Ever wished you could ask your football club’s winger why he didn’t square it in the last minute? Or perhaps you’d love the opportunity to ask the manager why he insists on benching your best striker? It’s something that FC Pinzgau Saalfelden, a fan-owned Austrian third division team have decided to address by providing unprecedented access to their club.
If you have around £380 to invest you can have an exclusive peak ‘behind the curtain’, while even having a say about how things are run.
The FCPS are based in the shadow of The Alps in the state of Salzburg with a stadium surrounded by breath-taking scenery and already have backers from the UK, Korea, India and Singapore.
As well as taking part in group decisions such as the design of the new kit, you can also chat with coach Christian Ziege (yes, the former Germany international and ex-Liverpool, Tottenham and Bayern Munich left-back) about his latest team selections.
“It’s a one-time buy in, everyone has a piece of it,” FCPS owner and Managing Director Mark Ciociola told us during an exclusive interview with The Sportsman.
“They can give it to their kids, sell it, hang onto it, whatever and at the same time we peel back the curtain and give them a chance to see what actually goes on here and make them a real part of it.”
American and a follower of MLS side Real Salt Lake in Utah, Ciociola went to matches but saw a stadium of people investing money and energy into a club without really knowing what was happening behind the scenes. He wanted to change things.
“With crowdfunding and soccer becoming really big, I said let’s take a team, chop it up in to a bunch of little pieces, sell off the pieces and let the fans own the club in a real way,” Ciociola explains.
“We’re creating a totally unique experience for how to follow a club. Whether you’re a Liverpool, Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund supporter, you will have a similar experience.
“We wanted to create something different and give people something they can’t get with any other club. We’re pushing the boundaries on content and what people can see and do.”
After Pinzgau won their first game of the season, fans are already taking part in football like never before.
“It changes how you watch, you see it differently because you’re an owner,” says Ciociola. “Several fans said they’d never been more excited to see a team get three points! It impacts your day because you have a stake.
“They can ask Ziege why he made that sub, even why he should sell this player or whatever,” he laughs. “It’s real answers, not media answers and people can give suggestions.
“The fans aren’t going to vote on what Ziege’s starting XI is going to be, there are lines, but they have the opportunity to talk to him and give their input.”
While it’s definitely different to anything Ziege has experienced before, he is fully on board and happy fielding questions. Having found a club with massive ambition deep in the mountains, he’s enjoying the challenge in relaxed surroundings.
“Talking to the people is good - we chat about play, aims, decisions I’ve made and they feel part of it.
“If you make decisions as a manager you believe in it, sometimes it doesn’t work and you take responsibility. It’s always the same: if you win it’s good, if you’re not it’s bad! We try to win as much as possible so it doesn’t come to the point where the fans are upset!”
Players too are available for discussions about the set-up.
“If he (Ziege) leaves me out the team, I’ll be getting on to some of the fan owners to ask why!” English forward Harry Cooksley jokes, speaking to us as he looks out at The Alps from his window.
Having played for Aldershot and Farnborough either side of a stint with Mallorca B, the 25-year-old enjoys this new relationship with supporters even if it does involve critiques of his performances.
“I was on a call with some of the fan owners; they all watched the game, I’d scored but missed a good chance after I tried to dink the keeper. They asked: ‘What were you trying to do?! What’s going through your head?’
“It’s crazy and I’ve never seen anything like it but it’s a better way of getting feedback than someone shouting from the stands! There’s a little bit of added pressure but it’s a great feeling having people investing and wanting to be a part of it.”
If Cooksley and his team-mates keep sticking the ball in the net they’ll go up to the Second Division, after the Coronavrius pandemic halted their play-off charge this year. If they achieve that, attention will turn to the Austrian Bundesliga and beyond.
While they take things a game at a time, they dream big at FCPS.
“We haven’t put a timeline on anything but if you compete you want to be the best, no matter what league you’re in,” says Ciociola. “We can climb and fan owners want to come along for that ride.
“However long it takes, we want to be the best and get to the ultimate prize which eventually becomes Champions League.”
As well as taking inspiration from other success stories in Austrian football, Ziege, now 48, will use the determination he had as a youngster for his latest project.
“Two or three clubs in Austria went from the lower divisions into Europe - Hartberg, Wolfsberger and LASK Linz. We have proof that if you do it the right way it can work.
“I like ambition. If it’s to play in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, everyone will say: ‘You’re in the third league what are you talking about?’ but when I was 14 I said my target was to play for Germany and in Serie A (feats he would achieve at a World Cup and with Milan) and everyone said you are completely crazy!
“On the way, you climb mountains but you never lose the main target if you believe it will happen.”
So, are fan calls the future? Could Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola really have the time, and the will, to speak to supporters about how they operate?
Ziege believes the unique model could be copied the world over but accepts it wouldn’t be to the liking of all coaches.
“I think several managers would have problems talking to owners,” he laughs as he attempts to head a rogue football which flies his way during his chat with The Sportsman.
“But at the same time, for example Liverpool, it wouldn’t always have to be Klopp doing the talking. You have players, the chairman… each week if one can talk, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“People would get, first hand, a better feeling of why things happen and not just from a newspaper or television. It should work for everyone.”
If you want to find out more about how you can get involved visit - https://wefunder.com/fan.owned.club