Grassroots Goes Global

Owen Spencer in Hashtag FC's 2016 free kick challenge

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Increasingly in the UK, we are seeing the rise of what can only be described as “Sunday League YouTube teams”. At the very lowest rung of the footballing world, Sunday League squads tend to be made up of average people working a nine-to-five, who rarely, if ever, have time to train, and see their weekend kickabout mainly as a social activity. But these new teams are sparking a Sunday League revolution – using social media to reach an audience of thousands.

This trend kicked off in 2016, with the birth of Hashtag FC – a now semi-professional team that was started by Essex-based YouTuber, Spencer Owen, 30. After growing a following through uploading videos of himself chatting about football and playing video games while at university, Spencer put together a squad consisting mainly of his mates and watched in surprise as his subscriber base grew to two million.

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How Video Games Are Changing the Way Soccer Is Played

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As Iwobi suggests, however, they increasingly do more than that: They are not merely representations of the game, but influencers of it. Iwobi is not the only player who believes that what he does on the field has been influenced by what he has seen rendered on a screen.

Ibrahimovic said that he would “often spot solutions in the games that I then parlayed into real life” as a young player. Mats Hummels, the Bayern Munich and Germany defender, has suggested that “maybe some people use what they learn in FIFA when they find themselves on a pitch.”

Wenger’s assertion several years ago that Messi was a “PlayStation footballer” was meant more as an explanation than an insult: Messi does things that seem to belong on a pixelated screen because that is, in part, how he has learned to see the game. Just like Iwobi, his conception of what is possible and what is not was forged by fantasy.