Meet the People Behind the Vox Pops on Arsenal Fan TV
We spent an afternoon at the Emirates with Arsenal Fan TV to find out what makes their channel such a hit with Gooners and neutrals alike.
Arsenal fans are generally regarded as being among the worst in football. I know this well, because I am one of them. But these supporters are not considered terrible because they start fights wherever they go – although local derbys have been known to get a bit testy. Nor are Gooners known for being overly offensive or racist; in fact, as a globally-followed club that resides in the diverse London Borough of Islington, they probably have one of the most cosmopolitan fan bases in Europe, if not the world. So, to recap, Arsenal fans won't beat you up – unless you are the seats or toilets in the away end at White Hart Lane – and they're more likely to order a soy latte than sing a racist song in your direction. But, despite all that, they are some of the most hated in the Premier League – why?
It's mainly to do with how they act online. At present, Arsenal are the third most-popular club in the world on social media, with 8.32 million Twitter followers and over 37 million likes on Facebook. The only two clubs with bigger numbers on both platforms are Manchester United and, above them, the most boringly popular club in the world: Barcelona.
Such a vast throng of online fans has a few consequences. For one, most polls conducted either online, by phone, or by carrier pigeon result in an Arsenal win. Seriously, I think Yaya Sanogo won a 'Signing Of The Season So Far' poll on Sky Sports before he'd even played a game, and I've no doubt that Mesut Ozil could be voted 'Britain' Sexiest Pensioner'. Secondly, Arsenal's vast fan base includes some rabidly opinionated members, who aren't afraid to express rabid opinions on whatever public platform they can find.
One way they do this is through Arsenal Fan TV, an incredibly popular YouTube channel and now fully-fledged website solely dedicated to interviewing Arsenal fans before and after games. You may have unwittingly seen some of Arsenal Fan TV's work, either as a Vine (RIP), on YouTube, or as a video clip on Twitter. There's no point beating around the bush: they've had some spectacular meltdowns, usually from irate Arsenal fans whose hearts look like they might do an Alien-style chest burst at any moment following yet another frustrating 0-0 at home to a mid-table team whose 'keeper just played a game worthy of the Ballon d'Or.
It's incredibly entertaining and also incredibly popular. They have over 110k followers on Twitter and 230k likes on Facebook, and their Vine loops (seriously, RIP) have exceeded 1.6 million. Eager to find out more, I went along to Arsenal vs. Swansea at the Emirates to learn about the inner workings of Arsenal Fan TV. The Gunners hadn't won a home league game against Swansea since 2012, and I was secretly hoping I'd be present for a few spectacular meltdowns – or perhaps even have one of my own.
Before the game, the Arsenal Fan TV guys like to hang around next to the Tony Adams statue and chat to supporters for preview interviews on Facebook Live and Snapchat. The statue is around the back if you're heading from Holloway Road, and just next to the bridge if you're coming from Arsenal underground station, in case you fancy having a chat next time you're about for a home game. I thought there would be no better way to get into the spirit of hearing loud opinions about football than by rapidly downing two pints of overpriced 3.8% Carlsberg, which is the only beer they serve at the Emirates, so down I did.
Here is Arsenal Fan TV head honcho Robbie (or Man Like Robbie, as he's better known) doing a preview prediction with a fan and his cameraman, Tal. What I noticed immediately when hanging around the guys is how popular they are, and also how widespread their fame is. If I recall correctly, this fan was from Mauritius, and he'd come over specifically for the game. He knew all about Arsenal Fan TV and Robbie and was dead excited to be a part of the process. He rather boringly predicted a 3-0 victory for Arsenal with Sanchez scoring and Walcott getting a brace. I wanted to believe the enthusiastic Mauritius man and his excitable prediction, but alas, I support Arsenal, a team who seem to revel in the thrill of throwing away four-goal leads and conceding 94th minute equalisers, so I just smiled and nodded.
While Robbie was being absolutely hounded by teenagers desperate for a selfie and a Snapchat video, I sat down and had a quick chat with two of the Arsenal Fan TV regulars: D.T (aka 'that guy who did the 'Wenger Out' banner') and Troopz (aka 'that guy who talks faster and with more London slang than a Lord of the Mics mixtape'). They both seemed pretty reticent with information about their personal lives, which perhaps one would expect with their not inconsiderable internet fame among Arsenal fans. I asked D.T about how he dealt with the wave of indignation from Wenger fans after he hoisted the 'Time To Say Goodbye' banner:
"You do get a lot of criticism, especially on Twitter. But then the thing is that you also get a lot of people agreeing with you, so you can't take it all too seriously. You have to take the rough with the smooth."
As I am chatting to them our sentences are punctuated by yet more teenage fans asking for signatures, selfies and such from the pair. It seems weird to an old fashioned 'if you're not on telly you're not famous' guy like myself, but I guess in some way they really are celebrities to a generation that prefers YouTube clips to whatever's on Freeview. I ask D.T if it's strange suddenly being considered a celebrity of sorts:
"I'm not gonna lie – it was weird at first. But over time you get used to it and, not to sound arrogant or anything, but when you do get the youngsters coming up to you and asking for photos with you and that, you can see that for them it really makes their day, which feels nice."
I guess what D.T and Troopz represent is a new kind of fame. In today's internet world, as long as you have an opinion and are loud or charismatic enough, there is someone online who is at least willing to engage with you, even if it is to return fire with a booming disapproval. When not on camera, they just seemed like two normal blokes who were passionate about Arsenal. It's not as exciting or crazy as their on-camera personalities, but then I guess that's showbiz.
By now, all the online Arsenal celebs were milling around and exchanging pleasantries like a big family, including Arsenal Twitter kingpin Hugh Wizzy (above). He too was snapchatting, tweeting and Facebook live-ing with fans, and was nothing if not a very tall beacon of excitable energy, but with a friendly, almost childlike air about him. There didn't seem to be any overtly conceited behaviour from anyone, just a simple, unabashed pleasure in the excitement of a match day. It may have been the four and a half pints of Carlsberg I'd had by this point, but I was starting to feel it myself, too.
Then I got my chance to speak to the big man himself. I wanted to find out a bit more about the beginnings of what was now quite a movement.
"The first official game was a Tottenham league match," explained Robbie. "We beat them – it was one of the 5-2 [wins] that we did. When we first started we tried to approach people but got a lot of 'who are you, who are you lot then?' responses. We've come a long way since then."
So why did he think to start this YouTube channel? Isn't there enough talk about football already, be it online, on radio or on telly?
"I looked at TV coverage of games and realised you heard from every single person except for the actual fans. These are the people who come to the games week in, week out, but no one is giving them a voice. We've all had enough of the so-called pundits, most of whom aren't even at the games. So I started my own channel to hear from the real fans, with real opinions. That was my aim with the site."
I ask Robbie how he supports himself. Some YouTube channels can make a huge amount of ad revenue, but surely he has to have a full-time job as well?
"We're on every platform, but the only revenue stream you really get is from YouTube, and that is directly related to advert clicks on each video. It's not as much as you'd think though," he adds, "I worked as a surveyor. Tal (his trusty cameraman) was working in sales. At the start of last season we decided from the demands of doing every game that we had to go full-time. Most games we wouldn't get back 'til four or five in the morning, and with a full-time job that was just killing us."
You get the sense from Robbie and Tal – not just from what they say but from how they act – that Arsenal Fan TV really is their life. Both quit what sound like stable jobs to pursue a risky venture and, whatever you may think of the channel, you can at the very least say that it's absorbing.
But not as absorbing as watching an unpredictable Arsenal side play a bogey team at home. So, after those chats, it was time to get into the stadium proper and watch the actual football.
This was my view of what turned out to be an especially nail-biting game. Walcott did in fact get a brace, so Mauritius man got that right, but what he didn't predict was that Nacho Monreal would be absolutely schooled by Swansea winger Borja Baston. What should've been a routine win turned into heart-in-the-mouth madness when Granit Xhaka was sent off in the 70th minute for a cynical trip on the halfway line. In the end, a superb volley by Ozil sealed the 3-2 win, but fucking hell for 20 minutes I felt like I was going to die every time the ball came anywhere near our half. Still, a win is a win – on to the post match shakedowns!
In among this melee, Robbie and Tal are interviewing fans for their post-match opinion videos. You can see various people taking pictures, and generally how massive the huddle is around them. They are bloody popular, and people were queuing for a good half an hour to 40 minutes after the game to wax lyrical about the Arse.
Amidst this, I managed to catch up with one of the best- known characters on the Arsenal Fan TV roster: Angry Claude. I asked for his thoughts on what Arsenal Fan TV has done for him.
"It's like a big community, a big family. We all come together every game and we all know each other, so they've become friends to me," says Claude. "I've had my troubles, yeah. I'm actually homeless right now, but I've been put up at a local B&B. I've been getting a lot of support from everyone around me, from the guys here and everyone else, so with that I'm getting through."
It was hard to identify this friendly but somewhat crestfallen guy as the same bloke who's had harder meltdowns than Michael Douglas in Falling Down over Arsenal drawing with relative minnows in the Champions League group stages. But, the more I saw the post-match interviews, the more I realised that a lot of it was just for show. Off-camera, most of the guys were average blokes; on-camera they play a part that's expected of them, and obviously play it well enough to keep the channel as watchable and compelling as it is.
One such obvious character is Kalechi (above), an Arsenal Fan TV regular with a penchant for singing and dancing his way through interviews. I tried to get a good shot of him, but I'm serious when I say that the dude didn't hold still for longer than four seconds, so this rather consternated face of his was the best I could manage. There was also an appearance from Arsenal Moh – who famously delivered the line: "Don't talk about spend, talk about net spend". He seemed intent on criticising the team even though we'd just won, but then I guess it did make for a controversial interview, which is what a lot of the guys seemed to be going for.
Next, it was time for yours truly to step up to the plate and have a crack at an Arsenal Fan TV interview. But, after what I could only describe as a circus of footballing views and opinions, I could only think to focus on how great Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi are, because let's face it, they're both pretty fucking great lads. I also repeat the phrases "at the end of the day" and "to be fair" a ridiculous amount, as well as slipping in the phrase "sloppy second". But I was pretty pissed by that point, so gimme a fucking break.
And that was pretty much it from my experience with the Arsenal Fan TV guys. All in all it was neither as crazy nor surreal as you would imagine from the hyperbole that surrounds the YouTube channel, especially when Arsenal lose or have a frustrating draw.
In the future, it's likely that this kind of fan-driven channel will become increasingly common, especially as people get tired of the objectively terrible analysis provided by Michael Owen and Robbie Savage and search out something more authentic and heartfelt. And, no matter how hilarious you might find it is as a neutral, Arsenal Fan TV is undeniably heartfelt.