing and transfers, all the way to match day squads, positions, tactics and formations.

Now, at first sight, this sounds completely loony. The standard model of football club management is that a wealthy businessman owns the club. Players are bought and sold at the request of the Manager (or Coach as Aussies would say). Day to day decisions regarding the playing personnel are down to one man, the Manager.

The traditional Football club is run as a kind of benevolent dictatorship, where all key decisions are the responsibility of the Manager. “The buck stops here” applies absolutely to his position. Recent AFL coaching upheavals illustrate the point neatly. When things go wrong, it is the coach that is responsible. Accordingly, it is the coach that makes the decisions.

Not so with myfootballclub.co.uk. The members will make the decisions. And it is not as if a few wealthy individuals could buy up voting stock and dominate the decision making. There is a strict policy of one share per person, and one vote per share. Internet voting will form the basis of all decisions, which leaves it open to people from all around the world to participate.

This is truly a decentralised decision making structure.

If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, well, frankly it might be. But the people behind this concept have put their faith in the combined knowledge, expertise and passion of the fans, rather than in the head of one expert.

And that faith may not be misplaced. In 2004 James Surowiecki published “The Wisdom of Crowds” in which he sets out the theory that, in certain circumstances, decisions made by a “crowd” can be better than those of acknowledged experts.

The old School Fair game “Guess the Number of Jelly Beans in the Bottle” is a simple example. It is almost always true that the average of the guesses will be closer to the actual number than the single best guess.

But the principle holds true for many more complex and real world situations. It seems that the aggregation of a large number of diverse opinions can produce an optimal result. In a real sense the intelligence of the group can be higher than that of its smartest member.

Three conditions need to be met for this to work:

There must be a diversity of opinion. With 50,000 plus people from different backgrounds, even different countries, this will not be hard to achieve. Whenever you get two Football fans together, you will get three opinions. Imagine the diversity in 50,000!

The members of the group must be independent and not unduly influenced by the opinions of strong leaders, or group-think. Again, that will not be difficult because the group will be separated by geography. Some will take obsessive interest in online forum discussions, others will check statistics and reviews, while others will go on gut instinct, or players' hair colour.

Lastly, the individual opinions of the crowd must be able to be aggregated. That is easy with internet polls. The only caution is that voting trends must not be disclosed until the poll is closed, so that later votes are not influenced by early ones.

So this concept does have a real chance for success. If the organisers can find a Manager willing to work under these conditions, then maybe we will see this club succeed.

The stated aims of the organisers are certainly ambitious. They aim to take a relatively lowly club up into the Premier League, then into Europe and on to World Domination.

How good would it be to see Accrington Stanley winning the Champions League?

If you have ever played a game like “Football Manager” on your computer, you will know the satisfaction that can come from taking a lowly club through to the top. But in “Football Manager” if the results are not to your liking, you can always reset to a previously saved game and try again.

myfootballclub.co.uk will not have that luxury and results on the pitch will stand as real games, played by real players.

So, have ever fumed at the wrong team selection, ever felt that you and your mates could run the squad better than the current gaffer? Then log on, sign up, spend your $85 and put your money where your mouth is.

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