LONDON : Fans in their thousands are gearing up to become the latest owners of an English football club, though more likely Accrington Stanley or Torquay United than Manchester United or Arsenal.
Following the takeovers of Premiership giants Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester City this year, 53,000 football supporters have signed up to myfootballclub.co.uk, pledging allegiance to a scheme looking to buy a club.
Will Brooks, founder of the website, is seeking 35 pounds (US$69) from every would-be member.
The site notes that the sum is less than a ticket for most Premier League games or a new football-manager computer game.
"Four clubs have actually approached us (about being bought), even before we raised one pence," Brooks told AFP, adding that the four are currently competing in the fourth and fifth tiers of English football.
"We're in talks with these four clubs, none of those have been ruled out. We're also early into the collecting of money," said Brooks.
"If we haven't bought a club within 12 months, everyone who paid the membership fee will get a refund. So it is in everyone's interest to get a club as quickly as possible."
Assuming that myfootballclub.co.uk succeeds in attracting 35 pounds from all 53,000 fans, and after taking into account costs, Brooks said his team would have about 1.5 million pounds with which to buy a club.
Those who have signed onto the website have also voted for the club they would like to see bought.
Leading the chase is Leeds United, a club in turmoil after recently kicking off the new season in the third tier of the English league for the first time in its history, and on minus 15 points after breaching insolvency rules.
"What we've always said is that the takeover team will work its way down the list until its finds the most suitable club for the members, the club it thinks offers the best chance of success," said Brooks, who has employed a legal firm to conduct negotiations.
The former football writer noted that two of the clubs in discussions with myfootballclub.co.uk about being bought are in debt, though he did not see this as posing a problem to any buy-out.
"Everything is manageable and quite often you can buy a club for 10p (pence) or something and you take on a bit of the debt."
Once a club is snapped up the members will each receive one vote-carrying share.
"Every decision that is made will be a joint decision and all along the way members will be guided by the respective experts at the club.
"Every decision that is taken, people will be happy with because they'll realise that's what the majority of members want to happen," Brooks said.
Emphasising the members' influence in their club, Brooks noted that fans would have a say in team formations and transfers into and out of the club.
This in turn would help, rather than hinder the coach, he argued.
"We do think he'll have a lot of influence. He will brief the members on suggestions for formations...He will have a very big input in guiding the members towards the team selection.
"He then of course takes total control of that team on matchday and it will be down to him to deal with tactics, substitutions during the game.
"The coach will have quite a say, but why we think this has got so much potential is that it actually takes a lot of the pressure off the coach and he can concentrate on coaching the team."
He added: "A lot of managers suffer from the fans criticising team selections, where as this coach will be in a nice position where the pressure is taken off him.
"If the members pick the wrong team (via the web) he'll be able to tell them. It's potentially quite an interesting position and in a way it probably offers a lot more job security than a lot of managers' jobs."
That is a point Tottenham boss Martin Jol might agree with.
After just three Premier League games of the new season the Dutchman is facing the sack at White Hart Lane. - AFP/ra