Total football

When Brian Clough brought the phrase 'the beautiful game' into common usage, he would have probably rarely applied it to many Champions League games of recent years. Tense, defensively-minded tactics and meaningless group games have long been the order of the day, but this season has been different, and crowned by one of the most complete displays from a team in a modern major final. Barcelona perhaps needed a little bit of help from the referee to get to the final, but there was no doubting their class in Rome. Fans are used to leaving games speechless, but rarely because they struggle to find superlatives that do the winning team justice. Tonight, Barcelona turned in one of those performances.

Granted, they needed an early goal to settle their nerves and were helped by poor defending and goalkeeping from United. But what followed them was a masterclass in how to win a game.

The Catalans defence, missing three first-choice players and making do with a holding midfielder at centre-half and a centre-half at right back were imperious, only twice giving United the space to fashion chances, both of which the English side wasted. Puyol, at right-back, was magnificent, keeping both Ronaldo and Rooney quiet and bombing up the wing like a man half his age.

In the centre, Xavi and Iniesta were sublime. Every move, every chance inevitably came through these two. No ball was wasted and no matter how tight the space was, the pass could always be found. Some of the interplay in the centre of the park was a joy to watch and they could well have bettered that goal by Cambiasso for Argentina against Serbia, such was the build up and crispness of the passing.

Up front, Henry rolled back the years, Messi weaved his magic and Eto'o was, well, Eto'o. He scored in a European cup final, he did his job, he's still not as good as the statistics may suggest this season, but he deserved his medal tonight.

The second goal was a thing of beauty. Yes, the defence went awol, but Xavi's cross was pinpoint perfect and Messi's leap and header was exquisite. How a man of 5 foot 7 could leap that high and put that amount of direction on the ball is beyond me.

Then again, Manchester United were poor, with only Rooney and Park trying to make anything of the game. But let's not dwell on that. Barcelona could have been playing anybody tonight, and I'd be lavishing praise on them (and given they've thumped both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich this season, this result isn't entirely surprising).

It's rare that I'll sit down on here and shower superlatives (or otherwise) on a team that isn't Exeter, but Barcelona blew me away tonight. That they managed such a performance in the Champions League final is even more impressive.

And this post isn't intended as United bashing. I'm strangely indifferent to the team. They're the least objectionable of the Big Four, they play nice football and have one of the best players in the world in Wayne Rooney playing for them. And they were ws abject as Barcelona were superb tonight.

Truthfully, anybody could have supplied the opposition tonight and I'd still have been blown away by that performance. I've got no interest in poking fun at United (if it were Plymouth...), just in praising Barcelona for one of the greatest team performances I've ever witnessed.

I'm not sure if it quite comes close to Exeter City at Oxford United in the Conference play-off final second leg in 2007 though.

Anyway, if you want a bit more football, there's the twofootedtackle podcast, largely taken up with dissecting Newcastle United's corpse, plus a bit of chat on the Bundesliga. And there's more mulling over the Magpies from me at Soccerlens.

I promise I will largely shut up about football on here now. At least for the next two months.

Mission accomplished: League One here we come

We can get back to normal now, the football season is over and Exeter City have secured a fantastic back-to-back promotion to League One. When you consider six years ago we were days away from liquidation, it's an amazing achievement. It's not something I EVER thought I'd witness as a City fan and I'm still pinching myself as I look at the teams we'll be playing next season. Norwich, Charlton, Southampton and possibly Leeds, plus a couple of great local derbies against Yeovil and Bristol Rovers.

Needless to say, Saturday afternoon at the rather bizarre Don Valley Stadium (hopefully Rotherham can vacate the athletics stadium asap as it does them no favours either) ranks among one of the best of my football-supporting life.

I won't bore you any longer on here, but predictably I've got a piece up on Soccerlens about Exeter, so go read.

I also imagine it'll be discussed in the twofootedtackle.com podcast tonight as well. Being the host has it's advantages...

Ok, now I'll get back to media, t'interweb, journalism and PR, aye?

More football stuff elsewhere

The podcasts are coming thick and fast and despite me breaking the pod record for saying the word interesting, the twofootedtackle pod number five with Ollie Irish from Big Soccer and Who Ate All The Pies is sounding good. Speaking of pies, the big debate on the pod this week was which football ground serves the best pie. Ollie says Plymouth (surely they just serve pasties there), Chris says Villa and I say Kidderminster (which Thom agrees with). I've never been to Wigan though.

(Other pie recommendations include Oldham and Bristol Rovers for pasties).

You can join in the pie debate by becoming a fan of the podcast on Facebook.

And, while I'm at it, this week's Soccerlens piece is on the rise of AFC Wimbledon. Sadly not accompanied by the fall of Franchise FC.

Podcast 3 & Soccerlens

The twofootedtackle podcast three is now up. Chris and I were joined in the studio by Luton Town fan and general football obsessive Ben Shaw. Unsurprisingly, Luton's Johnstone Paint Trophy Final victory featured, alomg with a general chat about Luton's ongoing woes. Continuing the woe theme, Southampton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Barry Ferguson and, erm, Ade Akinbiyi all featured in the discussion.

And Southampton are also the topic of this week's Soccerlens. Sad times on the South Coast.

twofootedtackle Podcast 2 and other footballing fun

After a tentative start to the opening week, there's some really fascinating stuff on this week's twofootedtackle podcast. We're joined by Terry Duffelen from The Onion Bag and Some People Are On The Pitch to talk about England Internationals, the Bundesliga, the possible returning of terracing and Lewes FC among other topics. It's quite good. Go on, have a listen.

Also, the weekly Soccerlens column is up. This week, it's the problems at Merthyr Tydfil and boy do they have a lot of problems. Enjoy.

Weymouth

Given the amount I write about various football clubs, both positive and negative, it's very rare I'll use this platform to actively ask people to get involved to help a club. In Weymouth's case I'll make an exception. The Terras aren't just drinking in the last chance saloon, they're wiping the ale from around their mouth as they try to work out if they can afford another beer. They may not make the end of the season.

On Saturday, they were forced to field a youth side as they couldn't pay their insurance for their first team. The kids were thrashed 9-0 at home to Rushden & Diamonds.

The future looks bleak for Weymouth. Due to a succession of bad chairmen, poor decisions and general overspending, the Dorset club have spent the last few seasons in crisis. This season could be one season too far. Who knows if they'll make it to May or beyond.

Crisis clubs are ten-a-penny at the moment, sadly, but you really have to feel for The Terras. Each new fresh dawn very quickly turns sour and into another financial mess. The supporters have to endure this on an annual basis.

And underneath it, there are a fantastically loyal band of supporters - enough to sustain a decent non-league club (if perhaps not at Conference level). They've suffered more than most.

I've not had particularly good experiences at the Wessex. Exeter usually lose there, for a start. But there's still something I like about the club and want it to succeed. It's hard to feel anything by sympathy for the fans.

So, if you've got a spare tenner lying about, please donate to Weymouth's Save Our Club. It may not be much, but it all helps.

There's a bit more background at When Saturday Comes and Two Hundred Per Cent.

[There's no Soccerlens column from me this week as I'm busy on other projects. The excellent Chris Nee will be stepping in for me instead].

Ebbsfleet United: An update

This week, the renewals are due for MyFootballClub.co.uk, the fan website that, last year, brought Conference club Ebbsfleet United. The numbers, so far, do not look good for the club. Over at Soccerlens I crunch through the numbers and try my best to analyse why there's been such a drop in membership (if my figures are correct, about 20 thousand won't renew) and also what this means for the club.

It probably won't be pretty.

When I first heard about MyFC, I was naturally cynical. I've spent enough time watching, reading and reporting on football and have seen enough ambitious and often hare-brained schemes collapse.

MyFC always seemed a bit different.

There was always a chance it would work, that the club would achieved success and, buoyed by that, it attracted legions of more fans and would be able to compete in the league.

There was also a (to me) higher chance that the voting elements, especially fans voting on picking the team, would cause more problems than it was worth. And the idea of a business model based on an unpredictable number of yearly subscribers looked shaky.

That said, even I'm surprised at how quickly things look like they've started to go wrong. I always maintained the idea would have short-term success but the acid test would come about two or three seasons down the line. Looks like my estimate was a little out.

Ebbsfleet were owned by fans but not owned by their fans. That, I think, was always going to be a key issue.

Anyway, that's the article. Read. Comment. Bookmark. Pass it on. And if there's anything you can add to it, please do.

Moldovans that don't exist

At Soccerlens, Fredorrachi unravels the story of Masal Bugduv, a Moldovan teenage football sensation who was linked with a move to Arsenal and listed in The Times' top 50 young footballers to watch. And who doesn't actually exist. Ok, so this one is quite amusing (and not on the same level as a lot of the poorly-written science stories). But it does show how good the net is at picking up and correcting these sort of things. And the importance of a good sub-editor. Although, in fairness, this was a pretty well put together hoax.

Mind you, football fans can be quite cruel. I can think of at least two occasions when Exeter City fans have started rumours about players that don't exist on the unofficial message boards and the then manager(s) have been forced to deny in the local that they're interested in signing said player.

It's still nowhere near as funny as the time that Graeme Souness gave a debut to Ali "I'm George Weah's cousin, honest" Dia at Southampton though.

Foreign players and markets

Earlier today, on an Exeter City mailing list I subscribe to (yes, such things exist), Mike Blackstone posed the following question:

"What if the only players who were allowed to play in the Premier and Football  League were to be born in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern ireland  and the Republic of ireland? Would this not make the respective  international teams stronger (eventually) as more home grown players came through the ranks?"

I started replying, the realised it was turning into an epic consideration of all things foreign, football politics, and quite possibly ill-thought through economics of the sport. So, what the hell, I'll post it on here.

Normally this would go over onto Soccerlens, but it's very much a work in progress and I'd be interested for other people to throw their own views in here, as I've undoubtedly missed a few things or there's a stunningly good argument to demolish one, or all, of the points. It might get shaped into some kind of article in coming weeks. Possibly.

Here, in all its unrefined glory (or lack of) is my answer to Mike's question:

***

To go back to Mike's original question, I think it would make more players available for the teams, but may not necessarily make it stronger. Ok, so there may be more players to chose from, but that won't help if all the players are of a lower standard than the foreign players they replace. It will weaken the league and, in the long run, damage the international teams, no matter how good the short-term measure would be.

Blaming the foreign influx is an easy way to see a solution to the perceived problem, but there are wider underlying issues here that aren't the fault of foreign players.

1. First of all, foreign players have benefitted the league. Having world class players like Henry, Cantona, Zola, Bergkamp, etc compete in England has made the league more attractive to advertisers and sponsorship and has resulted in more money flowing in. That clubs lower down have not benefitted from this cash is due to the Premier League and the FA, not foreigners.

2. Players such as Henry et al have provided inspiration for youngsters today to take up the game, and have given our game something different. Previously a player such as, say, Matthew Le Tissier, wasn't fancied at international level despite being one of the nearest things we had to a continetal playmaker like Totti or Cantona. Now there's much more of an appreciation of the different types of skills and players and such role models can only be good for the British game. Look at the likes of Aaron Ramsey - he could be that type of player in a few years time. Fifteen years ago, he'd have probably been discarded in favour of a workhorse who would put in energy and muscle but not as much skill.

3. The failure to bring through a generation of younger players is, again, down to the FA and the Premier League. By abandoning the idea of a national centre at Burton, there was no focal point and incentive for PL clubs to invest in their own homegrown talent - indeed, PL clubs weren't overly fond of the FA taking off their brightest young talents on a regular basis. Owen, Joe Cole and others went through the old FA schools. Reviving Burton will give us a better chance at training and indentifying promising youngsters.

As an aside, the whole system of training our children is probably flawed. The emphasis is on putting them into a position as early as possible, stick to it, and win at all costs from a very early age. Other countries encourage children to play on all positions in non-competitive games in their pre-teen years. That way youngsters can enjoy the game without the pressure of having to win, and develop an apprecation of what their colleagues on the pitch can do, as well as enhancing skills they would not have got had they simply played as a striker week in week out.

4. The strength of our economy over recent years has played a part. Foreign players have an incentive to move here because they will often earn more than in their home countires due to the strength of the pound. Their wage demand and cost would be less than British players, so clubs would go for the cheap option. Although, there's also a part of this whereby clubs have thought with short-term goals, seen the success of Cantona, Zola and Henry (and some of the players to progress through Arsenal's ranks) and have tried to do the same, albeit on a cut-price level in line with their budgets. They were cheaper than British players to bring through.

5. By the same token, British players, for whatever reason, have been reluctant to move abroad. Part of this is to do with the inflated wealth whereby they can get more for bench-warming in the Premiership than playing football abroad in a country where the currency is weaker. Also, there's a slightly suspicious attitude of Brits playing abroad, probably scarred by past experiences. Owen Hargreaves was widely assumed to be no good for a long period of time, despite a successful career at one of Germany's biggest clubs. This also gave him a slightly different footballing education and exposure to a different style of play. Who is to say that, for example, Justin Hoyte, wouldn't have been better served by going to Hamburg or PSV rather than Middlesbrough? As has been pointed out, we have a large flow of foreigners coming into this league, but very few going in the opposite direction. A more even import-export ratio of players would benefit British teams.

6. In the midst of all this, you have bad decision making, both from the clubs individually and the governing bodies. No matter how many rules and regulations you put in place, you can't legislate for businesses making mistakes by buying bad players or overspending so they can only afford cheap foreign imports, and nor should you. Plus, nothing can ever account for Steve McClaren.

7.  Supporters too have their part to play in the current state of affairs. By wanting success instantaneously, they're less willing to see a club spend time on developing and blooding younger players. Take Theo Walcott - wonder boy at 17, written-off at 18 when he hardly played, now seen as a key player to Arsenal and a huge blow when injured. Less single-minded managers than Wenger may not have given Walcott the time and patience he needed to develop. A medium-name foreign signing comes with little baggage and may temporarily appease fans, regardless of his ability.

8. As with most markets, this process is circular. Cycles come and go, and we may well see with the credit crunch, a return to home-grown players. With the pound a lot weaker in recent years, foreign players may find they're better served with their careers abroad. Some British players may also decide abroad is the best option. Similarly, clubs that have kept faith in their youth acaemdies, such as Exeter and the likes of Villa in the Premiership, are now starting to reap the benefits with their long-term attitude. In this credit crunch era, with less cash available, many clubs may well start to look at those teams that are successfully bringing through young players and see it as the solution to cutting costs (and external pressures, such as the constant debates on foreigners, may convince clubs its politik to have more home-grown players).

Conclusion: Football is a business, like any other (but also one that does spend a lot of time operating outside the parameters of what most reasonable businesses do) and has now moved into a much more globalised world. This has benefitted the quality of football, globally, as a whole and the Premier League as a market leader in this product. Much of the problems with foreign players can be explained by markets - having restrictions on the market in the form of home-grown only players (short-term protectionism) won't work in the long-term, no matter how attractive a solution it may seem now.

We're moving onto another cycle of the market in footballers and this should even out over the next 12 months. English football currently appears to have the best available man for the job in the post who brings a different sensibility to the game and, you suspect, wouldn't dismiss players from his plans if, say, they moved abroad.

I'm actually pretty optimistic about the long-term future of English future in this current climate. And, yes, looking at the current crop of Welsh players emerging, I'm actually quite optimistic about our chances for Euro 2012 as well.

Gary Elsewhere: on Oxford United

As the title suggest, this week's Soccerlens column is on Oxford United, and their current financial predicament. I feel sorry for Oxford's fans. They've been passed from pillar to post ever since Robert Maxwell's takeover, and are stuff suffering the effects of Firoz Kassam's stewardship of the club. The current owners are definitely a vast improvement on Kassam - and certainly aren't helped by the fact he still owns the stadium and charges rent for it - but there have probably been a couple of honest mistakes along the way.

It also doesn't help when the board stay quiet, which allows rumour and speculation to grow. Although since I wrote that piece they have apparently told Radio Oxford they're not going into administration.

What happens now remains to be seen. I, for one, hope Oxford pull through this. They've got a great set of fans who have suffered for many many years now.

Calling football bloggers

Chris from Two Footed Tackle and I had been talking about getting a bunch of football bloggers together at some point. But rather than set up a blog meetup, Chris has gone one step further and created a Football Blogger social network using Ning (the same rather good platform Ben has used to created meandmybicycle.com).

If you're a football blogger that occasionally swings by here, do check it out and join. Hopefully at some point we can organise a meetup down the pub, and maybe take in a game or two.

Newcastle United

Ian at 200 per cent has an excellent post on the current madness at Newcastle United:

"One might have hoped that this whole sorry incident would have led to people re-evaluating whether putting one’s club into the hands of an individual that has absolute power over its destiny for the sake of a few pounds was wise, but this hasn’t happened. What has happened in the case of Newcastle United is that the billionaire owner doesn’t have enough money to throw into the insatiable fire that is the modern Premier League, so they need someone even richer. The over-riding irony of the modern Premier League is that everyone now seems to think that progressive football club ownership should be a return to this sort of master/serf relationship."

Go read.

Gary Elsewhere (Leigh Genesis) plus a quick moan

At Soccerlens. The evolution, if that's the right word, of Unibond side Leigh RMI into Leigh Genesis. Having read back the piece this morning, if it seems a little more cynical than usual, it's because I've seen this scenario all too many times. New chairman takes over at small, often non-league, club. Pumps loads of money in an effort to achieve their vision, whatever that may be. Pulls out when vision fails to be reached or cash runs out. Club goes down the shitter.

I don't know whether it's the Abramovich effect that's seeped down into lower levels or, as has usually been the case, businessmen with a bit more money than sense like being a big fish in a small pond for a bit and proclaimed as a hero around the town.

I've got nothing per se against Leigh Genesis, Ebbsfleet, or any of the other teams in similar situations. It's the people who build up the dreams and expectations only to pull out when the going gets tough. Hopefully Genesis and Fleet with prove to be the exceptions to this rule, but it's happened time and time again and it's always the fans who suffer most when everything goes tits up. Perhaps I'll be wrong here, but I can't see Leigh being any different.

Where do Ebbsfleet go from here (Gary Elsewhere)

Over at Soccerlens I've done quite a lengthy piece about where Ebbsfleet United go now as they begin their first close season under the ownership of MyFootballClub.co.uk. Needless to say, I'm still sceptical, but the rough conclusion is if they drop the pick the team option they might be stronger for it. Go read.

UPDATE: It's been really interested reading feedback on the Fleet forums and the article itself (wish I could access the MyFC forums but I'm not parting with £35 just for that) and raises points I'd never have thought of. What's also interesting is the number of people who thinking dropping the Pick The Team element would be a good thing, although it's hard to tell how representative a sample all the respondents are.

Exeter City: Wembley Winnners

So, after five seasons of languishing in non-league, Exeter City are finally back where they belong, after a tense one-nil win against Cambridge at Wembley. Unsurprisingly I'm a tad hungover today and have very little voice. To be honest, it's still sinking in. The run up to the game was a little strange for me. Last year, when City lost to Morecambe in the final, I was working as a journalist in Exeter and was churning out Wembley story after Wembley story and generally completely caught up in the whole buzz. Hell, my commentary from the semi-final even featured on an Exeter-themed reworking of Walk Like an Egyptian done by the morning DJs at the station I worked at. My life was Wembley, Wembley, Wembley.

Fast forward a year, and I'm now in London and having one of the busiest weeks at work since I started my new job (although it's not really new, given I've been there for seven months). Weird as it may sound, I was so focused on work, I'd not had time to get caught up in the pre-game hype. Even on Saturday night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow - I was that knackered.

Plus there was the lost from last year playing on my mind. Exeter had been to Wembley once and lost, and I really didn't want that to happen again. Plus, in my stomach I had an unexplained pessimistic feeling that we were going to get hammered. Yes, I was excited and nervous, but there was also a gritty determination not too get too carried away.

Sunday started leisurely, as I ambled towards Hampstead for an excellent lunch in an Italian cafe. No alcohol was involved, as I wanted to be focused. Plus, the area around Wembley is not pleasant. The regeneration-in-progress for the area can be seen as you walk along Wembley Way, but it's still a run-down part of London with local pubs that aren't too friendly, and a lingering sense of menace if you walk too far from the Stadium.

Instead my friend Rob and I made our way to a Hampstead boozer - a pre-arranged meet with the other Exeter London Exiles - for a couple of drinks before the game. Again, there wasn't a feeling amongst the fans that this was a day out, just a determination to cheer our team all the way to victory.

We were joined by my housemate and two more friend, including Megan, who'd only been to one other game: Tiverton Town at the Old Wembley in the FA Vase many years ago.

"So," asked Megan, "what does it mean if you win and go up?"

I paused for a moment. "Well, it means we move up from visiting some absolute shit-holes to places that are slightly less shit-hole like."

I've liked the Conference, but five years is a long time in non-league if you've not been there before. We'd come so close, I just wanted to be in the league again.

Stepping off the Jubilee line we found ourselves in the midst of a large number of Cambridge fans, and the difference was marked. They reminded me of how we felt last year: there was a buzz around them as they made their way to the stadium, but this was a day-tripping buzz. There were photos, there were lots of very cocky songs aimed at the Exeter fans, and many comments along the lines of "We're at Wembley! Wow!"

In contrast, there were songs from the Exeter fans but there was less lighthearted enjoyment and fewer photos as we headed into the stadium, and once we took our seats the noise was focused. Last year, the singing was dissapated throughout the stadium. This year, with the bulk of singers behind the goal, there were no feelings of just being there and enjoying the day out: just a desire to win. Returning after a loss at Wembley does that to you.

And then the kick-off. The noise from the City fans made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and within the first ten minutes my voice was close to going, due to some incredibly loud singing.

Now, I'd love to be able to tell you about the game itself and give a calm, rational analysis, but that's just impossible as it is a complete blur. I remember going mental when Rob Edwards headed us into the lead on 22 minutes. I can also tell you that the last 15 minutes were some of the tensest of my entire life, as Cambridge pushed forward for the equaliser. I have no idea what I was screaming at this stage, but I know for a fact I was making one hell of a lot of noise.

All around us, fans had given up on any pretence of sitting down and the chants were coming thick and fast. Cambridge were looking more threatening as they hoofed the ball towards their three large centre-forwards but each time we repelled their attack. And the team were remaining calm. There was no sticking the ball anywhere, the players were still passing the ball around and local hero, and contender for man of the match, Dean Moxey broke through with two minutes remaining and was unlucky not to score, thanks to a good save from Danny Potter.

And then came the tensest of the tense minutes as we got into injury time. The referee seemed to be toying with the fans, looking at his watch, raising his whistle to his mouth, and then playing on a bit longer. I have no fingernails left as a result of this.

When the final whistle eventually came, I'm not afraid to say that, for want of a better word, I went mental. Friends and strangers were hugged, my voice found extra strength to cheer louder and longer, and there may have even been a hint of a tear in my eye.

If we were enjoying it, then the players were on another level. Champagne was being sprayed all over the pitch and the team were soaking in the applause for all it was worth. I've no idea how long we spent cheering our heroes, or how long they stayed on the pitch, but by the time we made it back to the pub in Hampstead I was absolutely exhausted and is desperate need of a pint.

Or five.

I'm not surprised the barmaids asked us to tone down the singing a bit. We were making a lot noise. But there was no angry reaction. We quitened down and continued to drink and celebrate, albeit a bit quieter.

Of course no good football match is complete without a celebratory curry and my friend Ross and I made our way, somewhat woozily, to a curry house nearby my house for, in my case, a Saag Paneer that was well worth the wait, and a delicious naan. Another drink back home and a few games of Pro Evo, where I practically fell asleep on my sofa. I'm not sure what time I eventually made it to bed, but when I woke up I was still singing.

Exeter City: League Two. It sounds good.

John Batchelor and Mansfield: An update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece at Soccerlens about John Batchelor's proposed takeover of Mansfield Town, and his possible changing of the name to Harchester United. Oh God, was roughly the thought I had when I was researching the piece.

Now the excellent David Conn has picked up on this in the Guardian:

"Batchelor's business record, available for scrutiny via Companies House, will not reassure any Mansfield fan that he has greatly changed. Of 24 companies of which he has been a director, 14 have been or are about to be struck off the companies register, six have been insolvent, three are still going but he is no longer involved - he says he sold them on successfully - and only one small company in which he is a director is active.

One company Batchelor took over - although he did not become a director; his partner, Cheryl Hopkins, did - was Moornate Chemists in Nelson, near Burnley, a steady, solvent, family business selling cleaning products. Within three months, last July, Moornate was insolvent and in administration, after effectively being merged with another company he took over, Besglos, which was also in administration the following month.

David Brown, Moornate's former owner, says Batchelor promised to pay him £485,000 for the business, in instalments, and did pay him £70,000 up front. However, he has been left devastated, without the business he built up over 30 years, and still owed £415,000 of the price agreed. Batchelor, however, has said he bought and sold Moornate's factory, making £75,000 for himself.

"He ruins people's lives and walks away with money," Brown says. Several former staff of Besglos, and their families, are still struggling to recover, having moved to work for Batchelor on the promise of handsome salaries, then been left unpaid and lost their jobs.

Brown recalls that in one meeting Batchelor told him: "This is what I do for a living: I fuck companies.""

This man shouldn't be in charge of an electric toothbrush, let alone a football club.

More MyFC

Members of MyFC, the supporters' website that now owns Ebbsfleet United, have been receiving an email from the club's manager Liam Daish [1]. The email comes in advance of the not-too-distant time in the future when MyFC members will pick the team. Daish's email (assuming he wrote it) on one hand seems like a mixture of the optimistic, the cautious and the brave - there's not many managers who'd offer to enter into a regular two-way conversation with the fans, although given the nature of MyFC, he's got little choice. Even so, he offers more olive branches than you'd expect.

But, reading between the lines, the familiar problems and criticisms that have been levelled at the MyFC experiment. Won't chopping and changing affect the balance of the team? Why should a player put in his all if he knows his selection next week doesn't lie with the gaffer but 2,000-odd people on the terraces, some of whom may not rate him? What does the manager see in training that we don't on the pitch? What the hell will the average non-attending MyFC member know about the intricacies of Woking's tactics?

Now that Ebbsfleet have reached a Wembley final, there's also an interesting dilemma - do the MyFC owners stay true to their principles or do they defer to Diash at a crucial time. If they do the first, isn't that undermining the manager? If they do the latter, why the hell have their members paid £35?

And at the bottom of the email is a little poll:

The Web Team invites all members to take part in a poll regarding team selection. It will help the manager and members develop a team selection process that reflects the owners' wishes.

The poll, which you can take part in here, asks the following question: Which statement best describes your view on "Pick the team"?

* I want to pick the team but I don't want the manager to make any changes to the members' selection

* I want to pick the team and I'd like the manager to have some flexibility to make changes to the members' selection

* I want to pick the team and I'd like the manager to consider, but not necessarily follow, the members' selection

* I am not interested in picking the team

* I abstain

So, let me get this straight? You're asking people who paid to join the experiment to vote to continue one of the key attractions and principles behind signing up before you've even put it into practice? And if members vote for anything bar the first option, why on earth should anybody carry on paying their £35 if they've got no connection to the club? And where will that leave Ebbsfleet?

I'll still give it about three years, max.

Anybody want to guess what this week's Soccerlens piece will be on? 

UPDATE: I've just seen on Ebbsfleet forums that the poll isn't a binding vote. In which case, what's the point of it? And if the majority of members vote for Daish to continue picking the team, doesn't that leave the MyFC leadership in a pretty untenable position?

[1] WSC isn't the only place I've seen the email, it's been doing the rounds elsewhere.

Out of the frying pan

Mansfield Town thought they probably couldn't do worse than Keith Haslam. The current chairman owes the club over a million pounds in loans and to say he's a bit unpopular in Mansfield is like saying the Titanic had a few structural defects. But now colourful John Batchelor wants to buy the club and rename it Harchester United. For those who're wondering why Harchester, it was the name of a fictional football team on Sky One's Dream Team a few years back. Batchelor apparently thinks adopting the name will tap into extra support and possibly untold riches. Riches that will probably head towards Batchelor.

As the Pitch Invasion piece notes:

"Mr. Batchelor has, as they say, form on this kind of behaviour. Of his many ill-fated schemes while helping drive York City into the ground, one included renaming the club York City Soccer Club to attract American interest. Batchelor has confessed to asset-stripping companies, making £120,000 out of York City (having bought it for £1 eighteen months earlier) before its collapse."

It all sounds like prime material for a reality TV show, so perhaps Harchester is an appropriate name after all.