The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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You, Too, Can Be One Two Hundred Millionth of the Next Roman Abramovich

Ever since I first heard about the existence of, back in what seems like a simpler time of fewer choices and unbroken corporate oligarchy, I’ve wanted to sound a note of caution. Sure, it sounds like the best idea in the world to turn over the management of a football team to a group of 20,000 strangers in a chat room, but how will it work in practice?

And today, or this morning at least, when I learned that myfootballclub had successfully parlayed its £35-per-member war chest into a preliminary agreement to purchase Ebbsfleet United F.C., I felt a rush of that same low skepticism. It wasn’t the nagging administrative questions or the threat to the club’s traditions that bothered me so much as a paralyzing reluctance to encounter five million sloppily reported news stories about the magic of the internet and the gleaming future of teflon and social bookmarking. Isn’t this just the late 90s all over again, I asked (I was speaking to the BBC News site, which didn’t answer, but did keep the latest bad dream from Pakistan obligingly in one corner until I was finished with my monologue); isn’t this just one of those dot-com-bubble teacup monsoons that are perfectly stage-managed to give the media a tasty hook but are largely insubstantial in real life? I ate my cereal, I agreed with 200percent, I grumbled to myself. They haven’t even bought the club yet! I noticed. This could turn out to be nothing at all.

But now, calmer and fortified with lunch, I have to some degree refined my opinion. I now see this story as the ultimate referendum on human nature itself. Because, really, where do you see human nature more nakedly and more abstractly than in a forum on the internet? Bright-eyed Web-2.0 evangelists and glad Wikipedians are constantly reminding us that people with no qualifications can do anything better than people with qualifications, if only they come together through the power of broadband and care about Macintosh commercials enough. Well, here’s the test. If myfootballclub successfully functions as a democratic forum featuring an informed community making sound collective decisions after intelligent debate, then people are good—Cingular-commercial good. If it turns out that hardly anyone involved will even be able to watch Ebbsfleet matches, much less analyze sub-League transfer options with the remote beginnings of an idea of what they’re looking at, so that the culture on the forums quickly breaks down into one of partisan groups organized around the founders and a few determined and articulate posters, so that it’s kind of in one way like a small group of people conned a much larger group into buying them seats on what except for all the private messaging would amount to a kind of secondary corporate board, then friend, people are terrible. I don’t want to believe it, and I know you don’t. Which is why I’m going to be rooting for the angels and for Ebbsfleet United all season.

My largest unanswered question is: will we be able to store bookmarks on their uniforms? Because is seeming kind of two-dimensional right now, and an Ebbsfleet extension for Firefox that made it easy for me to store, share, and send my files via the medium of former Aldershot midfielder Chris McPhee…that might just be enough to make me look around for £35.


You, Too, Can Be One Two Hundred Millionth of the Next Roman Abramovich

by Brian Phillips · November 13, 2007

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