Joe Butterfield refuses to blow up over a phenomenon that talks a surprising amount of good sense. 

The phenomenon of Football Fan TV is one which has blown up in the last few years. These are YouTube channels which are run by fans of football clubs and dedicated entirely to the teams they support, allowing fans to have a voice and to vent their opinions on the goings-on at their club. As a sort of spin-off to radio phone-ins, they’re a much more directly accessible and interactive version, tailormade for the clubs they talk about. Instead of having Robbie Savage listen to your valid complains about how painfully awful Mark Hughes is when he’s in the midst of a twenty-game winless streak with Stoke City before condescendingly telling you you’re talking nonsense and angrily demand you suggest somebody who’s both realistic and better for the job, your fellow fans will actually listen to your opinions and there’s a good chance that they’ll agree, because your fellow Stoke fans aren’t Mark Hughes’s best mate.

I spend a lot of my time watching various football fan channels. Sometimes out of schadenfreude but often out of a legitimate sense of curiosity as to what other fans make of their teams. It’s all well and good to hear and read the analysis from journalists and pundits but the opinions of the fans are usually the most telling about the situation a club finds itself in. There’s also a certain catharsis in listening to people rant and release frustrations, especially if they’re saying things you agree with. You almost feel like it’s yourself who’s getting the problems off your chest vicariously through the people you’re watching.

West Ham Fan TV, for example, has been a pretty interesting watch over the last couple of years. From the highs of the Dimitri Payet inspired 2015/16 season, to the lows of the Moyes-led slog through the 2017/18 season. Dom, a regular on the channel’s post-match reactions, feels like a human Hermes for the frustration of West Ham fans everywhere. In August 2016 they were beaten by Astra Giurgiu in their Europa League qualifier, their first competitive home game in the London Stadium, leading to this reaction which since went semi-viral. Needless to say, he’s good for a rant after particularly shocking results.

Since that day, the club has been on a consistent downward spiral ever since and the channel has actually become quite actively involved in the process of opening up the lines of dialogue between club and fan. The Iron Lady, the Apprentice appraiser, Karen Brady, invited multiple West Ham fan groups for meetings with the members of the board to discuss issues the fans have been having with the identity of the club, the match-day experience and the general feelings towards the board and the team. In a sense, it’s almost become a time capsule of West Ham’s struggles as both a club and a fanbase.

Of course, we’d be unable to talk about football fan channels without mentioning the goliath of the fan channel world – Arsenal Fan TV. Or, as it is now known, AFTV, as Arsenal are rumoured to have issued a cease and desist letter to Arsenal Fan TV as the YouTube sensation is supposedly “damaging the brand”. Just how much truth there is to this letter isn’t entirely clear, though it is true that the club have copywritten the ‘Arsenal’ brand, which would presumably force the channel’s hand regardless.

If you’ve spent any time on any level of football-related social media and have no awareness of the existence of Arsenal Fan TV then I don’t know whether I pity or envy you. The channel has over 800,000 subscribers, more than double the subscribers of Tottenham Hostpur’s official channel and far, far more than any other fan channel. It’s more than a channel, it’s almost a Football Twitter celebrity factory, with the likes of Troopz, Claude and DT becoming very well-known figures in the social media world.

Arsenal Fan TV – sorry – AFTV (lest Arsenal sue me), is the ultimate schadenfreude channel. It’s become a running joke on social media that any heavy Arsenal defeat or huge upset will result in “AFTV and chill” and, though I’m too lazy to do any research on the actual figures, I would bet a substantial amount of money that post-match reactions following a defeat brings in a good deal more viewers than those which follow a convincing win.

Much unlike West Ham Fan TV, however, AFTV has been cited as a source of the club’s problems rather than an attempt to solve them. This isn’t the channel’s fault, however, as the channel exists purely to facilitate the voice of the fans. If that voice happens to be negative off the back of being beaten battered 3-1 by relegation-fodder Swansea, then perhaps the problems may lie within the club rather than within a YouTube channel. However, Robbie, the channel’s owner, has taken a lot of stick for allowing this message to be spread and causing a wave of negativity which spilled over into mainstream media towards the end of Wenger’s time at the club. This came at a time when the club argued that what it needed was unity within the fanbase. Ultimately, if rival fans are going to post clips on Twitter of Claude and Ty yelling at each other about why Arsene Wenger is or isn’t the worst thing to ever happen to Arsenal Football Club, or Troopz talking about why Xhaka is “dead fam”, then there’s absolutely nothing the channel can do about it. They’re no more at fault for the opinions of Arsenal fans than BBC 606 or TalkSport.

There’s a multitude of other fan channels that exist. CFC FanTV, WeAreTottenhamTV, Full Time Devils and Redmen TV, which is basically YouTube’s Anfield Wrap Lite, all provide fans of the top clubs in the country with ways to listen to the opinions of fellow fans.

Mark? Brent? Who cares.

Mark? Brent? Who cares.

There’s one channel, however, which has quite recently become a big deal in the Twitter world and one which I have watched a fair few times over the last couple of years. When Manchester United fell to a heavy 3-0 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, one of the first things I sought out in the aftermath the following day was The United Stand channel.

Mark Goldbridge, Football Twitter’s new-found meme-of-the-month, hosts a live watch-along on the channel where he can ultimately share the footballing experience with fellow United fans who may not have anybody to watch the game with. It’s sort of a way to give football fans a way to watch the game as they would with mates. Live comments which are frequently read out by Goldbridge and allow the fans to have interactivity with others. All in all, nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

Naturally, however, this can lead to some pretty hilarious live reactions to United defeats and this is where the videos typically do best. Schadenfreude is a better marketing tool than anything else and people have flocked to the channel in their thousands to watch the reactions to Tottenham’s battering of United. Goldbridge punching the table and repeatedly asking the football gods, “what is going on?” makes for great viewing, especially as a City fan such as myself.

The main appeal of Goldbridge, and what has made him such good Twitter clip-bait, is his Partridge-esque delivery of analogies and mannerisms. In the last week or so it’s been claimed that he’s starting to play up to the character, which is pretty understandable and he may well be doing so, even if it isn’t entirely on purpose. If I was getting a lot of attention for coming out with pretty ridiculous comparisons between Manchester United and your nan’s coffee cake (yes, this is a legitimate comparison he once made) then you’d be damn right to think that I’ll come out with more in the future.

Goldbridge has harboured a lot of ill-will in the social media world for a multitude of reasons in the eyes of fans. The first of which is for his reactions which can sometimes appear disingenuous. When I watch my team concede a goal I either sit in stony-faced silence or swear violently and, judging by the fans I sit near in the stadium during games, virtually everybody is exactly the same. This kind of reaction doesn’t necessarily work when you’re hosting a live watch-along which is meant to be family friendly viewing. Sitting there in dead silence and seemingly not acknowledging what’s just happened doesn’t interest anybody and swearing loudly damages your potential target audience.

Another reason most of the internet seems to dislike him is the idea that he isn’t actually who he says he is. Various articles have been written throughout the internet and Twitter is filled with various screenshots of Mark Goldbridge posting on a Nottingham Forest fan forum and this therefore means that he’s definitely a Nottingham Forest fan, even though all he’s actually doing is promoting his YouTube channel as he’s interested in hearing from fans, he’s not exactly debating the merits of Britt Assombalonga and why he should never have been allowed to leave. His identity has been brought into question beyond that, the name Brent being thrown around, as if this man’s life deserves the ridiculous levels of scrutiny it’s currently under. People are absolutely entitled to disagree with his opinions and challenge them, but this is more than that.

It all just seems rather unnecessary to me. Claude from AFTV spoke out recently about the depression he suffered a couple of summers ago and how much the abuse he received online factored into that. The Mark Goldbridge stuff is going a fairly similar way in terms of the sheer amount of it he’s receiving – if you search ‘Mark Goldbridge’ on Twitter the first suggestion which comes up is ‘Mark Goldbridge nonce’ – the recent attention he’s received has even led him to release a video to address the accusations being levelled at him. I’m all for having a laugh at some funny reactions to his team losing but once it gets into his personal life then it’s gone a step too far.

Personally, I think he’s quite genuine. His personality certainly isn’t an act, if it is then he’s been playing a ridiculously long con considering that he’s been doing this for more than three years and has had relatively little attention prior to the last six months or so. He’s putting in the work, dedicating a large amount of his life to Manchester United and hosting live chats and forums about the club on a literal daily basis. He’s created a community for United fans to discuss opinions and this is something which should be commended in the same way that AFTV and other channels should be.

As for his identity, who cares? Let’s say he is Brent, a Nottingham Forest fan who’s just cashing in on Manchester United to make a successful YouTube channel, would that really matter? Once you get past the Partridgeisms and table punching, he has some fairly valid opinions on the state of the club, board and management which match up with opinions I’ve heard from other reasonable, fair-minded United fans. But nobody’s going to post clips of that – they aren’t quite as funny as watching him get angry at conceding a goal on FIFA or people prank calling him to call him a nonce.

Whether it’s West Ham Fan TV attempting to build bridges between the fans and the board, AFTV debating whether Heavy D is going to get in a boxing ring with DT or Mark Goldbridge comparing Ed Woodward’s transfer strategy to tickling people (another legitimate comparison he’s made), it honestly doesn’t matter. It’s just entertainment and, as the modern football fan becomes more and more disinterested in mainstream media, it isn’t going away any time soon.

The real problem isn’t the likes of Robbie and Mark Goldbridge, it’s the Twitter obsession with highlighting only the ridiculous. How many clips have you seen of Goldbridge rationally talking about the tactical failings of the team set-up the day after a defeat? How many of you know the name Lee Judges from AFTV? They don’t have the same entertainment factor as the outrage and the shouting but they’re a far more accurate representation of their channels than a clip on Twitter could ever be.

Follow Joe on Twitter here.