The Five Pound Football Club

By Phil Gregory

I recently stumbled upon Five Pound Football Club – a fantastic initiative whereby for a fiver anybody can contribute to the purchase of a football club.

In an era of billionaires, leveraged buyouts and regular administrations for lower league sides, the democratic and community-focused ownership model of Five Pound Football Club stands apart from the rest.

Membership for the scheme currently stands at over 250, with the initial target being 500. Such a number would give the scheme sufficient financial muscle to be taken seriously and allow enquiries and negotiations into clubs to start taking place, with the final target of 5000 providing the capital to purchase.

For an Arsenal fan, this sort of initiative should make us think of the current politics surrounding our own club. For the un-initiated, in a nutshell, the situation involves the current board seeking to fend off a hostile takeover from Alisher Usmanov, a Russian billionaire in the Abramovich mould, less wealthy but with a more questionable past.

Also looking to get in on the party is one Stan Kroenke, an American who now holds the current board’s favour. With a significant number of shares outside of the board’s mighty “lockdown” agree with the departure of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, both Usmanov and Kroenke were looking to snap up these shares in order to take them over the 30% threshold.

So how does this relate to Five Pound Football Club? Well, for one it’s the principle. The founder of Five Pound Football Club wants the club to be run the right way: within reasonable budgets and with lots of community involvement. This means he realises that a club is more than just a business, and as such provisions must be made to ensure the club has a stable financial base; more than can be said for a certain Russian oligarch.

Usmanov, with the full support of ex-Arsenal favourite David Dein, would go the other way, pumping cash into the team and spending unsustainably in order to win trophies. Or at least that’s the plan. There was no mention of what would happen if this cash influx made Arsenal loss-making and then Usmanov lost interest, or if the spending achieved nothing (for further examples of this, see Real Madrid or the net spends of Liverpool FC during the time of Mr Benitez).

This contrasts with Mr Kroenke, who sees Arsenal much like Tony, Walter and I: a club up there for the trophies despite a lengthy injury list, and with a conveyor belt of young talent coming through, as well as nice low wages when considered in relation to the sheer size of the operation that is Arsenal FC.

Kroenke’s takeover and his support for the current sustainable model would no doubt be very similar to a takeover done by Five Pound Football Club, who are actively targeting a club low down on the footballing pyramid where “financial doping” isn’t the norm, allowing a club to be both sustainable and competitive without relying on Wenger-esque transfer market miracles.

As an operation, Five Pound Football Club seems to have all the right ideas. The organiser certainly has his head screwed on right: he’s always involved in discussions with members and champions the idea that the capital the members would be providing would go into something substantial, not picking up the tab of an excessive wage bill. By this, the philosophy is that Five Pound Football Club’s funds would be going into infrastructure, perhaps overhauling the youth setup (to yield dividends in years to come) or improving facilities such as the training complex or stadium, or even funding the purchase of a star player (providing wages could be covered by what the club itself generated, of course!).

The possibilities are limitless, and by targeting a smaller club, such an injection of funds could well by the stimulus a stagnant club needed to move onwards and upwards.

Most people, when they hear of Five Pound Football Club think of Ebbsfleet. There is a big difference: Five Pound Football Club targets a sustainable model, therefore membership costs would be low and constant (unless you decided to chip in with a little extra). Ebbsfleet’s idea bought too big a club and costs were never covered to start with, forcing membership costs upwards and the average Joe out the door.

Every shareholder gets a vote for all major decisions so your voice is heard. That said, there is such a thing as too much democracy, as Ebbsfleet found with gimmicks such as “Pick the team” proving to be an Achilles Heel. Members would elect a board who would act on the day to day running with a manager organising the playing side of things. Shareholders are voted for their board representatives and on broader, owner-related matters. For anybody who’s interest in football goes beyond keeping an eye on results and who is concerned by the issues affecting the game, Five Pound Football Club is one way to go about it.

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6 Replies to “The Five Pound Football Club”

  1. Err Phil – Arsenal shares have been trading at between £8000 & £10,000 each, the initial target of 500 people would only bring in £2500. The entire Arsenal membership (about 180,000) would bring in less than a million pounds. Arsenal are valued at anywhere between £500 million and £800 million. Whilst I am in favour of the collective ownership model A) It’s going to cost a lot more than a fiver per person B) Real Mad and Barca have this ownership model and it hasn’t stopped them getting into debt. If you allow anyone to buy in what’s to stop the doomer’s outnumbering the right minded and going out and doing exactly what we want to stop?

    Democracy is overrated – I believe it was Churchill who said the best argument against democracy is a 5 min conversation with the average voter.

  2. gr8 idea…though one thing,not that i’m for usmanov or anything,but considering that he is supported by david dein(who was instrumental in getting wenger to arsenal,btw),i’m not too sure that the club will go the “chelski” way…

  3. Marc – if you care to read Making the Arsenal – my history of 1910 – you will know that Churchill also wanted to sterilise all the unemployed and down and outs, as a way of getting rid of poverty.

  4. Tony – That was a joke, but it’s true that democracy is unpredictable and the herd is easily lead (just look at some fashions that come and go!). The current board of Arsenal has done a fantastic job, we need to be very careful in wishing for their replacement. We may not get what we hoped for.

  5. Tony – Churchill also said that democracy is the worst form of government – until you look at the alternatives.

  6. I think you’ll find FC Utd of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon did likewise. They didn’t buy a club, they founded one. And started in the lowest tier of English football.

    AFC Wimbledon and FC Utd of Manchester, though, were founded as ‘f**k the board’ spin-outs of established clubs. I actually had an interesting exchange of emails with a leader of the Wimbledon fans grouping after a posted a ‘put up or shut up’ piece of sarcasm at a BBC blog in about 2000/01. They thought ‘who’s this nerd interfering in my football club’ and I wrote back saying ‘if you want clubs rooted in communities, you need communities to own them. Because your current owners bought a business from Sam Hammam and will therefore run it as a business………….’ I signed off by saying ‘I wish you luck….’ Next thing I heard they were forming their own club.

    And if you look at it, they did quite a few promotions, they are now looking to put down roots with a proper stadium after renting a ground for a few years. Their principles are clearly documented on their website and they may well be a League Club again in a few years.

    FC Utd of Manchester are maybe 5 years further back, initial promotions now a first plateau, but they too want to build a stadium in Newton Heath after renting at Gigg Lane, Bury for a while. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

    Democracy can be done in football. As long as you choose wisely which bits should be democratic and which bits should be delegated to people who carry the can for their decisions.

    So I would say that you clearly don’t get the fans picking the team. They might not choose a new manager either. But they might elect the Board to make those decisions for them. And they might define the principles upon which the Board would act in their interests as shareholders.

    Clearly, the bigger the club, the more important it is that the decisions the shareholders do take aren’t stupid or blind. Because the financial implications will be bigger.

    The thing with democracy or human empowerment for that matter is that, once you experienced it truly, you can’t go back to being a serf again inside you. It just doesn’t work like that.

    You might mouth platitudes to Kim Jong Il or the like, but you wouldn’t mean them.

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