The £300k question

It’s the stuff of dreams for any rugby club committee: a cheque for hundreds of thousands of pounds popping through the clubhouse letterbox. For one lucky club, the dream could become reality. You’re spending it already, aren’t you?

(This article appeared in August’s International Rugby News magazine)

Words: Danny Coyle

You’re the chairman of a rugby club and someone has just given you £300,000. What would you spend it on? It’s a tough question, but it’s one that one club’s big-wigs could have to answer for real.

A venture is under way to raise a serious level of investment to plough into a chosen club on an annual basis, with the ultimate goal a place in the Premiership.

Sound fanciful? Of course it does, but so did the idea of a group of supporters getting together on the internet to buy a lower league football club.

It happened earlier this year when over 21,000 members of, an online community of fans who registered to pay £35 a year, voted to buy a 75 per cent stake in Ebbsfleet United, giving them control over everything from finances to team selection.

Following the takeover, the club reached Wembley and won the FA Trophy. Recently the owners have voted to increase the playing budget from £7,200 to £10,000. Suddenly the idea that people power can propel a sports club to greater heights doesn’t quite seem so much like pie in the sky.

It was from Ebbsfleet that James Hutchison and his two colleagues Brandon Roberts and Sam Tomkins took their inspiration for Our Rugby Club. The aim in the rugby version of the Ebbsfleet story is not to buy a club outright, but to provide funds that could see it take a giant leap forward.

“We had a look at how MyFC did things and what they were proposing to do,” says Hutchison. “We considered for a few months about how we might be able to apply that to rugby, so we’re doing something very similar but at the same time quite different. We’re not actually looking to purchase a rugby club in the way they bought Ebbsfleet.

“We’re looking to invest our members’ money and make the most of the existing infrastructure. That avoids us having to spend our members’ money on admin costs and paying players and all the legal implications that go with it,” he says.

“I think that model works better for rugby because of the way rugby clubs are made up. They tend to be members’ clubs whereas football clubs tend to be a business. I can’t imagine going to a rugby club and them saying ‘we’ll sell to you and walk away’ because they’ve all got vested interests in their own club.”

The initial target for Our Rugby Club is to have 10,000 people register their interest via the website. At that point they will be asked to put their money where their mouths are in the form of £30 a year. Hutchison predicts that half will sign up initially and that the investment can get under way at the £150,000 level, with £300,000 the long term aim.

He adds: “The first thing we need to do is vote on which club to invest in. Once we’ve got a critical mass of people involved, we’ll invite them to sign up and pay their first subscription then it’ll be run by the members and it will be up to them to decide which club to invest in.

“At the moment we’ve got a few clubs already putting their hat in the ring so we’ll draw up a list of clubs and what they can offer, then we’ll open it to everyone who has signed up and they can have their say.”

Only one of those clubs, Cambridge, has publicly declared its interest in the scheme.

President Rod Bishop says: “I saw what they managed to achieve with Ebbsfleet which got quite a lot of publicity, so when this sort of thing comes along Cambridge are always going to be in there pitching for it.

“We’re ambitious and we think as a club we’re a good bet for it. We have come a long way in the last few years, the management team is all there, we’ve got good facilities now which are improving all the time and we’re in a good geographical position to be a well supported club in sense that there are good rail and road links.”

There is no question that, with planning permission to double the size of their clubhouse, a cash injection would certainly be timely for Cambridge.

“I certainly don’t think we’ve reached as far as we can go,” says Bishop. “We’re aiming this year to go up to National One and we think we can operate as a National One club within a year or so, particularly if we can get the money together to double the size of the clubhouse.

“Beyond that, getting into the Premiership is a big ask. You’ve got parachute payments to the relegated club operating against you. Exeter may well do it this year, they’ve got an extremely good set-up and maybe they’ll topple Leeds, but it does take a strong club to beat the club that comes down from the Premiership, and an extra £300,000 would help do that.”

And so, the £300,000 question: what would Bishop spend the money on?

“If we were the chosen club, as I understand it we’d have to take note of what the Our Rugby Club members wanted, but I would hope to put a case to them that this wasn’t a one season wonder.

“We’re in this for the longer haul and I would seek to persuade the investors that we shouldn’t just take their money, buy five players and have a tilt at promotion, we would take some of that money and invest in putting up a stand with another 500 seats or putting a deposit down on a new function room. It wouldn’t make sense to lob it all into one or two players. The key is sustainability.

“We try and split the income we raise between improving the facilities - investing in the longer term - and putting it into players. If you put it all into players you’re really looking at a one season return.

“If you only finish fourth instead of 10th, you might encourage a few more supporters for the following season but that money is largely gone, whereas if you put £50,000 to £100,000 a year into improving revenue-generating facilities then you’re cranking up your income stream for the following year so that you become less reliant on one or two major sponsors.

“I suspect at least 50 per cent of the clubs ahead of us are reliant on one major sponsor, and usually one or two pull out every year, which can put the club in quite a difficult situation.

“We could try and persuade some of our members to sign up to Our Rugby Club, but I’d like to think the people who are organising it didn’t just pick the club based on who got the most people to sign up. What they ought to do is take a 10-year view of who offers the best long term potential.”

And that is exactly what Hutchison proposes.

“We want to avoid that potential scenario where one club gets all its
members to sign up then they all sway the vote - they may not actually be the right club to work with,” he says.

“We plan to meet with every club on the shortlist and discuss the benefits they can offer, then present a case for each club impartially, then go to the vote. “If all goes well and we reach the 10,000 mark by Christmas we could start getting people to sign up and that will probably take a few months itself.

“By next summer we could make some sort of payment. It might not be the full level we’re after but it could start the ball rolling.

“We’re into 100s already without really publicising it much. We’ve had a couple of articles here and there but haven’t properly launched it. We’ve been pleased with the reaction by the clubs so far. This could really benefit the game at grass roots level.”


IN APRIL 2007, launched with the aim of buying a club lock, stock and barrel.

On August 1, 53,000 people had registered their interest and the site opened for business, receiving £250,000 worth of membership fees on that first day.

In 10 days they had £500,000 and by November last year had been approached by nine clubs asking to be purchased. A deal was reached to buy Ebbsfleet United, formerly Gravesend and Northfleet FC, playing in the Blue Square Premier division, five leagues below the Premier League, and in February 2008 MyFC members voted to complete the buyout, taking 75 per cent of the club for around £600,000. On May 10 members of MyFC from over 20 countries travelled to Wembley to watch the team lift the FA Trophy after a 1-0 win over Torquay.

An additional 5,000 overseas members viewed the match via an online feed and over 26,000 Fleet fans were at the game.

On June 9 the MYFC members voted for fellow MYFC member David Davis, formerly known as ‘Gadgetman’ on the website forum, and John Moules, former chief executive and company director of the Football conference, to be appointed chief executive officer and chairman of the EUFC board respectively.

With two months to go before the start of the new season, the club had sold 535 season tickets, up from last season’s total of 252.

MyFC members have also voted to raise the playing budget to £10,000 per week. Team manager Liam Daish said: “Last season I started with £7,200 and that was going to be cut. We started gaining momentum when Myfootballclub came in because it meant we could keep full-time status. There’s no way we could have done that on less than £7,200. I finished the season around the £9,200 mark, so to start this season where I finished off is great. It gives me more options in building the depth of the squad and the quality of that depth.”

Currently, MyFC member Tom Baker has launched a campaign to raise an extra £20,000 for the playing budget from 1,000 pledges of £20 from members. “That’s the beauty of MyFootballClub,” said Daish.
“It taps into a lot of enthusiasm. With that amount of members a little becomes a lot.”



How about Dan Carter or Richie McCaw turning out for your club for a few games?
Carter was offered a reputed £700,000 for a six-month sabbatical in Toulon before he joined Perpignan. On the basis that he plays one game a week, that works out at just under a cool £30,000 per game, so with £300,000 you could get him for 10 games – enough to secure promotion?

Well, not quite a stadium, but perhaps a small stand to give your regulars some shelter during those bleak winter Saturday afternoons. The first phase of Leicester Tigers’ ground redevelopment has come in at £16million for 10,600 seats. That works out at about £150 a seat, so you could throw up a nice little 2,000- seater for your £300,000. On second thoughts it would buy a lot more umbrellas and gazebos from B&Q.

If you’re fed up with the surrounds of your clubhouse for your end of season do, or the usual hotel down the road has had enough of 200 rugby players drinking them dry, give the Grosvenor House Hotel in London a ring and see what it costs to hire the Great Room for a night, booze included. While you’re at it you could hire king of the after dinner circuit Martin Bayfield to speak, we hear he’s a snip at between £4,000 and £7,000 for an evening.

Enter the Midnight Sevens, hosted by Las Vegas Blackjacks RFC and take the whole club with you. Hire the most luxurious rooms in the Wynn hotel and casino - the most expensive hotel on the Vegas strip – and share the rest of the money for use at the gaming tables.

Never mind your 53-seater coach. This is the only way to travel. The luxury Evolution motorhome comes in at £124,995. You could afford two and still have enough left over for petrol.