Can a barbarian horde defeat football's Romans?

As of today, I have registered as a member of MyFootballClub, an organisation which is aiming to buy a controlling stake in an English football club, to be administered by the members of the organisation itself.  Its individual members are ordinary people, a diverse horde of barbarians at the gates of football's wealthy establishment.

In all honesty, I have no idea whether or not this scheme will be successful, or if my input will matter. I joined simply because I think that this might be one of the most important social experiments of our time. At stake is the question of whether ordinary people can compete with the mega-wealth of the likes of Roman Abramovich. Not, of course, in the sense that MYFC will be able to build a team capable of beating Chelsea any time soon, but in the sense of providing football fans with something that can compete as a form of entertainment with Chelsea. Can the engagement of being a part of the process of building a club matter more than winning trophies at any financial cost?

At present, football is dominated by money; to improve their teams, club owners must invest ever larger sums of money, or sell the club to someone who can. Some clubs, with Arsenal being the prime example, manage to succeed whilst spending relatively less than their rivals - Arsène Wenger's team is certainly better value for money than Chelsea's or Liverpool's - but, for the most part, there is a strong correlation between spending power and success on the field. This must, quite obviously, be a very inefficient arrangement. That most clubs cannot think of any way of improving their performance beyond simply spending more money than their rivals indicates a failure of management. If we accept the premise that there might be other ways of building a successful team than simply spending the most money, we must also acknowledge that most clubs conspicuously fail to do so.

This has implications far beyond football. In education, for example, waste of money is also a big problem:

Authors Peter Tymms and Christine Merrell said: "Five hundred million pounds was spent on the National Literacy Strategy with
almost no impact on reading levels.

"Standards of reading have remained more or less the same over a very long time - since the 1950s.

This is a problem that almost any football fan will recognise - the club spends millions on new players and higher salaries, and fails to improve. The irony is that the government has moved education closer to the football model over recent years, with an emphasis on league table-based competition and the brute force approach of trying to spend their way to success. Any improvements that have been made have come at great financial cost, with little discernable benefit to pupils, parents, teachers or school administrators.

Similar stories abound in the corporate world. The benign credit scenario of the last decade has led to a series of leveraged buyouts, with supposedly 'better' management being installed by the private equity funds behind the takeovers. But, other than spending large sums of money, it's hard to see what has been achieved. The salaries of top corporate executives have increased dramatically and whilst I personally do not begrudge anyone their earnings, I do wonder if this is simply a reflection of the 'spend more money' attitude to success-creation, rather than a true reward for success already created. A wise CEO does have the power to create substantial wealth for a company, even if that wisdom comprises largely of knowing how to delegate and disperse power properly, but I'm not at all convinced that today's top-paid CEOs are genuinely better than those who went before them; nor are today's top-paid footballers so much better than those they replaced.

So where does MYFC fit in? I think MYFC begins to offer an alternative view of how success can be built. It works on the principle that a diverse group of people, each making a small contribution, can identify and fund a strategy that can deliver better results, in terms of value-for-money, than the strategies of dictatorial oligarchs whose only real resource is their access to money. The crowd of people involved in MYFC come from all walks of life and each will have their own insight into how their football club can be improved. Can MYFC harness that knowledge and prove that innovation and improvement come from cooperation between ordinary people, or will it fail and prove that we need wealthy plutocrats and savant managers to get anywhere? If MYFC can prove the former case, the implications could be dramatic.

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