Whether you like or not, the relentless rise of Arsenal Fan TV into the footballing community’s collective consciousness in the past year has been truly remarkable.
Formed only four seasons ago, it feels that the YouTube channel, which boasts over 350,000 subscribers, now plays a major role in Gunners fans’ weekend watching – from waiting to see if Claude will blow a gasket to Ty’s unfathomable dedication to Arsenal merchandise, the channel’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down just yet.
But how did it get to this, and why is it so popular? Should we be treating it as an equal to ‘traditional media’? And what is the future for the ever-growing market of fan channels?
“When we started off we borrowed a camera, borrowed microphones, borrowed everything – our original camera wasn’t even digital, it was a tape camera,” Robbie tells Dream Team.
“I’d never filmed a video, I didn’t know how to upload a video to YouTube, I didn’t know anything.
“But I’m a lifelong Arsenal fan, go to home and away games I could get to, and I used to find that the fans never had a voice – there was never really a platform or a place that fans could have their say.
“After matches you’d hear from pundits and newspapers, but never anything from the fans, so I wanted to create a platform where you’d hear from the supporters. That was the very basic plan.”
Arsenal Fan TV is currently in its fourth season of existence. It’s a short amount of time in real world terms, but when your model is dependent on the internet, all bets are off – a viral video rant here, a small exclusive there and all of a sudden a YouTube channel can catch fire overnight.
And for Robbie, the incredible rise in popularity of his channel two years ago meant quitting his day job, investing in new gear and creating a more professional outlook to his work.
Reticent to say how old he actually is (“In my 40s, let’s say…”), even the most fervent critic of his channel would respect the decision to surrender the relatively comfortable surroundings of a stable job to pursue the youthful and burgeoning online video content world.
“I used to work as a building surveyor, and for the first two and a half seasons of doing Arsenal Fan TV I was still working as a surveyor, so I was doing that and this at the same time which was very, very difficult,” Robbie continues.
“It was virtually taking up all my time, and after a while it became so big that I had to pack the job up, but that work helped us buy all the necessary equipment.
“The reaction from my colleagues when the channel was getting bigger was like, ‘Was that you I saw on the video last night?’
“I used to try and keep it quiet and try and keep a bit of a low profile, but as time went on they saw it getting bigger, so when I eventually left to go full-time doing Arsenal Fan TV it wasn’t that much of a surprise.”
Those who have seen Robbie in and around the Emirates Stadium on a matchday will know he commands a huge following when the cameras are in place – but if he’s the king of Arsenal Fan TV, there is one man who would be a shoo-in to be the prince: his cameraman, editor and general jack of all trades, Tal.
“I was mates with Tal before, and I knew that he used to build websites, so when I had the idea I initially went to him to build a website, and it was only from then that he told me that he also did filming and editing, so that fell into place nicely. I didn’t realise he did everything, I thought he just built websites!
“Tal knew how to film and upload, so he’s mainly led the technical side of things. We have always been keen to learn how to do anything we don’t know how to do, and then we’ll try and do it.”
Watch any of his videos, and you’ll realise Robbie himself rarely courts controversy. He simply has a camera and microphone and asks questions, before letting the interviewees loose for a few minutes.
So we come to the interviewees. Names like Claude, Ty, Troopz and DT are now synonymous with Arsenal Fan TV, and their strong opinions and occasionally forthright language often make them the feature of the video, and their appearances are now so well-known it’s not uncommon to see them posing for selfies and autographs among the throng of fans outside the ground.
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But while critics of the channel will claim the fans are merely characters verging on the parodical, Robbie is fiercely defensive of those who appear on the channel and the so-called ‘methods’ in which he finds new fans.
He adds: “I never set out to try and find a ‘character’. If you do that, then you’re going completely against what you should be doing, which is giving fans a voice.
“If we went out there and tried to look for characters, then we wouldn’t have found the people we have.
“We don’t actually look for anything in particular for a contributor, as surprising as that might sound. If you’re an Arsenal fan and you’ve got things to say and you want to talk about the club, this is a platform in which you can do it on.
“Everyone that you’ve seen that have become ‘characters’ on Arsenal Fan TV have just been fans, I didn’t know any of them before they came on the channel.”
The personalities that have appeared on Arsenal Fan TV throughout the years have encapsulated the full range of fans – from the aforementioned merch-clad Ty to the unique looking Bully, Robbie acknowledges he has a duty of care when it comes to some of the channel’s most precious assets.
“Bully was one of our first people we ever interviewed – it was on the second video we ever did, we interviewed him on the coach coming back from a game against Aston Villa. All the other fans have sort of come from different places and different times along the way.
“I remember when Troopz came on for the first time about a year ago – you could see this guy was a bit of a character, and from him coming back and coming on consistently he’s developed into someone a lot of people like to hear what he’s got to say.
“He’s a very different type of fan and you wouldn’t have heard from someone like him on traditional media, because they wouldn’t have given him the platform.
“They would have heard him and thought he doesn’t sound like the typical fan, but we think, whoever you are, come and get involved.”
Shunned by some, bemusing to a few but loved by many, Arsenal Fan TV has set the wheels in motion a trend for more fan-owned, supporter-driven online channels, and the dedication to the ‘new kids on the block’ as Robbie himself calls them should be applauded.
After all, much like a busy but vital footballer on the pitch, some of the most important work goes unseen.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a day off, you’re starting to sound like my wife!” Robbie adds.
“But a pure day off? I don’t think I’ve had one for years – I do need to learn to do that a bit more, and shut off from everything.”
In a world where you can shoot and upload within minutes, shutting off from everything is probably harder to do than it looks.
What is for certain, however, is Arsenal Fan TV and different iterations of the genre seem set to stay for the long haul, whether you like them or not.