Book Review – Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC by Martin Calladine and James Cave

With the advent of the Premier League in England from the 1992/93 season, football was changed forever. This didn’t just relate to events on the pitch, as overtime players and coaches from abroad came in and brought with them better dietary habits, different training methods and tactical knowhow. Off the pitch with the league awash with Sky’s TV revenue and sponsors willing to be associated with this ‘Whole New Ball Game’, business people from across the globe wanted a piece of the action. Suddenly it wasn’t enough to be a millionaire owner to compete, with the result that now Premier League clubs are the possession of billionaires. As a result many fans more than ever feel distant and without influence from the club they support.

And it is against this background that there have been attempts down the years to create a different type of ownership – one where fans own the club, make the decisions, and do the hiring and firing. The first real scheme of this type to hit the headlines saw MyFootballClub (MYFC) launch in 2007 promising on-line fans the chance to “own the club, pick the team”. By 2008 with sufficient interest and financial support MYFC bought a 75% controlling interest in Ebbsfleet United. It was to last until 2013, as with the club in financial trouble the remaining 1,300 MCF members (down from a peak of 32,000) voted in favour of handing two thirds of their shares to the Fleet Trust, and the other third to one of the club’s major shareholders. KEH Sports Ltd, a group of Kuwaiti investors.

In an article in The Guardian in 2017, Will Brook, who was the man behind MYFC, reflected that, “I never want to call it a failure. It had a bit of everything really – positive and negative. But I suppose the fact that it’s not still going means it didn’t achieve its ultimate aim. In some ways I think we might have been ten years too early. Had this been happening now, as a fresh idea, I think we’d have a lot more members simply because of the way social media works.”

Picking up on Brook’s point about MYFC not working partly because of social media limitations at the time, OWNAFC was an app launched in 2019 aimed at capturing on-line fans offering once again the chance to own and run a football club. Hitting the headlines after a BBC Sport on-line article on 28 February 2019, OWNAFC Stuart Harvey acknowledged the MYFC scheme mirroring Brook’s view of two years earlier, “the difference is theirs (MYFC) was 10 years too early. It was before iPhones became popular, before apps, and they were not using the technology we have today.”

Excited by this prospect users paid £99 or a later point £49, with founder Harvey claiming 3,500 sign-ups. However, just 18 days after the launch story by the BBC, the same broadcaster put out an on-line story that many who had invested were asking for refunds. How could such a turnaround occur in such a short space of time?

Martin Calladine and James Cave take on investigating how this happened in their book, Fit and Proper People: The Lies and Fall of OWNAFC. The research carried out by the pair is highly impressive, following the saga from launch to the collapse of OWNAFC, with the failed takeover of Hednesford Town along the way. The pair are single-mindedly tenacious in their attempts to discover the truth about founder Harvey and a scheme which ultimately left many of those that invested out of pocket. The story is more shocking given that both Calladine and Cave and their respective families suffered intimidation in looking to establish the realities of the claims of OWNAFC.

However, the authors also take on a wider remit within the book as they highlight the flimsiness of the Football ‘fit and proper person test’ and look at examples in recent years at clubs such as Bury FC, Chesterfield and Wigan Athletic who have suffered owner mismanagement. As a balance to the sorry tales of mishandling also included is a look at alternative models such as AFC Wimbledon, a supporter-owned club, who have shown there is an alternative in achieving success whilst ensuring engagement with both fans and the local community.

The book is a must read for anyone interested in the running of our National Game, and in truth does not paint a pretty picture of the majority who run it or indeed those who own our Clubs. Calladine and Cave must be commended for their work in the face of intimidation to tell the story of OWNAFC and as they conclude, if at a point down the line there is another way for fans to own a club, that it is done in the right way. Only time will tell.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2022. Paperback: 352 pages)


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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 3 – Saturday 10 August 2019: Bolton Wanderers v Coventry City

Match day programme cover

As is becoming increasingly common in the football world, the season starts with news of a few clubs in financial difficulty and 2019/20 was to prove no exception, with two former North-West leading lights, Bolton Wanderers and Bury this time under the financial spotlight.

When I worked in London, I had a colleague there, Phil, who was a big Bury fan, so I used to follow their results and others in the league so I could talk to him about his club as he would mine. This was back in the early 1980s, so it meant getting football updates reading the national papers, as the internet was still a pipedream, and Sky and Channel 4 were in their infancy. A historic old club, the Shakers, who won the FA Cup twice (1899/1900 and 1902/03), held the record for the biggest victory in an FA Cup Final, when beating Derby County 6 – 0 in 1903, a record only equalled in 2018/19 when Manchester City put six past Watford. An additional impressive fact about Bury is that they are the only club to have scored more than 1,000 goals in each of the top four tiers of the Football League. Since those glory days, they’ve flitted between the third and fourth tiers for the last 50 years, but I have always kept an eye on them. Then strangely enough I discovered a new work colleague, this time in Leeds called Tim, who was also a Bury fan and who went to watch them, so my chats all things Shakers related resumed and I used to look forward to those Monday morning football chats. Sadly Bury due to financial issues, didn’t start the 2019/20 season, and were expelled in December 2019 from the Football League. Fans have created a phoenix club, Bury AFC, and hope to take the field in the North West Counties League in 2020/21. Very much a case of watch this space.

Whilst Bury disappeared from the Football League ranks, Bolton Wanderers on the other hand were clinging on to their league status by their fingernails and had managed to make it to the opening day of the campaign, losing 2-0 at Wycombe Wanderers. I then decided to get tickets for Bolton’s first home game of the season against Coventry City. I don’t think that they were expecting such a big crowd and as a result the programmes at the ground had sold out, thankfully though I managed to get hold of one later on the internet. The University of Bolton Stadium (previously the Reebok Stadium and Macron Stadium), was another new ground for me – this is a recurring theme as I have deliberately avoided grounds I have already been to – rules eh!

Due to their financial difficulties Bolton Wanderers had gone into administration, been deducted 12 points, and had to field their youngest ever team. The Trotters did not name a single senior player in their starting line-up, with the 11 players on the pitch at kick-off having an average age of just 19.

Despite their lack of experience, Wanderers fared valiantly against an attacking Coventry side, who thought they had taken the lead when Wesley Jobello turned in from close range before it was ruled out for offside. The Sky Blues had another goal disallowed for offside soon after the break when Amadou Bakayoko bundled home from a deflection off Jordy Hiwula. You can imagine the look on his face as he came sliding towards the Bolton fans on his knees in celebration when the goal was chalked off.

Bolton’s best chance of the match came after Finlay Hurford-Lockett’s cross was almost fired home by Eddie Brown deep into the second half. Incredibly, Coventry then had a third goal disallowed for offside as the game moved into the closing minutes, after Maxime Biamou slotted in from point-blank range. At the whistle, the Trotters had held Coventry City to a goalless draw to claim their first point of the League One season. A most enjoyable match primarily due to the tireless running of the Bolton youngsters and well appreciated by a large crowd of almost 9,000, swelled by 2,500 Coventry fans who joined in the appreciation for the Bolton players. I don’t know if it’s a record, but the Bolton squad numbers that day added up to over 500, including goalkeeper Matt Alexander wearing No: 43 and the substitute keeper, Luke Hutchinson wearing No: 46.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Sky Bet League One

Bolton Wanderers 0 Coventry City 0

Venue: University of Bolton Stadium

Attendance: 8,901

Bolton Wanderers: Alexander, Brockbank, Edwards, Zouma, White, King-Harmes (Hurford-Lockett 67’), Graham, Weir, Politic, Brown, Darcy

Unused substitutes: Boon, Senior, Brown-Sterling, Richards, Riley, Hutchinson

Coventry City: Marosi, Dabo, McFadzean, Rose, Mason, Westbrooke (Bapaga 87’), Kelly, Shipley, Jobello, Bakayoko (Godden 61’), Hiwula-Mayifuila (Biamou 60’)

Unused substitutes: Wilson, Hyam, McCallum, Eccles


Steve Blighton

Book Review: Another Bloody Saturday – A Journey to the Heart and Soul of Football by Mat Guy

With the recent demise of Bury Football Club with its expulsion from the Football League after 134 years, this book first published in 2015, is a timely reminder of what loss means both in the footballing and human sense.

Author Mat Guy takes a diary format look at his journey through the 2014/15 season (with a couple of flashback chapters to 2006) as he seeks to celebrate, “all that is great with the game of football, as seen through the eyes of a club and fans rarely bothered by satellite television cameras and the riches of the elite game.” It takes him from an early season Europa League Qualifier in North Wales, to the Wessex League Premier Division over the Festive period, via the Faroe Islands and North Cyprus, with Accrington Stanley featuring large in the books twenty-six chapters.

From this book, it is evident that football for the author, like for so many other people, has become deeply embedded in his psyche. For example, the game and attending matches on his own brought solace for Guy when his father took his own life. Whilst the affection he had for his grandfather is warmly described in memories of the trips they took to watch Salisbury City play. However, like the authors’ father and grandfather, the club was taken away from him, when in 2014 the club was disbanded and with it the very physical presence of their ground Victoria Park and the memories it evoked.

The sense of loss is at the centre of the book, as is though the desire to once again feel the connection and almost child-like joy of attending games as he did with his grandfather.

Does Guy achieve this? Well, the author certainly takes in the full gamut of the football experience as the tradition, passion and volunteer spirit that enables non-league clubs to exist is detailed with his trips to games in the Wessex League. He also explores the rise of the Women’s game as he takes in a World Cup Qualifier, the 2014/15 WSL Cup Final and the momentous friendly international between England and Germany at Wembley.  

The stand out chapters though are from 2006 as Guy reveals to the reader football experiences that the average fan in the UK will never get to, in trips to the outpost of the Faroe Islands and Northern Cyprus for the ELF Cup (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity), with Crimea, Gagauzia, Greenland, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Tibet, Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar, the participants.

However, nearly a third of the chapters are devoted to Guy and his fellow travellers as they find a new ‘home’ in the guise of Accrington Stanley. It is somehow fitting that for the author his connection to the game and what he feels is at the heart and soul of the match experience is found in a club that folded back in 1966, only to be reborn in 1968 and once more find its way back into the Football League. Guy is won over by the honesty, the friendliness and eccentricity of the those who follow ‘Stanley’ home and away and the people working to keep the club operating.

The finding of the connection at Accrington and indeed the writing of the book and the different experiences along the way, are no doubt a cathartic experience for Guy, who acknowledges in the final chapter that despite the loss of Salisbury City and the memories of his grandfather at Victoria Park, “it’s time to stop mourning, because it is all here in spirit.”

Right, now for all those associated with Bury FC, they will be consumed by grief and will be mourning the loss of their team and what it has meant to the town. All they have right now is memories, but Another Bloody Saturday gives us hope that there is a new future born out of the spirit of the past.