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Will Hashtag United become the ultimate football fairytale?

The team founded by a youtuber is climbing the hierarchy of English football

Will Hashtag United become the ultimate football fairytale? The team founded by a youtuber is climbing the hierarchy of English football

Football is a sport of fairytales. There are so many teams that have enchanted fans with their mesmerising leaps in the category. In Italy, we all know the stories of Chievo Verona and Sassuolo, who have risen from the fifth division to Serie A in 16 and 15 years respectively, and have even qualified for the European Cup on several occasions. In England, there are many clubs that have managed to rise through the ranks of the lower leagues in their long history, such as Luton Town, who are now one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League despite being in the English 5th division in 2013, while Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016 after a decade of struggling between League One and Championship (3rd and 2nd divisions of English football). Another team that could join this list is Hashtag United.

Hashtag United is not your typical provincial club with lots of dreams and high hopes. The 'Tags' were founded in 2016 by YouTuber Spencer Owen (known on social media as Spencer FC ) and have just been promoted from the Isthmian League North Division, the 8th tier of English football to the 7th tier. All in all, the club has performed impressively since its inception and has the potential to be the next great footballing fairytale. After their third promotion in six years, you have to wonder how far Hashtag United can go. It is reassuring to know that there are teams that have achieved what was once thought impossible. We often take our cue from these stories and try to find the next team capable of making miraculous leaps in the category. Hashtag United seems to have landed in the crosshairs of our football fantasies, and the team is believed to have the potential to go down a path reminiscent of Chievo or Luton.

A similar development, yes, but when we talk about Hashtag United we are talking about a team that is fundamentally different from the rest and has been able to associate itself with global and widely recognisable brands from the outset. TGI Fridays, UFL and as sponsors, 500,000 followers on Instagram, an e-sports team in the English premier league - we could go on for hours. No semi-professional team can boast similar qualities and there is no organisation outside the Premier League or Championship that can match the presence and popularity of the Hashtag United brand. Of course, a team with this fan base and such a strong brand has the resources that other clubs in the lower leagues can only dream of. While Premier League teams have the financial strength to easily cope with travel costs, salaries and rents, these are real issues for smaller clubs to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Hashtag United, despite its current level, has the opportunity to worry less about it and focus on recruiting key players.

Thank you to the visibility the club offers, many high-profile athletes are willing to drop a few categories to wear Hashtag's colours. Midfielder Jermaine Francis, for example, has come through the youth ranks at Chelsea and QPR, while striker Alex Teniola has plenty of experience in the National League South, two leagues above Hashtag United's current level. In 2020, Chelsea legend César Azpilicueta's decision to join and become a member of the club made headlines and showed the entire football world that Hashtag United is a serious organisation with serious goals. With names of this calibre involved in the environment, it is easy to imagine that significant amounts of money will be available to the team in the future, which in turn will help to improve every aspect mentioned so far. This naturally leads to a competitive team with greater chances of promotion, which is a source of attraction for off-field investment.

Despite the positives, however, one cannot help but point out that Hashtag United are far too young at the moment to hope to play the football that matters in England. Experience is very helpful in football, and this is something the entire organisation is largely lacking. Even the 'football fables' mentioned all refer to teams that have been around for 100 years, if not longer. Luton Town, for example, even had a successful period in the First Division (the equivalent of today's Premier League) in the 1980s, culminating in winning the Football League Cup in 1988. Modern football is perhaps too consolidated. In the major leagues there is an obvious elite of virtually untouchable clubs, which in many ways sets itself apart from the rest. We must therefore ask ourselves whether the current state of football is really capable of providing the right ingredients for a new 'fairy tale'. The more we venture into this sport, now obsessed with business and money, the better the teams that stand far above the rest economically, on the pitch and in the media. Today's football is governed by a system designed to keep small teams that way, and that could slow Hashtag United down considerably.

It is also worth noting that football is an extremely traditionalist sport. There is a huge disdain for anything that looks 'nouveau riche', with clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea being targeted for their easy success and lack of history. What is stopping fans and influential people or organisations from seeing the United hashtag in the same way? This old money superiority helps teams like Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United stay relevant, but small clubs hoping to rise to the top have a hard time if they do not have enough history or tradition. The hashtag United is not only 7 years old, it's named after a metadata tag and was founded by a YouTuber. That does not fit at all with the big clubs that dominate football today. More importantly, Hashtag United has no real fanbase, no identity that represents a particular city or community. Even if it climbed the pyramid of the English football system, who would go to the stadium to support a Youtuber's team? Hashtag United can indeed rely on the support of the media and many fans from Spencer's YouTube channel. But as much as we often stress how commercialised football is today, organic support is still essential for a successful club.

Hashtag United has a very different management model to other teams. With an identity based on an online fan base and a community that rallies around a content creator, common sense dictates that the future holds many problems. But it is also true that this association is introducing a new way of working that has never existed before. The emphasis on social can open up a whole new way of thinking, shifting the focus to the online community rather than focusing on representing a particular indigenous community. Globalisation has enabled many fans to follow teams from overseas and other continents, with the world's biggest teams having millions of fans everywhere. These foreign fans, while a great economic help, feel disconnected from their respective teams due to geographical distance. Hashtag United partially removes the local aspect and focuses on engaging social media initiatives and content to make global and far-flung fans feel closer to the team, which also attracts the general Gen Z attention. With such a new way of running a football club, it is simply hard to say what will help or hurt Hashtag United. One thing is for sure though: Hashtag United is a team of true innovators and has no limits to what it can achieve.