Championship football for Chesterfield via a smartphone app? OWNA FC seek takeover talks

Could Chesterfield FC be run by supporters via a mobile phone app?
Could Chesterfield FC be run by supporters via a mobile phone app?

The man behind an ambitious initiative to allow fans to take control of Chesterfield FC says the Spireites could realistically aim us high as Championship football if it's successful - but knows he has to convince those very same fans of its viability first.

Stuart Harvey has created OWNA FC, a mobile app-based concept that gives its subscribers - and therefore those who run any purchased football club - the ability to make key decisions with regard to how it is run.

It currently has nearly 2,000 subscribers, each of whom have paid £99 to download and register on the app.

The Wigan-based businessman is now keen to meet with not only Chesterfield FC but also the club's supporters so that he can put the benefits of the initiative forward and assure them that it is a viable concept.

He said: "At the moment, we have contracts and non-disclosure agreements in place with four clubs, none of which are Chesterfield FC, but I have made initial early contact with the club.

"Naturally, they are now spending time doing their research to ascertain that this is a genuine approach, and I hope to be able to discuss things further with them in due course.

"However, our interest has been leaked sooner than we'd hoped given we wanted to make sure the club was right for us and vice versa. We don't officially launch the app until next Monday but a randomly selected group of 100 subscribers have been testing it and that's where the leak came from. We conducted a poll amongst our subscribers and of the clubs we offered as possibilities to own, Chesterfield picked up around 72 per cent of the vote.

"I'm aware that there is a lot of scepticism and negativity amongst supporters and I totally understand that. All I would ask of supporters is that they hear me out as to how this would work and I'd be willing to meet with the supporters group and answer any questions, as I think many would be interested given the nature of how things would be run.

"We are offering an alternative to the current model that I feel isn't working, and many fans would agree, and fans would enjoy a full transparent process where they would have access to all relevant information and make key decisions as to the appointment of a CEO and the running of the club, albeit not as far as being able to pick the team.

"I'm aware that a local consortium is also interested in buying the club so would also be willing to meet with them to see if there is any way we could work together, using our model as the basis for moving forward."

A similar model of ownership, courtesy of MyFootballClub, saw Ebbsfleet United - currently rivals of Chesterfield in the National League and their opponents this weekend - taken over back in 2008 and initially proved very successful before interest waned and the club was eventually bought out in 2013.

But Harvey insists that while the initial concept is similar, there are significant differences in the way Chesterfield would be run in comparison.

He said: "A lot of people are relating to Ebbsfleet as a failed example of the model but a lot has changed in the ten years since that takeover happened. That mainly revolves around the technology available - the smartphone was only coming into existence at around that time and in the end it all grew a bit too quickly for Ebbsfleet despite their initial success.

"Since then, mobile apps and communication methods have developed and it's also important to note that Ebbsfleet didn't take any money for the operational side of the club, both short and long-term. We have fully researched where it went wrong and would do things very differently on all levels."

In terms of how Harvey would see the club's fortunes develop should OWNA FC take over, he has a clear belief as to what Chesterfield should be aiming at.

He said: "For the club to be in its current position given the budget, fanbase and history it has is a disgrace, something not lost on the fans I'm sure. The losses need covering, that is the first thing, and whilst the club would need to operate at a controlled loss for the next three years - factoring in all of the various costs and also payments that will come into the club should promotion be achieved - I think it can become a top end League One club and maybe even achieve Championship football.

"Every club has its level so we wouldn't expect anything more than that as you have to be sensible, but this is a relatively big club for which to propose this model and that actually makes it a much more viable project given the worldwide media attention it would generate and subsequent revenue streams."

With some supporters also having raised concerns over Harvey's personal history with regard to running businesses in the past which have been dissolved, he said he has also run successful businesses but is keen to reassure people he has learned from past mistakes.

He said: "I've been a bit naive in the past and have paid the price, losing my house, wife and kids in the process but learning along the way. I've had it tough but I'm not one to stand still, I want to look forward, be ambitious and get back into it. I'm just a boy from Wigan who has run businesses that have been successful but also one or two that have failed and am happy to be totally transparent, in the same way Chesterfield FC would be run.

"I'm also a football fan and I hope supporters would see that this is a real guy behind it, not a big group of foreign investors or someone alien to the game.

"I've asked for a formal meeting with the club and I also hope to meet supporters, some of whom have already contacted me with positive comments about it all.

"But if, when given all the information, fans have no interest in taking it forward then I'll walk away as it's their club. If they do agree to us moving forward, it will be very much their club and we would be providing the platform for them to make it a success again."