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Wed 20 Feb 2008 01:07 AM

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Web fans sign for lowly English club

Shareholders of Ebbsfleet United celebrate world's first community website takeover of a football club.

More than 28,000 sports fans from across the world on Tuesday formally completed the takeover of a lowly English football club, gaining power over everything from team selection to transfers.

The fans each paid a modest 35-pound (46-euro, 68-dollar) annual fee to sign up to www.myfootballclub.co.uk (MyFC), which then spent months scouring the leagues to find a suitable club to buy for the experiment.

Shareholders of Ebbsfleet United, who play in the fifth tier of English football, the Blue Square Premier league, met Monday night to agree the takeover, which came into effect Tuesday.

MyFC spokesman Will Brooks told AFP: "It's the first community website takeover of a football club in the world and, I think, of any business. We may see more of this in the future.

"Today is a big day because in less than 10 months, from no-one having heard of us, we now have more than 28,000 people from all over the world who are owners of a football club".

MyFC has bought a 625,000-pound or 75 percent stake in the south-east England club through its Internet subscriptions. Some 400,000 pounds have been paid upfront with the rest spread out over two years.

Brooks said the innovative investment could only benefit the club, which is losing about 30,000 pounds a year. The website has provided a new source of income, while media exposure had earned them new kit suppliers for next season.

Existing sponsors Eurostar were also said to be overjoyed at the initiative - and the extra publicity: they recently opened a new station at Ebbsfleet on the high-speed rail link between London, Paris and Brussels.

With top league football increasingly dominated by corporate interests, Brooks suggested that MyFC was popular because it offered a "wholesome alternative": members will not get a share of the profits or take dividends.

"What people like about what we're doing is it's closer to grassroots football, to players earning just a few hundred quid a week and you can have a drink with them in the bar after games," he added.

"It's more real in many ways. It's not at all a rebellion against corporate football. It's just an attractive and potentially a very good way of funding a lower league club."

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