The golden goose and the headless chicken

On September 10th 1945 a Colorado farmer went out to his yard to kill a chicken for his supper. The farmer picked out a five month old chicken called ‘Mike’, swung the axe down and removed most of his head, but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.

The poor swing from the farmer meant that Mike did not die. Despite having no head, he continued to walk around and, with care from the farmer, became a sideshow attraction for a couple of years, until he choked to death on a kernel of corn.

Things that are dying can sometimes seem very much alive. Chickens can walk without their heads. Football Index can double dividends in the summer and 5x IPDs in the autumn, before crashing down to zero in the spring of the following year.

I’m really not sure what to write this morning. If you somehow missed the announcement from Football Index last night, I’d suggest you grab a stiff drink and sit down before catching up with it here:

I wrote last summer about my fears for the platform. There had been so many red flags and despite the concept being ‘too good to fail’ I was concerned that the management were driving it into the ground. It certainly wasn’t the platform I’d signed up to in 2017 anymore. We felt like hostages and the positive messages from the community had a feeling of Stockholm syndrome for me at times.

I tried to stay hopeful too and I listened to those who told me it would be ok in the end. No one really knew what would happen, we were all just giving it our best guess at the time. I withdraw some money and left some in there. I’ve pulled out more this year when I was able to and my remaining portfolio stood at around £4,400. Some quick sums this morning (because you can’t trust the portfolio value) tell me I could sell it all for about £257 – minus commission of course! It’s shit but actually I’m one of the lucky ones and I come out of this with a good profit overall (my net deposits are -£16,165).

Back onto poultry for a minute, let’s be honest – FI management killed the goose that laid the golden egg. This time last year the platform was absolutely flying. I don’t believe that they needed to try to implement order books when they did, or that they needed to turn off Instant Sell when they did. I don’t believe that COVID-19 did this – these are all self-inflicted wounds made through a combination of incompetence and selfish greed. They’ve not acted in the best interests of the platform and they sure as hell haven’t acted in the best interests of traders.

In fact, I’d say they’ve acted fraudulently. They’ve broken the contract with us (repeatedly) and acted immorally, perhaps even criminally, in the last couple of weeks.

It’s clear to see now that Mike’s video promising a Q&A was nothing more than a cynical cash grab to get as much more money into the platform as possible before entering the death spiral that we find ourselves in now. Thanks to IndexTrak, we know that FI minted at least 198,380 shares and IPOd 40 new players under game rules that they knew would change. If that isn’t a breach of contract with us, well I don’t know what is.

I hope that action is taken. I have no illusions about any of us getting any money back but the UK Gambling Commission surely has to take a look at this to ensure that they are sanctioned for what they did and that this can’t happen again.

The dividend ‘restructuring’ is a crushing blow but the underlying idea of it is actually quite good. Perhaps if they’d gone for something along these lines (the leagues idea) in the summer, rather than doubling dividends when they obviously couldn’t afford to do that, we’d be in a better position now. Or in other words, if only they had done some financial forecasting perhaps we wouldn’t be in such a mess.

As it is, we’ve gone from a total 64p dividend payout this Saturday to 22p under the new structure. Star man is reduced from 14p to 2p. Media from 5p to 1p. Players are almost worthless based on those payouts. They knew this would crash the market so it surely has to be the last roll of the dice. And they knew this when Mike recorded his video on the 18th February. That is criminal (and it’s notable that he was too gutless to face the camera yesterday to give us all the bad news).

So it’s a hammer blow to the platform and I’m sad to say that I don’t see it recovering from here. Best case scenarios is a buy-out but I’m not sure they have anything that another company would want to buy – just liabilities and some bad press? It’s more likely we just watch it die a slow death now, winding up at some point before the end of the year.

I won’t lie, I did shed a tear yesterday about this. Not for the money but just for the years of wasted time and for what could’ve been. We had something beautiful and they killed it. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I don’t really know what else to say but here are a few thoughts. Sorry they’re not very structured.

Talk about it, especially to those you care about. If you feel shit at the moment, holding onto a burden of guilt and worry is only going to make you feel worse. If you can talk to your other half, please do. If you can’t, there are plenty in the community who are happy to chat things through with you (including me). Please don’t bottle it up.

It’s not your fault – but do think about the lessons to take away from this. FI lied and cheated their way through the last couple of years (at least). They told us they were expanding into Germany. They talked about Nasdaq and liquidity providers. They told us their finances had never been in better shape and advertised jobs for over £100,000 a pop. They made promises and sold us a dream that they never had the capability to deliver on. It’s completely understandable that people trusted them and actually they made it almost impossible to get out by cutting off Instant Sell with absolutely no warning. Even their portfolio benchmark figures were all just different degrees of lies, to keep people sucked in.

It’s normal to feel like a fool when you’ve been duped but these were organised conmen who knew exactly how to pull our strings – so try not to be too hard on yourselves. They built a relationship with us and told us they cared. It was lies. We’ve all been catfished.

At the same time, think about what you could have done differently. What warning signs did you ignore? When did ‘hope’ triumph common sense for you? Did you listen to a range of views or did you stay in a comfortable echo chamber? You can’t change what’s happened now but you can think about these things in the future to try to prevent it ever happening again.

Do what you can do and then try to draw a line under it. I’m going to write a letter of complaint to FI and then to the Gambling Commission. I’m toying with the idea of writing to my MP as well, particularly as I’m based in Nottingham and they sponsor Nottingham Forest at the moment. I’ve accepted that I can’t do anything with my port – I’m not walking away with £257 so I might as well give up on that.

After that, I can’t do anything else. I can’t control this and I just have to draw a line under it. At some point we all have to come to terms with our emotions so that we can move on, no matter how angry and upset we feel right now.

The community still exists! For me, FI has been 50% about the product and 50% about the community we’ve built. That community doesn’t have to die along with FI. Some of us will reconvene in other spaces, using other products, perhaps others will linger on the timeline talking about football or life more generally. Let’s stay in touch and not lose those friendships we’ve made.

On that point, I want to say the FI never appreciated this community. They never encouraged us to refer our friends (the £10 offer was a piss-take to be honest). They never supported affiliates or content creators (with the exception, I think, of FIG but I imagine he’s more angry than anyone right now and probably had less support that people imagined). They never apologised for completely crashing the platform last year. They haven’t, as far as I’m aware, put out any messages out since the announcement to check we’re ok. They took us for granted and that for me was another big red flag for a company that didn’t care and was actually not ‘the betting rebellion’ but just another money-grabbing bastard bookie.

Let’s remember that Adam Cole never even intended to create a footballing platform – it was meant to be a celebrity stockmarket in the first place! Perhaps he never really had the passion for this.

Stay alert but don’t assume everything else is going to fail now. We’ve been really burned by this and it’s easy to be scarred from what’s happened. If you fall off a horse, they say you should get back on – although I assume you hold on a bit tighter and try to not fall off a second time!

FI have royally screwed us but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t alternative platforms that really could offer something different, something more customer-focused. I know the people who run Footstock, Five Yards and Sorare and, quite genuinely, they are a different breed of people. They’re smart and they’re driven by passion – thing I never felt about the people at FI.

Don’t get me wrong – any or all of the above could collapse at any time. We saw how quickly things can go wrong with Sportstack so no one should be going into anything blindly now – we should be alert to the potential for losses. We really should never gamble more than we can afford to lose but we can use this experience to make us better bettors. Focus on getting your initial stake out as quickly as possible. Watch for red flags. Don’t assume a concept is ‘too good to fail’ and think about how the company is covering their own costs and what that might mean for customers further down the line.

It would be utterly shit if FI didn’t just fuck up their own company but also turned people off the idea of alternatives to the traditional bookies. Imagine if all this does is encourage people to go back to their weekend accas? Perhaps it will.

For me, I’m coming out of this older and wiser. A bit more cautious but I still want to have fun. I’m not letting them take that away from me too. I’ve lost some money in this but it was probably worth it for the entertainment I’ve had (entertainment in itself is valuable remember) and the friends I’ve made. So it’s not so bad really.

Good luck everyone. I’m genuinely sorry this turned into such a shit show but it sure was fun while it lasted and maybe like Mike the chicken, we’ve still got a bit of time left yet.

Onwards and… ?

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