Is Arsenal Fan TV Actually… Good?

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Arsenal Fan TV has been in the news a lot, because the world is sort of ridiculous now, and there’s too much time and not enough news—or at least not enough news that people can face paying attention to without having to consider the unfolding disaster of the big picture.

The general tone of the conversation is that it is an embarrassment to the club, a cartoonish side-show which is more enjoyed by rival fans than by the people it was ostensibly set up for.

And in many ways, that is a perfectly reasonable analysis, but there is a counter argument.

Is it possible that Arsenal Fan TV is…actually good?

It is certainly popular, although as the unfolding disaster of the big picture suggests, popularity and quality have little to do with each other. But some of the things it claims about itself are true. There is a revolutionary quality to the coverage that it and similar outlets provide.

In essence, the idea that fan YouTube channels are the contemporary equivalent of Fanzines makes a lot of sense. Fanzines were conceived by people who felt their voices were not heard in mainstream coverage of the sport they loved, and the sport they essentially financed through their attendance. The technology existed to change that, the enthusiasm and expertise did too, so they happened.

Now, painting with very broad brush strokes here, it seems likely that the somewhat sneery, relatively insular “there’s a right way to be a fan” world of fanzine culture is likely to have a decent overlap in the Venn diagram of people who think fan YouTube channels are a representation of everything that is wrong with modern football, but the impetus behind their creation is often the same—certainly in the case of an independent organisation like AFTV.

Giving a television alternative is possible in 2017 in a way it was not when fanzines arrived as a written-press alternative. And television is the dominant football coverage form in a way it was not, too. Football and television used to be uneasy bedfellows, now the two are irrevocably intertwined. So where the technology and impetus previously existed to create magazines to share fans’ views, so both now exist to create fan television alternatives. Which, incidentally, in AFTV’s case, looks and sounds as good as the real thing, at least when they are outside football grounds.

But of course, the criticism is more likely to be of the content than the format. And AFTV owe a huge amount of their success to the viral power of specific recurring characters. It began with Claude [older, grumpy, very frustrated] and Ty [Huge fan of Arsenal merch, entrenched in a support the manager at all costs position] arguing about whether Arsene Wenger should stay or go—or at least shouting at each other about whose voice deserved to be heard the most.

Latterly Troopz [the blud, fam guy] and DT [wears a hood, tattoos on his neck] have been the stars; raging against the frustrating inevitability of Arsenal’s hopes for the season collapsing into a pool of broken dreams.

There’s a perfect storm here. First of all there is certainly a larger-than-life quality to some of those individuals. Then there is the reality that of all the fanbases in all clubs surely pretty much anywhere in the world, the most bubbling frustration and rage must surely exist at Arsenal. The disparity between cost of attendance, surroundings, expectation and actual achievement is not larger anywhere else. It has been so long since they even came close to winning the league, it is no wonder there are people who just want to come and shout in front of a camera after they get beaten 5-1 by Bayern Munich.
The channel will understandably continue to feature the people whose verbal ticks or forthright opinions generate the most traffic. But in their defence, they also put up a ton of videos after every game—the usual suspects maybe the ones that go viral, but a broad spectrum of opinions are shared. Some of those are terrible opinions shared by quite possibly not great people but in fairness, that does accurately represent plenty of football fans.

And while there is doubtless an element of self-promotion in the performances of the regular cast, is that actually so bad? These are people for whom football is a huge part of their existence and being able to offset the enormous cost of that through sharing their thoughts about the whole thing with a public—Arsenal supporting and otherwise—who are eager to hear them is actually a really interesting democratising development. Football clubs and television coverage charges ever more for the cost of physical or virtual attendance, so offsetting that by getting a bite of the pie is a pretty smart move.

And while some individuals involved may buy into their own publicity or play things up for the camera, in truth the more common occurrence is the genuine sharing of authentic emotion. And Troopz may punctuate every sentence with “blud” and “fam,” but he is at least as articulate as most pundits. He is able to distil his rage into endlessly engaging and entertaining content. His verbal ticks may have been what got him noticed in the first placed, but it is the stuff in between that keeps people coming back.

Fans deserve a voice. Fans are sometimes engaging and interesting and sometimes boring and sometimes right and sometimes wrong. That is the reality of it, and Arsenal Fan TV, for all its faults, captures that to a tee.

Paul Ansorge on youtubePaul Ansorge on twitter
Paul is a Manchester United fan and the co-host of the Rant Cast, a long running and reasonably well liked United podcast. As well as uMAXit, Paul writes for Bleacher Report, United Rant and the Republic of Mancunia.

He is of the factually correct opinion that Eric Cantona is the greatest footballer in history—there may have been others who were better at football, but hey, what's football in the grand scheme of things. He also finds writing about himself in the third person unsettling.

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