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 20 – Tuesday 28 January 2020: Wigan Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday

Another night game – I do love going to watch games under the floodlights, and this one was only about an hour down the road at the DW Stadium in Wigan.

Matchday programme cover

Wigan were formed in 1932, the same year as my Dad was born and spent most of their early life in non-league football. They earned election to the league in the days before automatic promotion and relegation, which was not introduced until 1987. The Latics actually finished in second place in the Northern Premier League in the 1977/78 season, behind Champions Boston United. However, Boston’s ground and facilities did not meet the Football League criteria for a League club, whereas Springfield Park, the then home of Wigan did. They replaced Southport (another ground to visit on the list) for the start of the 1978/79 season. The club languished in the lower echelons of the professional leagues up until the mid-90s. Then in 1995 the club was taken over by former professional footballer and local businessman Dave Whelan (he played for Blackburn Rovers, including an appearance in the 1960 FA Cup, when he broke his leg and later, Crewe Alexandra), famous for the JJB Sports empire. He put together a plan for the club to reach the Premier League which they finally achieved in 2005 and unexpectedly remained until their zenith of the FA Cup Final win over Manchester City in 2013. However, that same season they were sadly also relegated and have remained either in the Championship or League One since. As I write, the club has become embroiled in controversy, as at the start of July 2020, less than a month after a change of ownership, the Club announced it had gone into administration.

The Latics moved from Springfield Park to the DW Stadium for the start of the 1999/2000 season and it is also home to the town’s Rugby League team the Wigan Warriors. I opted for a seat in the Springfield Stand on the west side of the ground on a night when the conditions kept the attendance to under 10,000, but my overall impression was that it was a tidy ground.

Handshakes before kick-off

It was a quiet start to proceedings with the first real chance not coming until about twenty five minutes in, when Wigan’s Antonee Robinson had space in the box but fired over and wide as Wednesday ‘keeper Cameron Dawson advanced out to close him down. Just five minutes later it was the visitors Sheffield Wednesday who nearly went in front. Poor defending from The Latics in giving away possession provided an opportunity for The Owls Newcastle United loanee, Josh Murphy, however much to the relief of the home fans after a driving run, the forward dragged his effort wide. Wednesday though went ahead on thirty-two minutes, Morgan Fox got out wide and his cross was headed in by Murphy who out-muscled his marker on the edge of the six-yard box. Samy Morsy responded for the home side with a shot from 35 yards which Dawson did well to push away. Just before the break, The Owls had another good chance, when from a knock-down, Fox fired wide from the edge of the area. At the half-time whistle, the visitors held a 1-0 advantage.

The home fans didn’t have to wait too long to have something to cheer in the second-half, when on fifty-six minutes, Wigan levelled. After good hold-up play a ball into the box found Keiffer Moore who did well to control and then turn and fire home despite pressure from The Owls defender Julian Borner. With their tails up after the goal Wigan went in search of a second goal. A good chance came with about fifteen minutes remaining as Cedric Kipre broke into the box following a corner, but his effort lacked power and Dawson was able to save comfortably at his near post. More opportunities came as the game entered the closing stages. Michael Jacobs had a glorious chance to put Wigan ahead from a Jamal Lowe cut back but The Owls ‘keeper Dawson saved well. With just seven minutes remaining, Jamal Lowe got behind the Wednesday rear-guard, but goal-scorer Moore, couldn’t connect properly and another opportunity went begging. With some fans starting to drift away in the last minute of the game, Wigan pumped a hopeful ball into the box and after a flick-on Jamal Lowe was first to the ball and looped his header over Dawson into the Wednesday goal. The Latics though had to endure six minutes of time added-on and survived a last gasp goalmouth scramble to claim all three points in a 2-1 comeback win.


Tuesday 28 January 2020

Sky Bet Championship

Wigan Athletic 2 (Moore 56’, Lowe 90’) Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Murphy 32’)

Venue: DW Stadium

Attendance: 9,759

Wigan Athletic: Marshall, Byrne, Kipre, Naismith, Robinson, Morsy, Evans (Garner 89’), Lowe, Gelhardt (Jacobs 66’), Dowell (Williams 66’), Moore

Unused Substitutes: Jones, Dunkley, Roberts, Massey.

Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Fox (Lees 50’), Harris (Reach 71’), Pelupessy, Bannan, Winnall (Rhodes 58’), Borner, Murphy, Nuhiu, Odubajo, Iorfa

Unused Substitutes: Wildsmith, Borukov, Hunt, Urhoghide.


Steve Blighton

2010/11: Barclays Premier League – Wigan Athletic v Man United

I don’t expect fans, managers and players to be totally impartial, unfortunately it goes with the territory that is football. However, how can you defend the indefensible? Wigan Athletic v Manchester United, the opening ten minutes and with the game at 0-0 an off the ball incident sparks a major reaction from the home crowd. The Match of the Day replays show without dispute Rooney running into James McCarthy and delivering a blow at the head of the Wigan defender. The referee awards a free-kick and the thug Rooney gets no more than  a word from the ref. It’s quite clearly a red-card offence. Did the official not see the incident? He awarded a free kick to Wigan, so he saw something.  I’d love to see his match report and his view on the incident.

Now I’m not saying that against ten men, Wigan would have changed the result, but the game would have undoubtedly taken a different course. What was incredible was the post match comments from Manchester United’s lap-dog of an assistant manager Mike Phelan, who lamely stated, “…we can’t dispute the referee’s decision…he’s kept the game flowing and we’re happy with that…”. So Michael lets fast forward to Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge and in the opening five minutes of the game, Anelka assaults Vidic, Rooney style. No card for the Chelsea player and he goes on and scores in a 2-0 win for the Blues. Will the Manchester United management team take the same stance?

As if Phelan’s words weren’t pathetic enough, Ferguson then states that having watched the incident, “..there’s nothing in it…”. WHAT? Is he truly blind. Sticking by your players is one thing, but in this case it was a physical assault. Instead we get the usual defence mechanism that is a characteristic of the Old Trafford media machine in deflecting the attention away from the brute Rooney. Would it have been too much for the manager to say that Rooney had been lucky to get away with it and he would be disciplined internally?

I’m sick of the acceptance of this type of behaviour from players and clubs who condone it. Unfortunately we seem to moving ever nearer to a game and an England team that reflects the worst elements of our countries traits – greed, intolerance, hedonism, thuggery, cheating and deception.

Does it really hurt so much to tell the truth occasionally?