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Fleet board explain takeover to fans
EBBSFLEET United's board of directors gathered in the Stonebridge Road bar last night to explain their controversial sale of the club to a hardy band of supporters.
The takeover by the MyFootballClub website last month drew plenty of criticism from the Fleet faithful, but Monday evening's meeting was a chance for the board to allay those fears.
More than 30 fans were there to make their point on a bitterly cold evening and exchange views, and overall, the atmosphere was upbeat and positive.
One of the main criticisms from supporters after the deal was announced in a blaze of publicity was the fact it had been a bolt from the blue.
The lack of communication from the club's owners in the run-up to the sale is clearly still a sore point for some, although club chairman Jason Botley claimed confidentiality meant he had no choice but to keep things quiet.
He said: "It was not possible to hold open discussions on the MyFC deal before it went ahead because there were nine or 10 other clubs looked at and it was just something which had to be kept firmly under wraps.
"We certainly do not want any disenfranchised season ticket holders.
"Our relationship with the community is exactly the same.
"We've been advertising in Gravesend town centre and have placed some radio advertisements in the past few weeks, so we are continuing to focus on this area."
One thing all of the board were agreed on was the fact the club could not continue to operate as it had been.
Despite establishing themselves in the top half of English football's fifth tier under Liam Daish, attendances at Stonebridge Road have actually gone down in the past two years.
Former chairman Brian Kilcullen said: "We've been looking for new investment for three or four years now and were talking to several other parties at the same time as MyFC.
"We did a deal with the first people who we felt came up with the right offer for the club.
"The way our finances have gone with the lower gates has made the club a less attractive proposition as an investment opportunity.
"There are debts here, as there are at lots of other football clubs, but what we haven't got are people knocking on the door threatening to close us down.
"It is a manageable debt, or soft loans as we would like to call it. Obviously, though, this cannot continue forever."
This has certainly been a year of controversy at the Fleet as the MyFC takeover came only months after the club decided to change their name from Gravesend & Northfleet to Ebbsfleet United, again without any consultation with the fans.
The change of name was raised several times last night, although Mr Botley remained convinced it was the right decision to make.
He said: "I definitely think it was a positive step and one of the main things which attracted MyFC to Ebbsfleet United.
"They recognised what the club had been doing with the name change in terms of the regeneration of the area.
"What MyFC are doing is a new concept and so are we in our first season as Ebbsfleet. I personally believe the name change is in the long-term interests of this football club."
He added: "We didn't change the name to suit Eurostar. It is about realising the opportunity with what is going on in the area right around this football club in terms of development and progression.
"Ebbsfleet is new on the map with the train station and it is all part of the regeneration programme.
"As the area grows and flourishes, we will be part of it, but obviously not at the exclusion of our existing support."
Mr Kilcullen also revealed the club's board were still heavily involved in the search for a new stadium.
He said: "It is a bit frustrating for me because people think there is nothing happening on the new ground, but I can assure you it is.
"In fact I've got a meeting about it on Wednesday and as soon as there is any news, we will let you know.
"Will the MyFC takeover help in securing a new stadium? Possibly, but the football side of things is their interest first and foremost."
He also confirmed there would be no running track in any new ground, much to the relief of one supporter who posed the question.
The meeting ended cordially and the directors stayed behind in the bar to answer any other questions on a one-to-one basis.
So how had the exercise gone down with the supporters who turned up?
Graham Sidwell, from Gravesend, claimed he felt more positive about the sale after hearing more about it for himself.
He said: "I have been reassured by tonight. Everybody is bound to have doubts because it is such a new and radical venture, but I'm pleased to hear nobody at the club is going into it with their eyes shut.
"I've supported the club since 1971 and admit I was a bit indignant about the news when it first came out, but it doesn't bother me so much now.
"There are people from all over the world involved with MyFC, so just imagine what kind of turnout there will be at Wembley if we reach the FA Trophy final?"
Lin Baker, from Swanscombe, is a life-long fan of the club and said she may even consider paying £35 to become a MyFC member in time.
She explained: "If it all goes through then I might join.
"My one concern at the moment is you have 27,000 members who will have a say in the team, but how many of them know anything about Conference football?
"How many of them will take the time and trouble to find out a bit more about it?"
Kevin Glover, 18, from Gravesend, claimed he had experienced mixed emotions in the past month, but he would back whatever step the club took.
He said: "My first reaction was great, but I did go off the idea whenever I thought about 27,000 people picking the team I support.
"However, it is something different and we've got to take risks to progress because I want us to get into the Football League.
"If we didn't go ahead with this then maybe we would have ended up going back to being part-time.
"I'm much more positive now and if it means us being successful then I will back it. I've supported the club for five years and I will always back what we do, whether it is right or wrong."