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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2015/16: Sky Bet League One – Chesterfield v Bradford City

004Having suffered five consecutive league defeats coming into this fixture, there was little Festive cheer at the Procat Stadium on a squally afternoon for the visit of Bradford City. The Bantams arrived in Derbyshire having lost their first league game in eleven outings, after a 2-1 defeat to Walsall.

The Spireites started the day in 17th place in League One with their opponents Bradford City eight points ahead in 10th place.

Before the action started there was a minute’s applause for former Chesterfield Chairman Barrie Hubbard who recently passed away.

Chesterfield kicked-off and within two minutes Sylvan Ebanks-Blake won a free-kick in a good position, but it was easily cleared by the City defence. James Hanson was prominent for Bradford in the opening minutes as was Tony McMahon who found himself clear on the right but mis-controlled the ball allowing it to go out of play.

The visitors were dominating early on with Hanson and Kyle Reid looking to get behind the Chesterfield back four in a direct manner, although this was not always successful as the wind was taking some of the passes straight through to Tommy Lee in the Chesterfield goal.

The home team’s first opportunity came on ten minutes. Jay O’Shea got down the left and his partly cleared cross fell to Ebanks-Blake, but his shot lacked power and was easily save by Ben Williams. This was the only brief opportunity for Chesterfield in an opening fifteen minutes that City dominated.

Reid earned City’s first corner on the quarter-hour mark, which Billy Clarke headed against the post and the resulting Gary Liddle shot was easily gathered by Lee. Minutes later Hanson was at full stretch for The Bantams, but he could only put his effort wide of the left post.

Chesterfield gradually started to work their way back into the game and after twenty three minutes Ebanks-Blake had a header on target for the home-side. However, The Bantams continued to press and Lee had to be alert to turn Reid’s effort away for a corner.

It was thirty minutes before Chesterfield had their first corner of the game. The effort was punched away but the resultant Dion Donohue effort to keep the attack alive was wayward.

As the last ten minutes of the half approached Lee needed attention after taking a goal kick, although it proved to be nothing serious.

Ebanks-Blake was continuing to work hard for Chesterfield as was O’Neil down the right, who also had an excellent drive which went not too far over the bar.

With the interval approaching, the visitors picked up the pace as Hanson had a shot deflected for a corner and minutes later Reece Burke had a header on target. However, Chesterfield almost snatched the lead before half-time in the minute of time added one, when from Talbot’s cross, Ebanks-Blake headed over.

Chesterfield made a change at the break with the injured Drew Talbot replaced by Ritchie Humphreys.

As with the opening half, Bradford started the better of the teams and four minutes in a teasing cross from Burke evaded the City forwards. The visitors then had a double chance to take the lead after fifty two minutes. First, Reid had a shot saved by Lee and from the corner the Chesterfield keeper was again in action to brilliantly save from Hanson’s header.

There was a brief scare on fifty four minutes as Chesterfield captain Ian Evatt went down with a head injury, but was thankfully soon up on his feet.

Just before the hour mark Gboly Ariyibi dragged an effort wide for Chesterfield and it was his last significant action as two minutes later he was replaced by Dan Gardner.

A minute later the first booking of the afternoon arrived as substitute Ritchie Humpheys was cautioned.

With sixty five minutes gone Ollie Banks had an effort deflected for a corner, but before it was taken there was a goal-mouth altercation which led to Ebanks-Banks and McArdle being booked. It was an incident that seemed to spark the crowd into action as the volume from both sets of fans increased.

Bradford were starting to warm to the task and on sixty nine minutes Hanson’s flicked header had Clarke through on goal, but his first touch was poor and the chance was gone. Clarke had a chance to redeem himself just minutes later when he bore down on goal, but his shot was deflected for a corner.

Then on seventy two minutes the breakthrough came, Clarke again caused problems for Chesterfield down the left and his cutback was swept in by McMahon for a deserved lead for The Bantams.

With fifteen minutes remaining, the home-side made their last change with O’Neil departing for Rai Simons. Five minutes later Bradford made a change with Clarke making way for Devante Cole.

The final ten minutes saw Bradford come under little real pressure from Chesterfield who looked bereft of any real idea as to where an equaliser might come from and could only produce a couple of long range efforts from Donohue and a header from Ebanks-Blake.

With four minutes of time added-on Reid gave way to James Meredith as The Bantams looked to wind-down the clock.

At the whistle the fifteen hundred plus City fans celebrated what was a deserved three points.

2015/16: Capital One Cup First Round – Carlisle United v Chesterfield

League Two Carlisle United beat League One Chesterfield 3-1 in extra time at Brunton Park in the Capital One Cup first round.

Jabo Ibehre was the hero for United scoring twice. The first came from a header with just 15 minutes remaining. However, Emmanuel Dieseruvwe levelled for the Spireites to take the game into extra time.

Dieseruvwe though was sent off seconds into extra time for an elbow before Ibehre put the Cumbrians ahead with a right-footed volley.

With time almost up and as Chesterfield pushed for an equaliser, Kevin Osei confirmed victory in injury time with a curling effort

Chesterfield came out of the blocks fastest with Gboly Ariyibi an early threat which resulted in a Spireites corner in the opening minute.

This bright start continued in the opening six minutes as Chesterfield created three great opportunities to take the lead. First, Armand Gnanduillet fired against the post and moments later a second chance fell to captain Sam Morsy who forced Carlisle keeper Mark Gillespie into an excellent save to his left. The last of the trio of efforts on goal for the Spireites saw Gnanduillet round the keeper only to see his goal-bound effort blocked.

At this stage Chesterfield totally dominated the home side and Dan Jones and Ariyibi were combining to great effect.

With ten minutes on the clock Carlisle made their first real threat on the Chesterfield half with Patrick Brough and Steven Rigg combining. Indeed it was this pair who fashioned United’s first chance with Rigg’s header going wide and marked a change in momentum.

Just three minutes later Tommy Lee had to be at his best to save from Rigg and then almost immediately stop an Alexander McQueen attempt on goal.

As the game entered the midway point of the first-half the pace settled with Gnanduillet and Ariyibi continuing to work hard upfront, prompted by Gardner and Jones.

Carlisle though grew in confidence as the half progressed and Chesterfield were grateful to their keeper Lee to keeper out a curling effort from Angelo Balanta on thirty six minutes and from a Grainger free-kick seven minutes later, as the Chesterfield custodian leapt high to palm over the strike.

Even as half-time approached Lee was called into action once more, having to punch away a stinging free-kick from Grainger with Spireites skipper Ian Evatt booked for the initial challenge which conceded the foul.

As in the first-half, Chesterfield started strongly in the second period and Gillespie had to be quickly out to stop Ariyibi as he bore down on goal. Gardner also caused the home team problems from midfield in the opening exchanges.

However, in a repeat of the opening half, Carlisle came into the game and gained in confidence. With McQueen dangerous from the wing, Chesterfield were grateful to see a header from Charlie Raglan drift wide of their own goal.

As the hour mark passed, Carlisle made a double substitution. Charlie Wyke was replaced by Jabo Ibehre and Patrick Brough made way for Kevin Osei. The change proved to be inspired for Carlisle.

Chesterfield continued to press without creating any real opportunities although Jay O’Shea worked hard to drive the Spireites forward at every opportunity.

With twenty minutes to go the pace dropped and Chesterfield made their first change with Gnanduilet replaced by Mani Dieseruvwe.

The deadlock in an entertaining gamed was broken on seventy five minutes as a cross whipped in from the right-hand side was flicked home by Carlisle substitute Ibhere inside Lee’s left-hand post.

With ten minutes left Chesterfield made a change with Ariyibi taken off and Jake Orrell introduced to the action. And it was a case of the substitutes who combined to get the Spireites back in the game with six minutes left.

Orrell worked hard to retain possession and his intelligent ball to his right was swept home by Dieseruvwe for his first senior goal.

Chesterfield finished in the ascendancy but couldn’t fashion a chance as ninety minutes passed or indeed during the four minutes of time added on

Extra-time commenced in explosive fashion as Spireites goal-scorer Dieseruvwe was sent-off with twelve seconds for what appeared to be an elbow.

Carlisle looked to take advantage of the numerical advantage, as two minutes into extra-time Hery drove at the Chesterfield back four before his shot which went high and wide.

In order to provide some fresh legs, Chesterfield made their last change five minutes into extra-time when Banks was replaced by Michael Onovwigun.

However, chances proved to be at a premium in the remainder of the half with Osei having a strike for Carlisle straight at Lee, whilst Jake Orrell worked hard up front on his own for the Spireites.

Two minutes were added on at the end of the first period of extra-time and Osei had the only effort which was easily gathered by Lee during that period for United.

Substitute Osei proved to be a threat at the start of the second period of extra-time with an early shot from within the box which went comfortably wide and also latched onto a through ball which Lee saved bravely at the feet of the Carlisle striker.

This early pressure was the precursor to the Carlisle taking a 2-1 lead as within three minutes of the restart Grainger crossed and Ibehre hooked in his second of the night.

The Spireites responded almost immediately as O’Shea had a shot for Chesterfield which was deflected for a corner just a minute later.  Shortly after Gardner had a free-kick opportunity but it was high and wide.

Lee, who was Chesterfield’s man of the match, was in the wars when he dived at the feet of Rigg who earned a booking for his late lunge at the keeper.

Despite being a man down, the Spireites continued to create half-chances as Gardner miskicked from a good position and Morsey had a curling effort just wide.

However, Osei continued to be a threat for United and with the last two minutes of time added on nearly up, he broke down the left and curled into the top corner past the unfortunate Lee and condemn to Chesterfield to a 3-1 defeat.