Spencer Owen, known on YouTube as SpencerFC, has lived the dream of many football fans up and down the country. The YouTube team he founded, Hashtag United, are now a fully-fledged non-league football club and on Monday 21st September will be playing their FA Cup First Round Qualifier live on the BBC. However, their FA Cup game is just one of the many exciting things going on with this special football club at the moment. I’ve sat down with Hashtag superfan and stadium announcer, Hashtag Alfie, to find out more about Hashtag’s incredible rise.
*IN PARTNERSHIP WITH HASHTAG ALFIE WE ARE ALSO RUNNING A COMPETITION TO WIN A HASHTAG UNITED SHIRT, DETAILS ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE*
Q: First off, tell us a bit about yourself Alfie…
A: “Sure, my name is Alfie Howden, or Hashtag Alfie as I’m referred to online. I’m 21 years old and I currently live in West London. I am a long-time Hashtag fan and have been doing the public announcements for Hashtag’s home games for their last two seasons. I first started watching them online on YouTube, like many of their supporters, and have been going to their home and away games ever since they’ve entered non-league.”
Q: Can you give us a bit of background to Hashtag, how did the club start?
A: “The team was set up by Spencer Owen and originally was called SpencerFC, it was just him and his mates playing 7-a-side. They established a good online presence and eventually became an 11-a-side team in 2016 taking on the name Hashtag United. Then they began playing a lot more matches. Some of their most notable opponents before their transition to non-league include playing other YouTube teams like Palmers FC and even going on to play a Somalian team by the name of Barawa FC and going on a US tour.”
“Flash forward to the 2018/19 season and Hashtag made the transition into the non-league footballing pyramid. They joined at the 10th tier of English Football in a league called the Eastern Counties League Division One South. In their first season they gained promotion and they now play in the Essex Senior Football League.”
“They have continued to regularly put out content on their YouTube channel including highlight videos from their league games and they now have over 500,000 subscribers.”
Q: What do you think makes Hashtag United special?
A: “I think before you ask about what makes Hashtag United special you have to understand that at its essence it is a traditional non-league team. I think a lot of what makes it special is what makes non-league special. Like other non-league teams, you’ve got that sense of family, of a connection with the players and with the staff. The ticket prices are cheap making it a very accessible club providing you can physically make it to the ground. Even if you can’t though, you can watch on YouTube and support the team that way.”
“I think what makes it particularly special from my point of view, and why I go to pretty much every game, is that there is a real sense of passion running through the club. A lot of people will have you believe that Hashtag is just a franchise team, that a YouTuber fancied making a team and pumped it full of money and that’s got them to wear it’s at. Actually, Hashtag has a lot of passionate staff and players that genuinely care about the club and want to play for the badge. Players get paid far less at Hashtag than they do than other teams in the league, they’re not playing to get rich. So you get players that genuinely want to play for the club that you are supporting and any non-league fan will tell you that’s what makes non-league football special.”
Q: Hashtag United have a massive game on Monday evening. They are playing Soham Rangers in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup which is being televised live on the BBC. Can you tell us about how big an opportunity this FA cup tie is for Hashtag and how excited are you for it?
A: “It’s a massive opportunity. There are 174 FA Cup games going on over that weekend and Hashtag’s has been selected to be televised. No matter what anyone will say it is huge and really exciting moment for Hashtag, as it would be for any non-league club.”
“The 300 limited tickets sold out in something like 11 minutes which gives you an indication of how excited both Hashtag and Soham fans are for this match. The atmosphere was amazing in the last round, even without the cameras, so it’s going even better this time round and I cannot wait.”
Q: I think it’s fair to say that Hashtag United are the underdogs going into this FA Cup game but can I press you for a score prediction?
A: “Yes I think we’re coming in as underdogs but I’m fine with that. Soham are in the league above and will present a real challenge but Hashtag are coming into the game with great form. We’re unbeaten in our league having won every game so far and we showed real grit in our last round. The last round when to penalties, of which there were 30 in the end, and I must admit I could see it going to penalties again. I’m going to say 1-1 with Hashtag winning on penalties.”
Q: In the wider picture, where do you see Hashtag going? Where do you see them in 5 or 10 years?
A: “I think it’s very tempting with a team like Hashtag, especially with the way we’ve hit the ground running, to get ahead of ourselves. I hear other fans talking about seeing Hashtag marching up the league system and getting to the Premier League. That is possible but in the near future that is very unlikely.”
“Realistically, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see Hashtag getting to step three of English Football, the Isthmian Premier League, in 10 years. If Hashtag did manage to do it that would be a great achievement. I would love for them to get one level higher into the National League South but to get into that League and push on would require considerable investment in the club, we’re talking £100 million plus in most cases. Spencer would have to make a hell of a lot of YouTube videos to drum up that kind of money!”
“Having said that there is a lot of desire from Spencer and Hashtag as a team so I’m excited to see where we can go.”
Q: Is there still pressure on Hashtag, do you think, to be seen as a ‘proper’ club?
A: “I think there’s a lot of special points about Hashtag but at the end of the day, whatever way you look at it, we’re like any other non-league club. We still pay player wages, we still rent a pitch, we sell tea and cake at half time for a pound, we do all the classic non-league things. The only thing that people seem to have is that we’re called Hashtag United but at the end of the day there’s lots of non-league teams with equally unusual names.”
“I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture. The average age of non-league fans has been getting older and older over recent years, it’s a very different picture for Hashtag. What Hashtag is doing is it’s bringing in young people into non-league football. Whenever we play at other teams grounds for the first time we often bring in their biggest crowds ever.”
“Brentwood were a good example last season when we played them in a friendly. Before our game with them their average attendance was a 100 to 150 people. The attendance for our game was 550. Of those attending, 400 odd of those weren’t supporting Brentwood, they weren’t even supporting Hashtag, they were just local Brentwood youth who heard about the game and thought they’d come and give it a watch. Whatever way you look at it that’s a good thing for football and it’s Hashtag that is making that happen.”
Q: Hashtag have recently announced a number of exciting developments such as a youth team set up and academy as well as a women’s team. Can you talk a bit more about that?
A: “Yeah sure, Hashtag have made some really exciting developments in the run up to this season. Not only is it a great indicator of how well things are going, it also signals a real desire from the club to invest in grass roots football and in the local community.”
“From a fan point of view it’s great because it’s yet more channels for promising young talents to come through. It would be amazing to have a wonder story of a young Dan Beckham who plays in the under 12s and then six years down the line he’s playing for the first team. We’ve already had some success stories with Scott Pollock, who played for Hashtag before we made the non-league transition, now playing with League 1 Northampton.”
Q: Final question, with a massive FA Cup game tomorrow at 7:45pm on the BBC, who should people be looking out for in Hashtag’s squad?
A: “There’s some really great players at Hashtag at the moment. The captain, Ross Gleed, is a great player with fantastic set pieces and is a dominating figure in the midfield. Another great prospect is Josh Osude, he may start or he may come off the bench as an impact sub but either way he will definitely grab your attention. He is unbelievably pacey and he has been banging in goals for fun in the league.”
Special thanks to Hashtag Alfie for taking the time to speak to The Modern Influencer. To celebrate Hashtag’s fantastic rise from YouTube to non-league and the FA Cup we’ve got an exciting competition for you. We’re giving away a Hashtag United shirt, Home or Away (your choice), and all you have to do are these THREE things:
The competition will run from when this piece is posted until MIDNIGHT on Sunday 27th September 2020 with the winner announced on 3rd October. The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified they have won via Instagram. You must be 13 years or older to enter.