Hashtag United: YouTube team can 'bring new fans' to non-league game

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Hashtag United score in front of YouTube cameras

Hashtag United are different from every other club they will face in English football's 10th tier next season.

Their home is a YouTube domain instead of a town, their fans are online, and they are more used to playing exhibition matches against businesses and comedians.

Unsurprisingly, there has been confusion at their entry into the pyramid system, but when Hashtag make the leap from the screen, they are confident it will prove beneficial to the semi-professional game.

Commercial director Seb Carmichael-Brown says the brand, created by YouTube star Spencer Owen in 2016 and boasting a fanbase of more than 370,000 YouTube subscribers, will bring with them a new audience to non-league football.

"We want to bring a fresh set of eyeballs and are working very hard to do so," Carmichael-Brown told BBC Sport.

"We wanted to give the club a world to live in and build a long-term sustainable structure.

"We have such honest and good intentions. It is very much about the story and how far we can go."

'We are getting to live that dream'

Hashtag United
Hashtag United's line-up for a recent game against University of Reading, alongside creator Spencer Owen

The club began life playing exhibition-style games that were filmed and posted online by Owen, already a successful YouTube personality with channel Spencer FC before beginning his Hashtag venture.

They turned out in top-flight stadiums such as Wembley, Emirates Stadium and Selhurst Park, against a range of teams from the likes of Google, to a Manchester City staff side and a Comedians XI.

More recently, the club have formed an academy, taken the product global with tours to the USA, Ireland, Serbia and Spain, and also featured in Sunday League.

The announcement this week they will be entering the league system from next season comes after six months of planning and talks with the Football Association.

So are they dreaming of climbing the divisions or enjoying an FA Cup run?

"Sunday League is great," said Owen in a YouTube video. "It's accessible to anyone. There are some half-decent teams and a lot of not-so-good ones. It's full of late tackles, questionable refs, subs running the line and big bobbles.

"What Sunday League doesn't give you is the chance to make it big, the chance to rise up the divisions and dream of reaching the Football League, the Premier League and maybe even the Champions League - now we are getting to live that dream.

"Theoretically, we could be in the Premier League in nine years."

Carmichael-Brown is more grounded with his expectations.

"We are one of the teams that is not in a results business. It's not win at all costs, just a group of friends that have evolved," he added. "We have no ambitions to replace players overnight. We've not got the resources to do that.

"If we don't do well we will look to makes changes to compete, but we are not trying to get promoted into League Two in five seasons."

Where to house an online team?

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Spencer Owen mapped out Hashtag United's potential route to the Football League during a YouTube video

Hashtag United will play their home games at Haringey Borough's 2,500-capacity Coles Park Stadium in Tottenham.

It was confirmed on Friday they will begin life in the English football pyramid in the Eastern Senior League, operated by the Eastern Counties League, having initially been admitted to South Midlands Division One.

The change of league followed an appeal by the club to feature in a division more suited to their location, with the company's roots based in Essex. The initial decision to house them in the South Midlands had not been widely received by some clubs who believed they were pushing others out.

However, Carmichael-Brown says such a response came as a shock to them, with Hashtag just one of 11 teams entering the league structure in the new campaign.

"Some people are saying we are taking someone else's place, which is absolutely not true," he added.

Carmichael-Brown also says while Hashtag are lucky to attract big-name sponsors, the costs of running a non-league, semi-professional club means a big investment for the company and for creator Owen.

"We hope to bring additional fans to the teams in our league as it's hard to balance the books at this level," he said, explaining that a recent friendly against fellow step-six side AFC Newquay was watched by 600 to 700 people.

"We have a big support online, but we are not going to get rich off this - it is a passion project of Spencer's.

"We are working very hard to keep growing the club and are lucky to have the support of some key partners to help us do so, but all revenues are reinvested into the club."

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