Sounds odd to mention a football team in the same breath as a ‘shared home’, but as Hashtag United know, you gotta do what you gotta do at non-league level in the UK.
In case you’re unsure of who Hashtag United are, then I must ask you to grovel on your knees and apologise for your ignorance. No, seriously. Tweet us a picture (@UltraaUtd) with a picture of you on your knees with the caption ‘I’m no good‘ … on second thought … save that for our secret channel. You get what I mean though, alright! These lads are absolutely everywhere, and have attracted a diverse level of attention from the different demographics of the game. One which is generally negative from the ‘elder‘ and ‘immoveable‘, and one of adulation from the Gen-Z‘s … or Gen-X‘s … or whatever the hell the correct term is!
Joining the latter group (just!), Hashtag United represented pretty much everything I love about the game and our current times. Sure, there’s a lot to gripe and moan about, but the fact that a YouTuber can start up their own team, and organically use their admiring audience to grow it into a fully-fledged outfit is nothing short of remarkable. The ‘Tuber in question goes by the name of Spencer Owen who, along with his tight-knit family group (which just makes this whole thing even more wholesome), founded ‘The Tags‘ in 2016 after a brief, head-banging altercation with the FA.
” [I remember] speaking with the FA and they didn’t like our name, simply because it didn’t reflect an area of the country. To which I said, well … where’s Port Vale? Or Metropolitan Police? Sure, the Met Police in particular had their own reasons for that name, but so do we! “Spencer Owen on JaackMaate’s Happy Hour Podcast in 2020
when asked about how he officialised Hashtag United Football Club
Nevertheless, standing resolute in the eyes of those big-wigs shaking their wrinkled fingers his way – something which is almost an instant image when you think about how the Football Association has operated in the past – and not pivoting from his business plan, nothing has since deterred the entire Hashtag group from ploughing on with their plans to make the club a success. Even if it meant relocating more times than Simon Cowell in the second round of ‘X Factor‘ – or whatever the latest set-up is.
I followed Hashtag United very closely from the get-go – and was even rejected from their earliest pool of applicants for the Hashtag Academy. And you know, given the calibre of the squad at present, I reckon it was the right move! But even so, my university obligations and lack of ‘facilities’ in the bank balance, meant that I couldn’t really go out to watch them for real in their older homes at Haringey Borough and Tidsbury – both of which were ground-shared with that county’s larger non-league sides.
Instead, I had to wait until I started ‘adulting‘ before I ventured down to their latest home on my lonesome. And as it happened, I was in a position around 2020 (‘the year that must not be named‘) to look for some voluntary work with which to use some of my newly-obtained commercial skills in a pure footballing environment.
A few (many!) speculative emails to Neil and Seb in the club’s commercial arm, a call or two after that and a lot of internal and external celebrations later … and I was working with them! If I’m honest, given my deep admiration for these guys and utter fandom around what they’ve achieved and how they’ve presented themselves online, I still have to pinch myself from time to time at the realisation that I’m helping the Hashtag United.
As part of this, I ventured down to their newest stadium in Pitsea, Essex to meet up with these guys for the first time and see Hashtag in action on a match day. When I got there, I was very pleasantly surprised with the experience as a whole – and I’m not just talking about the fact that Seb picked me up on the way to the ground! Their latest ground-share at the Len Salmon Stadium with local side Bowers & Pitsea is a very impressive structure for a non-league stadium.
It’s built well, rises relatively high, has a 4-G pitch, is styled well, the clubhouse is in good condition and the food there was decent as well! Also, true to form from Hashtag United, their dedication to respecting COVID-19 boundaries was very clear on the day and has been since.
Then we get onto what the atmosphere was like. And for all those prunes out there who reckon that their digitised inception results in a lack of authenticity in the stands, then you’d be wrong. The Tags faithful are about as vocal, supportive and passionate as they get. Spotting the odd fellow YouTuber in the stands is always a great thing to see as well – even if I did drop the ball when I barely got a few words out to JaackMaate and couldn’t even dare to glance in W2S‘s direction. True story.