In 2012 a BBC reggae host, Robbie Lyle, quit his job to launch a platform designed to give real fans a voice after he and his peers had grown sick with frustration at a group of television pundits.
With that the programme known as Arsenal Fan TV (AFTV) was born, a platform with over one million subscribers and hundreds of thousands of social media followers.
And this was just the beginning.Embed from Getty Images
In 2021, hundreds of these fan channels exist from Red Men TV of Liverpool to the United Stand of Manchester United and many more.
I interviewed a member of one of those channels to get an insight into the world of a fan made channel.
West Ham Fan TV
WHFTV were one of the first major fan made channels to be created since the arrival of AFTV in 2012.
It was launched in 2014 by lifelong Hammer fans Nicky Hawkins and Ryan Archer and since then has accumulated over fifty-thousand subscribers and over five-million-five-hundred-thousand views.
A member of the Channel, known as Dan Lawless said, “Nicky had the idea to do it initially because he wanted to have a voice for West Ham… you’re not really getting the satisfaction or fulfilment from the pundits on TV”.
He Added, “I actually had the idea myself… before I was aware of what Nicky was doing, I wanted to start a channel. Once I found West Ham TV, realising it had already been done, I contacted Nicky about joining up”.
Though not a founding member of the channel, joining a few months after its creation, Dan Lawless has become a huge personality and a key member of the platform.
Just like Lyle and the AFTV crew, Lawless was sick of watching his team not getting the credit they deserve through these professional pundits. He said “If you ever watch Match of the Day and you see them come to talk about West Ham, it’s literally like a couple of lines and that’s it. Even when they talk about West Ham it seems they focus on the other team being bad rather than us being good”.
Lawless went on to say, “As a West Ham fan who watches them week in week out, you will see them (pundits) say something and think that’s not true, so the views of the fans are not represented through pundits”.
Where does Fan TV belong in a world of professional pundits and journalists?
It’s clear that both the professionals and the self-made pundits of the fan TV channels have some animosity towards each other when it comes to their place in football. It is similar to the conflict seen between journalists and citizen journalists in the world of politics.
But Lawless believes there is assets to both sides of the football analysing story. On pundits Lawless said, “They are there to be the pro analysers… they’re there to give you some insight from someone who has played the game (football) at that level”.Embed from Getty Images
When talking of his own channel however Lawless said, “From our side we are here to give the fans view and the opinion of what’s going on at the club week in and week out… these pro pundits don’t watch us every week we’ve seen them (the players) all season”.
“We give a raw unfiltered view… we aren’t media trained we don’t have to worry about what we say or our relationships with the clubs or offending players and owners, we say it how a fan sees it”.
“I think that’s why it has taken off so much because people gravitate towards that… you hear the same cliché lines on these programs with these pundits”.
How have the professionals reacted?
An excessively big criticism of the pundits towards these fan channels however is the negativity they seem to spread due to the unfiltered raw nature of their content as Dan just described.
Jermaine Jeans even went as far as saying that Arsenal’s poor run of form can be linked to the world of AFTV and Lyle himself has been heavily criticised over the years.Embed from Getty Images
Lawless challenges this however “The negative opinions are there because of what’s on the pitch, the pitch dictates the opinion. So if Arsenal are on a poor run of form that’s gonna be what you see, if they were winning games you wouldn’t see the negativity”.
“Their (pundits) opinions get millions of views but why is it any different to when pundits are talking bad about a team week in and week out”.
On the subject of AFTV’s controversial coverage of the Wenger Out saga, Lawless added, “Sometimes we might overreact to things but to say that it contributes… like the Wenger Out campaign wasn’t started by AFTV, they just highlighted it”.Embed from Getty Images
It seems as though the pundits love to use the fans as a sort of scape goat these days. Lawless claimed, “Football is so complex but they always wanna bring it back to the fans. That’s what we are experiencing now with West Ham, people saying West Ham are only playing well because fans aren’t there”.
It is hard to say whether the professional world of pundits and journalists will ever accept these fan TV channels as one of their own but it seem as though they are set to stick around forever integrated into a modern football.
Collaboration or conflict
So the conflict between pundit and person is clear, but what about the fan TV community itself, is that also shrouded in conflict? After all, social media is an incredibly difficult and competitive platform.
Lawless said, “I don’t see us to where we are in fierce competition where we want to beat the other channel. You have a certain level of pride where you want to be the best.. you want to go out and make the most content and build up the most views and subscribers”.
Despite the goal to become the best indiviualy as a channel, Lawless believes building a community and collaborating together is the way forward for these channels to grow, “Every time we collaborate with other channels their bringing their audience to us as we are bringing it to them… I’m always pushing these channels out there”.
Is there a limit to what can be achieved?
From existing only in thirty second twitter rants or drunken banter down the pub, the fans opinion and how it has been shared has come a long way through the use of fan TV but is there a limit to what it can achieve?
As far as West Ham fan TV is concerned, they are just getting started. Lawless said, “We don’t treat it as a business where we are hunting down sponsors and we are really pushing this and treating it like a job we focus so much on the content that sometimes that side of things (the business) gets neglected
In order to elevate to the next level, Lawless claims that. “If we can polish both sides then we can go to the next level, we just want the channel to be the best it can be and to have something that West Ham fans can be proud of and West Ham fans can enjoy
“There’s a lot of room for room for growth and a lot of ideas that we want to do and places we want to take it”.
It will certainly be exciting to see where West Ham Fan TV, and channels like it, will progress over the next few years.
Their role is certainly just beginning as they look to drag football into the social media crazed twenty-first century.