Hashtag United enter the football pyramid: Is it good for the game?
Some football fans will know about Hashtag United, but for those who haven't, it is likely you will be hearing more about them in the future. Spencer Owen and his YouTube sensation are here to stay, but following the announcement they are joining the semi-pro ranks, we want to take a look at whether it's good or bad for football.
Last week, many were surprised when the provisional division line-ups were listed by the FA for the 2018/19 season, to see Hashtag United in the Spartan South Midlands First Division; the sixth step of non-league football. Interestingly the club will be appealing the decision in relation to the division they have been placed in, as it is not the division they were expected to be entered into.
First, though we need to rewind, Spencer Owen one is amongst the most well-known football YouTubers in the world. Over the years, his videos have mainly consisted of him playing football and playing the video game FIFA. As possibilities for YouTubers has grown, Spencer has been at the forefront; particularly in the United Kingdom.
During this rise to the top, he set up Hashtag United in 2016, which initially started out as him and his mates playing matches but filming everything and uploading it onto YouTube as highlights packages. Ironically, this is something that non-league clubs tend to do.
The majority of their games have been high profile friendlies. This has even seen them play at Wembley in front of over 30,000 fans. Last year they entered a Sunday league but this upcoming campaign, they've decided to take it up a notch.
YouTube is obviously huge at the moment. Hashtag United have fantastic viewing figures when it comes to fans watching their highlights. They already boast more hits than the majority of teams in non-league get on their videos. Away from the real-life pitch, in virtual football, you can also find Spencer. Hashtag United are amongst the leading esports professional FIFA teams. The players they have are the best known, most well supported on the circuit; largely down to the Hashtag name.
They have sponsored kits and merchandise which are all available to buy. Ultimately the brand and Spencer’s YouTube presence will help massively as they try to fight their way up the footballing ladder.
Those not happy
Unsurprisingly, though, there are many who are not happy with Hashtag United entering the semi-pro game.
They have been placed in the sixth tier of non-league football which is not the bottom level. This has left teams in and around them frustrated; which is understandable. However, the FA has previous with several ex-league sides who have reformed also being placed at the same level.
Another argument comes from those who believe in the more traditional aspects of the non-league game. Small local sides who struggle to survive and are run by volunteers. They see Hashtag as a team built purely around commercial gains to publicise themselves.
A third marker against Hashtag United joining the leagues is they are essentially a franchise not representing a town or city, something the majority of English fans including myself, are against. Ask Wimbledon supporters if you disagree. However, in relation to Hashtag, they have not taken over a club with a historic fan base, nor have they uprooted a team and moved them elsewhere. In fact, their following will largely come online.
Spencer has responded to the doubters in regards to this and clearly is very passionate about it.
Hashtag United have not officially announced what they want to achieve as a football team; they haven't outlined just what their future plans are. The newly-formed side certainly shouldn't be thrown into the same bracket as the Salford’s and Billericay’s who are throwing money at teams as a simple means to progress in the non-league game. If anything, they're probably at the other end of the scale.
Ultimately, the current climate and the way football is going financially, the smallest non-league sides are going to feel the pinch more than most - regardless of any new teams that join the leagues. Over the last few decades, a host of new sides have joined the pyramid from all over the country. In that regard, Hashtag United are no different.
For me, Hashtag United, are a good thing for lower league football on the whole - even if they're in it for commercial gain. They will bring huge publicity in leagues that have barely had any media attention. However, most importantly, they can help bring in a new generation of younger non-league fans who idolise Spencer online. Having the supporters at this level is absolutely vital, and without the fans, semi-professional football sides simply couldn't afford to keep running.
Hashtag United if anything can be seen as a sign of the changing times. While not everyone will like it, I think they will certainly do more good than harm. It's certainly going to be interesting to see how they get on.
Don’t forget to Hashtag it. #Hastagunited