Hashtag United: YouTubers in the League
Football has always been a game about tradition and passion. Aston Villa, of whom’s chairman at the time founded the football league, were created by a group of cricketers looking for something to do in the off-season. Many London clubs were founded due to factory workers wanting something to do outside of work. All in all, football is a very territorial sport filled with passion, amongst another cocktail of emotions.
With higher leagues moving on from this old tradition in football with its marketing, and their bank accounts, Non-League football has, for the most part, stayed to the roots of what football always has been – a game about places or groups of people. However, at the start of this season, a new team popped up out of seemingly nowhere for those uninformed about Social Media trends in the non-league football world, Hashtag United.
Establishment and E-Sports
Founded in 2016 by popular YouTuber Spencer Owen (who identifies under the username “Spencer FC”), Hashtag United began as an exhibition team, playing under their own Fifa-style league system, where they progressed from Division 5 to Division 1, playing various other YouTube teams, staff teams or charity teams. All the while, Hashtag United were establishing themselves as an E-Sports team, quickly becoming one of the largest in the Fifa E-sports scene, with their kit being added into Fifa by EA. The winner of Spencer’s “Game Academy” series, Harry Hesketh, was one of the first signings for Hashtag’s E-sports scene. “Hashtag Harry” has retained his contract with Hashtag to this day, still playing in various competitions ran by EA (or sometimes other hosts), qualifying through Fifa Ultimate Team.
Wembley and International Tours
Every year since it’s creation in 2015, Spencer has been running “The Wembley Cup”, a charity football match that is played at Wembley every single year. Hashtag’s first official entry came in 2017 – as Spencer’s team had always been known in the competition as “Spencer FC” in previous years – when they took down the F2 Freestylers’ “Tekkers Town” 6-1 in front of 34,000 fans. Additionally, Hashtag United were invited to multiple international tours, going on their “CocaColaUSTour” in March 2017. Previously, they had also had a couple of games in Northern Island. To keep the series alive, Hashtag were often offered awards by a mysterious character: “The Chairman”, including various giveaways to the Man Of The Match, and other players. Hashtag were even able to seal a kit deal with Umbro in this time, as well as sealing a sponsorship deal with “Top Eleven”, an online, mobile football management game, as well as competing in the “Next Level Football League”.
Scott Pollock & The Hashtag Academy
Starting on 19th February 2017, Hashtag began the “Hashtag Academy” series. After 8 episodes and a lot of controversy, Scott Pollock came out on top, and he has progressed into recently playing his first league game for Northampton Town in League 2 of the football league. Hashtag are quick to boast the talent they have highlighted within the online community.
The Big Jump
On 27th May 2018, Spencer Owen addressed the 440,000 subscribers to the Hashtag United channel announcing “Hashtag United Phase 2”. Later, it was announced that Jay Devereux, an established ex-player and coach in various divisions, would take on the role as the new Hashtag United manager leading them into this new season.
Hashtag were to play at Cole’s Park stadium, not a million miles away from the new White Hart Lane, where Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur play their top-tier games. Cole’s Park is owned by Haringey Borough FC, a side whom you may know from the BBC coverage of their short F.A Cup run this season. Hashtag’s nature as a YouTube football team made a lot of football fans angry at their arrival in the footballing pyramid, with a shroud of hate online. To top off the start of the season, they also lost the Wembley Cup for the first time – their own tournament. From an outside looking in, it looked like a tough first couple of months in the footballing pyramid, with a win seeming hard to come by for the first few games.
On The Up
Despite having a tough start, Hashtag United suddenly found their flow. They went on an insane win-streak, leading us to Wednesday. Hashtag needed one point against a team, that I personally see as rivals to them – Hackney Wick FC, to win the league. It would be an achievement of insane weight to it – for a team to overcome all of the hate and win their league at the first time of asking.
The game began, and the collective heart rate for everyone wearing a Hashtag on their shirt was not healthy. Hashtag took an early lead in the 13th minute through the form of player Harry Honesty, with a beautiful tap over the head of the Hackney Wick keeper. Unfortunately, they could only hold on for 20 minutes. Hackney Wick scored a goal from a corner, to the refereeing debate of the Hashtag players. In the 39th minute, Cain Brougham went down with an injury for Hashtag, but it wasn’t too serious.
Half-time came and went with Hashtag knowing what they had to do. In the 58th minute, a Hackney Wick shot was heroically cleared off of the line by Farai.T, saving Hashtag from heartbreak. With various substitutes over the remaining portion of the game, it all came down to 5 minutes of injury time, 5 minutes to hold on. It came and went, and the whistle blew.
Hashtag United had done the unthinkable. At the start of the year, I saw them fighting for a position in the top 15, a mid-table side at the very best. As the season began, I was convinced that I was right. But my goodness me, give Jay Devereux a knighthood because he has led this team of YouTubers, Spencer’s school mates and a few experienced non-league players to glory in the most unthinkable way possible. They overcame the onslaught of criticism led to them by established non-league fans and just football fans in general and won the league, a feat that no one expected.
WE’VE DONE IT!!!— Hashtag United (@hashtagutd) April 17, 2019
HASHTAG UNITED HAVE WON THE LEAGUE IN THEIR FIRST SEASON OF NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL!!!
UP THE TAGS!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/2fhb238PFx
With a brand deal from Football Manager and a kit deal with Addidas, I can only see Hashtag United going up from here. Of course, we have to bring it down to Earth when discussing next season. I truly believe that if they keep up this insane form, and carry it into Step 9, Hashtag is perfectly capable of pushing for promotion, but do I think it can be done next season? If I screw on my armchair-football pundit head, I don’t think that they will be pushing for promotion next season. Hashtag needs to get a good spot in mid-table and focus on the F.A Cup, which I believe they qualify to play in next season. I see no reason why Hashtag can’t have a good F.A Cup run next season if they keep up form like this.
In the end of things, I have been following Hashtag United since that very first announcement video 3 years ago, and I intend to continue to do so. For now, let’s just celebrate that they have won the league, an achievement that no one on Earth thought was possible.
Indie Game Developer also a writer for Sip Read Repeat. Aviation and space enthusiast, has a bit of a thing for coffee.