- Hashtag United are set to start life in the English ninth tier
- They have a bigger social-media following than multiple Premier League clubs
- Their chairman discusses the desire to combat homophobia and racism
“I did stand-up comedy for three years at uni,” Spencer Owen told FIFA.com.
Had the English literature graduate dared predict he could found his own football club and, within three years, metamorphose it into one with a superior social-media following than multiple Premier League outfits, he’d have been laughed off the University of Reading stage. But that’s what this megamind has done with Hashtag United.
“We’re in the ninth division of English football, but if you were doing league table on social media following, we’d be in the Championship if not the Premier League,” he said. “We have more followers than a lot of Premier League clubs.”
Hashtag United has, indeed, three times as many YouTube subscribers as Everton, while they boast 428,000-plus followers on Instagram, which is more than seven 2019/20 Premier League clubs including seven-time English champions Aston Villa – only four clubs have won more – and Newcastle United. So how did this real-life Roy-of-the-Rovers tale come to pass?
“I started making comedy videos on YouTube,” said the 30-year-old, who watched England at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and Russia 2018. “That’s how my channel started. I’ve always had a huge passion for football, but didn’t think I could work in it, nor gaming either.
“But I started working for a Facebook football game and then for Vincent Kompany, looking after his social media. Then I started making football content on my YouTube channel.”
That channel, Spencer FC, which focuses on football and EA Sports FIFA, rocketed to have around two million subscribers. It earned Spencer the celebrity to venture into other fields.
“My job is still to make content, but I’m also a football club owner, an eSports club owner, a presenter for things like the FIFA eWorld Cup, and I presented El Clásico on British TV this year.
“I also got to host the Wembley Cup four times at Wembley Stadium. We had the likes of Steven Gerrard, Robert Pires, Patrick Kluivert, Jay-Jay Okocha, Emile Heskey, Peter Schmeichel, Rio Ferdinand, William Gallas, Robbie Savage, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Gaizka Mendieta.”
The Wembley Cup fortified Spencer’s desire to dabble in pro football.
“I was looking at opportunities to merge with existing non-league clubs, but then I decided I’d rather create my own club from scratch,” he said. “We’ve got this cultural movement where people seem to like to watch not-great footballers play football – the Wembley Cup proved that – so I thought why don’t we just start filming games with my mates, to build the club, create a fan base, and then we can try and take that into the professional football pyramid."
Hashtag United was, therefore, born – initially to tour the globe and play exhibition matches and amass admirers. The Essex-based club then entered the English football pyramid in 2018/19, won promotion in its maiden campaign, and on Wednesday kick off life in the ninth tier against Southend Manor.
“The sky’s the limit,” said the West Ham United diehard. “In terms of getting to the Premier League, theoretically it’s eight promotions. It’s a hell of a lot of work and a lot of money would be needed that we certainly don’t have at the moment.
“But we’ve already broken the mould for existing football clubs. We could be one of the biggest clubs in the world, in my opinion, but we might never get into professional league football.
“I’d love us to, but I’m being realistic and I’m trying to build a model for a club that’s long-standing and isn’t going to find itself in financial disarray.”
So, how has the old-school, no-frills world of non-league football taken to the flamboyant newcomers?
“The name alone creates a little bit of controversy, but it does do exactly what it says on the tin: tells you that this team has been born out of social media,” said Spencer. “We’re not embarrassed by our roots at all.
“We’re putting down physical roots as well. We’ve gone into ground-share this year with Tilbury, we’re looking to find our own ground one day and create youth teams, create a genuine, real-life community.
“What people are realising is that we’re good for everyone. We’ve got very, very genuine and pure aims and beliefs. We’re not looking to make money. We’re not here for ego.
“We make family-friendly content that inspires and entertains people. You can come to games and talk to the the players, get photos with them – it’s really easy.
“We’re bringing a huge, young audience into non-league football – not just our home games, but people travel far and wide to see us. We’re helping the teams in our league make money. We’re an entirely positive thing.
“Ninety-nine per cent of players would happily play for us if they got the opportunity. But we don’t just sign the best player we possibly can – we make sure they’re the right kind of character for the club first.
“We’re trying to be part of a football revolution that’s battling things like homophobia, racism. We want to be the right representatives of what football can be.” #Amen.