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Hashtag United: from YouTube to the FA Cup

Written by Sport, Sport Features

Anyone who grew up with a love of Fifa will be well aware of who Spencer Owen is.

Whether going through the alibi of the ‘FIFA Playa’ or keeping a keen eye on his many FIFA challenges as ‘Spencer FC’, he’s graced our laptop screens with high quality football content since 2013. That was until he made a significant decision a couple years ago: to move from the digital grass to the real thing.

In 2016, along with a good chunk of his school/uni mates, he formed ‘Hashtag United’, a Sunday league team that provides weekly content on their YouTube channel. It started off a little bit tongue-in-cheek, playing a mixture of local and unofficial teams, fabricating their own league and even going on an American tour.

This original team was chock full of engaging characters. You had Fasal Manji, a tactile and speedy winger, the anchor in the midfield Tom Jepsen and a fantastic CB duo of Rich Beck and Sam Adams. This was very much the glory days of Hashtag United for us fans, and was the team I got to see whilst attending the Wembley Cup in 2017, which saw Hashtag United pitted up against a team consisting of YouTubers, ex-pros and online personalities.

In 2018-19 however, Owen and co decided it was time to quiet the haters, take Hashtag away from it’s unfortunate connotations of just being a ‘YouTube’ team and join the FA league pyramid. Joining the Eastern Counties League, Hashtag United made baby steps into English semi-pro history.

It was around this time when, to silence those who suggested Spencer was seeking glory with his own team, Owen stepped down as manager to take on a punditry role at the club. They signed veteran semi-pro manager Jay Devreux to guide the Tags to league victory, earning promotion to the Essex Senior League, and in 2019-20 clinched second in the league prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

They also introduced their own Women’s team for the 2020/21 season.

A couple of weeks ago, Hashtag earned another huge milestone when they were chosen to be broadcast by the BBC in their FA Cup Qualifying Round.

The game displayed all there is to love about the lower leagues, ending with a petrifying penalty shoot-out in which Hashtag bagged a victory from the jaws of defeat, winning 4-2.

I think it goes to not only prove the haters wrong, but inspire hope in those small non-league clubs that anything really is possible. Sure, Spencer’s name did wonders for Hashtag in the early days, but their transformation to semi-pro was nothing short of unbelievable. If you would’ve told me whilst watching those crunching Rich Beck tackles that that team would make it into the FA league pyramid….

And that’s perhaps the only unfortunate aspect of their evolution. We may have lost the proper ‘Sunday league’ aspect which made me fall in love with Hashtag United. To compete with the other semi-pro teams Essex had to offer they lost a big portion of their original line up, slowly drifting away until we had an almost transformed starting line-up. They’ve still got some great characters, but I don’t think any of them can compete with the fun loving, easy going attitude of those early days. I love those tense FA Cup penalty shootouts as much as the next fan, but I can’t help but think back on The Hashtag Academy, the US tour and the upfront partnership of Dan Brown and Ryan Adams.

It’s as the saying goes, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Not only Owen, but every single person involved in the invigorating history of Hashtag United have taken the club from the bottom, all the way up to national recognition. Long may this continue. 

Featured Image: Twitter @hashtagutd

Last modified: 2nd October 2020

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