After the game, a crowd gathers outside the Emirates Stadium. They surround a man, who is standing in front of a camera and a microphone. The crowd are silent, focusing their ears on every word this man has to say. But the man is not Arsene Wenger, nor some club official. He isn't even a reporter from Sky Sports or the BBC. He is a chartered accountant and Arsenal season ticket holder.
As football becomes ever more corporatized, with new stadia more focused on the type of cheese served to VIPs than to the needs of the average fans, and with players only talking to the media through pre-planned press conferences, it is easy for fans to feel disenfranchised. This distance can also be seen in the mainstream media: fans are consumers, customers; their views are irrelevant. But fans are striking back, finding new ways, through Youtube, Twitter, or Facebook, to express themselves, engage with other fans, and keep that sense of community alive.
One of the main players in this new fan-driven media is Arsenal Fan TV. Formed in 2012, the Youtube channel is made by regular Arsenal fans, and the 'pundits', are fans who have just walked out of the stadium after watching their team win, lose, or draw. It is perhaps the defeats that lead to the channel's most interesting shows, the kind of 'car-crash moments' that go viral. After a three-one home defeat to lowly Aston Villa, a rant telling the board that they should be 'ashamed of themselves' (along with some more 'colourful' language) had over a million hits on Youtube.
When a team loses, their players and staff make excuses, claim they tried their best, and are already thinking about the next game. They have been trained, like politicians, to hide their real emotions from the camera. Arsenal Fan TV, on the other hand, is full of passion, from rants about the manager, to abuse flung at the referee, or some hapless player who made yet another mistake. The fury and the passion is real, these are not just TV pundits who get paid to rant, they are everymen who've spent a large chunk of their weekly wages to watch the team they've supported their whole lives.
Understandably, such unedited, unrestrained content has ruffled a few feathers. The interviewees' views on Arsene Wenger, for example, have led to scuffles with other fans. This can happen when people have passionate views. Another problem for Arsenal Fan TV came when they linked up with The Sun, a newspaper very unpopular with many football fans due to its disgraceful coverage of the 1980 Hillsborough disaster. This case highlights the difficulty in running a fan-driven channel in today's media climate. The time and effort required making the programme led presenter Robbie Lyle to quit his full-time job so that he could concentrate on Arsenal Fan TV, but at the same time, he needs some kind of an income to be able to live, which may well have been a factor in this 'deal with the devil'.
Arsenal Fan TV has led to supporters of other clubs making their own Youtube content, and as time passes, such online content may well surpass the punditry served up by more mainstream sources. Running such independent media is a tough job, with limited finance, long hours, and little reward, but it also gives a voice to real fans who have been marginalized by corporate football. There are many obstacles ahead for Arsenal Fan TV, but as fans grow sick and tired of the same old media voices, more and more are tuning in to hear what real people think. Fans want to be part of the spectacle, not just onlookers, and so this kind of fan driven media may well become the future of football punditry.