Hashtag United’s rise from a YouTube football team to a well-known non-league club has been nothing short of remarkable. In March 2016, the Tags were created by YouTuber Spencer Owen – mainly known for producing FIFA-related content for his channel, Spencer FC. Their audience has grown and grown since their conception nearly seven years ago and they are on the brink of another promotion once again, slowly but surely climbing the football pyramid.
Not everybody in the non-league football world agrees with how they are run and they certainly stand out from the rest, especially with their club name. In a two-part series, I look at how this Basildon-based club has risen to prominence in recent years.
Hashtag began as a YouTube team where several of Spencer’s friends came together to play football. This idea grew very quickly and the Tags were even fortunate enough to play exhibition games around the world in places like New York City, as well as playing at Premier League grounds such as the Emirates Stadium and Selhurst Park.
Their social media platforms were growing at a rapid rate and they were producing regular videos for their channel. They decided to join the non-league football pyramid ahead of the 2018/19 season. They were put in the Eastern Counties League Division One South, the tenth tier of non-league, and in their first season they topped the division and were promoted.
Hashtag are a very fortunate non-league club and there is no other team like it. Due to their vast social media audience, they can attract sponsorship that teams higher up the pyramid may not even be able to secure. Similarly, Wrexham under Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds where they attracted Tik Tok as their shirt sponsor. The Tags, in their existence, have had partnerships with Adidas, Football Manager and many more – which has seen their stock grow even higher.
Other teams, even in the lower echelons of English football, have a history dating back decades, while Hashtag, formed by a group of YouTubers were trying to do things differently by utilising social media to promote their content. The name ‘Hashtag United’ was initially used for Spencer’s seven-a-side team, but when it came around to choosing an official name, they used this name despite the FA’s efforts to ensure that didn’t happen. Spencer confirmed that the FA had asked him to change the club name as it didn’t have a place name in it, but after discussions, the name stood.
Some may have thought that Spencer, owner and chairman of the club, wouldn’t have taken this challenge seriously. However, he is very committed to the club and he hasn’t been looking for constant promotions, sustainability is key for him. Currently, Hashtag have 626,000 YouTube subscribers, 504,000 Instagram followers and 229,000 Twitter followers – numbers that clubs in higher divisions cannot even compete with.
The world today is becoming more centred around the digital age and making content for social media platforms and teams like Hashtag are using this to adapt to attract a larger audience. Other teams in the non-league pyramid are all about tradition, but the Tags are doing it differently and they certainly stand out from the crowd.
That is why some may call Hashtag’s conception controversial as other clubs in non-league do not have the same resources they have. It is also key to point out that the players are not paid a salary, the money goes back into the club. Before Ben Foster signed for Wrexham, he even stated that he would consider playing for Hashtag, so did Adebayo Akinfenwa. The latter played a pre-season game in the summer but at the age of 40, he was unable to officially join due to fitness concerns.
Another thing that they have to be lauded for is their academy series. This is where youngsters are able to go on trial at the club and potentially earn a contract with the first-team. The best example of this was when Scott Pollock won the academy series a few years ago and he went on to earn himself a professional contract at Northampton Town. Today, he is plying his trade with Vanarama National League side Yeovil Town after he earnt the move to Somerset from Boston United.
In the next part of this series, I look at how Hashtag are doing on the pitch with their men’s and women’s first-teams as well as their youth set-up.