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Internet-based group of soccer fans to buy controlling interest in English soccer club

An Internet-based group of soccer fans from more than 70 countries is going to buy a controlling interest in an English soccer club.

The deal will give them a vote on everything from team lineup selections to which players should be transferred.

Ebbsfleet United, a lower-league professional team, said it was overjoyed by the deal with MyFootballClub, calling it a world first and the start of a new age in soccer club ownership.

"This is a brand new concept, basically a massive trust," said Roland Edwards, a director and club secretary of Ebbsfleet United in Kent, southern England.

"These individuals have bought the team. They will help run it; they will feel part of it," he said in a telephone interview.

Ebbsfleet United is currently in the fifth tier of English soccer, known as the Football Conference, which is the level below the four divisions of professional soccer - the Premier League, League Championship, League One and League Two.

Edwards said he hopes its new owners will help push it up one notch to League Two. Ebbsfleet United is ranked ninth in the Conference, which has 24 teams.

Edwards wouldn't disclose the price MyFootballClub agreed in principle to pay for a 51 percent stake interest in the club. He said the deal would be completed in several weeks.

MyFootballClub, which charges its 20,000 members a 35 pound (US$72; 50 EUR) annual fee, has a kitty of more than 700,000 pounds (US$1.5 million; 993,000 EUR), and its money will not only help operate the team but deepen its pockets to buy new players, Edwards said.

MyFC, as it also is known, is the brainchild of former soccer journalist Will Brooks, who launched it in April.

The fans will vote on key decisions on Ebbsfleet United's day-to-day operation, from picking the team to selecting transfer targets and sanctioning moves. Under the deal, manager Liam Daish will see his job title changed to head coach to signify his changed role.

Edwards said the fans obviously will have no role during the matches, when Daish and the players will be making their own decisions.

But during the week, Edwards said, fans will be able to e-mail in their views about who should play in each weekend game.

"There will be a lot of dialogue and the head coach will respond leading up to the games," Edwards said.

The fans also will be able to watch the games worldwide via the Internet.

Supporters Direct, an organization set up to promote democratic ownership of soccer clubs, has its reservations, however.

"This might be seen as a one-off gimmick, and harmless enough by many, however this is a real football club, these are real finances, and real fans," Supporters Direct spokesman Kevin Rye said. "The question needs to be asked what happens to the club finances and its supporters if the novelty starts to wear off?"

But Daish said he was happy the fans would have an input on team matters.

"As a football fan, I think the idea is fantastic," he said. "I look forward to the challenge of working with thousands of members to produce a winning team."

Brooks, MyFootballClub's founder, said: "Nine football clubs approached us, and we believe that Ebbsfleet is the right choice.

"We hope that MyFootballClub members and Ebbsfleet supporters will join forces to make the football club more sustainable and successful."

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