Social Media and Football — A match made in heaven?

Match of the Day panellist Alan Shearers recent contention that the greatest league in the world was home to only one world class player was met with derision from every Tom, Dick and DT. More tellingly it was the opinion of the latter which has helped garner an online following which numbers in the thousands, through footballs digital debating society which is Arsenal Fan TV. John Doe (his identity is unknown) or MR DT, to give him his official twitter account name, along with fellow Arsenal patrons Robbie, Claude, Ty, Moh and Troopz offer their insight and thoughts on the club pre, post and concurrent game through the use of Youtube Vlogs. These thoughts range from predominantly game day analysis to off field affairs from a ‘bloke down the pub’ eye view. Having notched up more European away days than the non-flying Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp, MR DT and ArsenalFan TV founder and interviewer Robbie Lyle have been likened to undocumented workers (whether they are now paid employees of the club is open for debate — future vlog discussion maybe?) What isn’t up for debate is the popularity of the Youtube channel which is now in its 5th year, but it is not without its detractors. The question I want to explore is whether these social media platforms do more to enhance a teams brand or are they detrimental to the club?

It’s half five on the 14th January and Arsenal have just hammered Swansea, in Swansea, 4–0 so by all accounts a good day to be a Gunner. I’m eagerly awaiting Robbie to finish his interviews with the usual suspects and upload them to Youtube and get a taste of how the team faired. My phone pings and the first lot of Interviews have come through, it’s Troopz. Statistically the second most popular character on the channel (129 thousand views this week) his video headline is entitled ‘It Was MURDER!!!’ In terms of his interview he absolutely KILLED IT, he’s delivered on what the viewers expect from London Boy Troopz. Watered down analysis mixed with his Tourette like use (or abuse) of Blud and Fam which viewers enjoy keeping a tally on in the comments section below.

Next up it’s the Yoda of Arsenal Fan Tv, wise old man Claude who this week has brought along a pretty blonde companion. Having slurred his way through most the interview, either due to alcohol consumption or lack of sleep… ahum, it is left to his new friend to fill in the gaps when they appear until they feel the interview has run its course and break out into football song ‘we love you Arsenal, we do.’

Feeling that twos company but threes a crowd, Claude’s usual co contributor is left to his own device. Ty, kitted out in full Arsenal tracksuit and headphones, proclaims the fans prayers have been answered in the shape of academy product Alex Iwobi, whilst taking regular swigs from his Arsenal water bottle as if just having played 90 minutes himself. Not all supporters are singing from the same hymn sheet though, with the comment section littered with ‘it’s only Swansea’ to ‘your delusional’ sentiment.

I then move on to the Pantomime villain of the piece, aforementioned MR DT. In terms of views he’s absolute box office but it appears to be a case of the person everyone loves to hate, whether it be seasoned journalists (Talksports Adrian Durham and Daily Mirror Columnist John Cross are the target of DT’s crosshair for half the interview) to seasoned trolls who have dreamt up colourful abbreviations for DT. The DT or Dream Team is rounded off by a level headed Moh Haider who, more than any other regular contributor, offers the most impartial account of on field events and is the nearest to an Adrian Durham like figure the channel has to offer, the yin to the other collective yang who are all followed up by a few lesser known personalities.

It must be noted here that personality is the optimum word, as without them you don’t have a Youtube channel and where Arsenal FanTv has succeeded over rival football teams channels is its ensemble of engaging characters from all walks of life. From black cabby Claude to accountant Moh (who has used the day job to vlogg about Arsenal season ticket hikes, more about that later) they make up a cast which all play their part in a plot which is Arsenals rollercoaster season. Within the plot of game day analysis are subplots which range from serious transfer discussion, what players they should target, the spending or lack of and Barcelona’s perceived kleptomania when it comes to persistently poaching Arsenals top talent, to the satirical — the existent love hate relationship which has developed between Ty and Claude, the optimist versus the pessimist. Ty and Claude’s car crash Youtube moments (I eagerly await their debut on Alex Zanes Rudetube) are made even more entertaining on match day when the team have actually lost and leaves long suffering host and involuntarily mediator Robbie wanting to tear his hair out, if he had any! Whether serious or satirical the topics discussed always invite fan engagement/customer engagement of the likes the traditional membership schemes and media avenues can only dream of. The channel has picked up from where Arsenal TV has left off, replacing phone ins with comments sections below where anyone one can have a voice as opposed to the lucky few who manage to get on the air.

For those avid writers there are opportunities in expressing your opinions in blog form on the ArsenalFanTv website where commercial tie-ins also allow you to shop for your favourite branded t-shirts and hoodies. The omnipresent existence of social media in the lives of young people in particular has also acted as a catalyst in recruiting new supporters to the club who are invited to share their game day experiences on Instagram and add to the image of a family friendly football team. This said, social media is not without its cons and an Arsenal family feud has erupted over Twittersphere!

Someone not allWRIGHT with Arsenal Fan Tv’s content is club legend Ian who has engaged in an online slanging match in opposition to DT over his banner demonstration which calls for the resignation of club manager Arsene Wenger citing a decade of Premiershipless years. DT remonstrates at Wright that ‘you don’t pay the money we do, you don’t put up with what we do’ followed by expletive, to which Ian insists -

An appropriate comeback from DT might have come with the request of a lie detector test as this is beginning to feel more and more like an episode of Jeremy Kyle. The airing of dirty laundry in public only serves to demean the club and proves to be divisive when supporters of other teams who subscribe to the channel (of which there are a lot) ridicule the infighting and lack of apparent unity and are eager to jump on the proverbial keyboard warrior bandwagon. There is also a question as to whether the personalities see themselves as role models and if their actions can be held to account, like those of teams playing/coaching staff (£350,000 in twitter fines were dished out by the FA between 2011 and 2014.) What is noticeable is the lack of disclaimers at the beginning or end of the viral offerings so one can only assume that the club are impartial to its content. When passions are running high, especially in a macho, testosterone driven environment such as the football ground the most mild mannered of characters have it in them to become possessed by the football fan alter ego and turn the air blue, to the detriment of impressionable young fans and players alike who contrary to popular belief (especially in the case of Ozil and Sanchez) are human and do engage in the world of social media and are privy to negative comments regarding their form. That said, you’ve subscribed to the wrong vlog if you expect the channel to conduct itself with the type of decorum you’d expect from speakers corner, but there is a social activism of some description taking place amongst the Arsenal FanTv hierarchy.

Moh Haider’s now infamous 2013 interview ‘you get what you pay for, unless you’re an Arsenal fan’ post 3–1 home loss to Aston Villa called into question the extortionate rates charged to be a season ticket holder at the Emirates (the most expensive ground in England.) Subsequently Moh put his accountancy skills to good use by justifying the 3% ticket price increase implemented for the start of the 2014/15 season which he reasoned was under the rate of inflation, whilst at the same time reiterating his view that watching his club was overpriced. This impartial take on the spiralling costs in football, married with a platform which is more inclusive than your clubs AGM could well inadvertently be the catalyst in affecting change, who knows? Could this see the advent of an affordable ticketing structure applied by our European neighbours Germany? Possibly! Could it lead to German type, member owned clubs? Less likely!

As is evident to see though, used in the right way social media has become a force for good, the club need to embrace this channel when a topic is trending, adopting the Arsene Wenger line ‘I didn’t see it’ won’t cut it when 353 thousand + subscribers have.

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