Hashtag United: A breath of fresh air for non-league football

If you haven’t been to watch a game of non-league football, you’ve certainly missed out. The lower leagues of English football provide the perfect concoction of stadiums on the brink of collapse and typical British screams of ‘get rid of it’ echoing around the ground. However, Hashtag United, a team originally based from YouTube, have taken non-league by storm and it seems the surrounding teams aren’t best pleased with their introduction. 

Founded three years ago by YouTuber Spencer Owen, Hashtag United made the leap from playing sensationalised friendlies to entering the non-league pyramid during the 2018/19 season. Upon the announcement by the FA and Hashtag United themselves, the decision was met with heavy criticism online, with many questioning the legitimacy of a club with little to no history entering non-league.

However, should this not be regarded as an exciting development for non-league football which seemingly appears to be on its last legs?

I’ve only been to see my local semi-professional side play a few times and to be honest, that was enough. Sat with two, maybe three, of my friends, we probably formed one of the liveliest members of the crowd, with their home support resembling somewhat of a dying dog. Bored, lifeless and definitely looking forward to the final whistle. Hashtag United, on the other hand, have injected a new lease of life into non-league football. 

Their latest upload of their 3-1 victory over Walthamstow Town received just over 130,000 views, which considering the usual attendances of non-league fixtures being mum’s, dad’s, wives and girlfriend’s, this is an astronomical figure. Furthermore, aside from their sensational presence online, Hashtag United now also have the ability to attract supporters to live games which has seen attendances in the Essex Senior League skyrocket.

Although, in my opinion, the songs and chants provided by the Hashtag United faithful are somewhat questionable and borderline cringe worthy, there is no doubt that the club are getting supporters through the turnstiles which is incredibly impressive. Furthermore, especially at non-league level, isn’t that what it is all about? 

Taking into consideration that financial difficulties is a prevalent issue throughout non-league, Hashtag United are almost single-handily saving fellow non-league sides through gate receipts. In addition to this, the YouTube side are creating a new footballing culture and attracting an audience to non-league football which they never necessarily had before.

In today’s digital age, there are plenty of Liverpool and Manchester United supporters who have never ventured to the north of England, let alone going to watch their ‘beloved’ teams play. However, the emergence of YouTube sides such as Hashtag United may invite these alleged supporters to experience real-life football, supporting individuals who they can genuinely relate too.  

Aside from footballing infrastructures, Hashtag United also presents the opportunity for their players and the opposition to be showcased in front of thousands of viewers, which they simply wouldn’t get if they played for any other semi-professional side. This unprecedented level of exposure can provide endless opportunities for the players to progress their careers and potentially be identified by teams who operate at a higher level. 

A shining example of this occurring is where Hashtag created a YouTube series called ‘The Academy’, where undiscovered talents were provided with a second opportunity in football by signing a deal with Hashtag United. A former winner of the online search for hidden talent was, then, 17-year-old Scott Pollock, who featured for Hashtag United for just over a year before being signed professionally by Northampton Town. 

Pollock’s rise to the Football League is something of a success story for both Hashtag United and non-league football. Although this isn’t quite the story of that of Jamie Vardy and his rise from non-league, it’s incredible to think that a young individual has been provided with a life-changing opportunity to play professional football, courtesy of a little YouTube team who ‘didn’t deserve’ to be in non-league. 

The idea of a team who originate from YouTube gaining a relative level of success within the ‘real world’ will almost be alien to many, particularly the older generation who don’t necessarily understand YouTube, and will always invite criticism. Nevertheless, as they boast just under 500,000 subscribers on YouTube, the semi-professional side possess social media followings close to that of Championship and League One outfits. 

Therefore, I believe people should take a different stance when they judge Hashtag United and should break away from the sheep-mentality of it being a laughing stock.

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