On Tuesday, Vice Sports ran a profile of United London FC. The new club is an unmemorable Essex Alliance Premier League club except for one wrinkle. The owners of the club founded it on the principal that there would be no traditional manager, but instead the fans select the starting XI.
Chairman Mark North founded the club with this different concept to allow fans to become more invested (non-financially) in the team. The execution is simple – you visit the club’s website and register as a voter on the site. Then you receive a mini-scouting report for each player, including how they are performing recently.
With the club just beginning play this season, there is little empirical evidence to show if this style of club management is successful, but undoubtedly the concept is cool. I created an account so I could join the 1,000 “managers” to select a team. After logging in, I had a pull down menu at each position and when I selected a player, their profile picture pulled up. If I felt the need to do more research, I could read their profiles.
United London recruits its players primarily from a pool of failed academy prospects and local league players. This in a way may be driving its success. Where United London could be driving its popularity is a combination of video game culture and Jamie Vardy. The Leicester forward’s story was an inspiration to many but it also “showed” these amateur league players may one day compete for a spot with fans’ favorite big clubs. In addition, we soccer fans are getting so used to picking our own players in FIFA and Football Manager that going in and choosing who starts via a website in no way seems unnatural. The combination of these two factors means United London may be hitting a fan sweet spot.
It also is on the edge of the trend in fan-controlled clubs. Whether in reaction to the obscene amount of money in the game or the need to stand out in a crowded market, examples of clubs with fan-centric management models are growing. In Italy, CS Lebowski made news for its name and its emphasis on fans managing the team’s business. While these clubs will not be pulling a Leicester City and shame the big-money clubs on the pitch, there existence gives supporters a chance to enjoy the beautiful game in a more pure and proactive way.