For most people, Sunday League football pales in comparison to the grandeur and spectacle of the Premier League, or even Leagues 1 and 2 for that matter. This, however, is not the case for YouTuber, Tottenham Hotspur season-ticket-holder and video-editing talent Smiv. He runs two channels: one simply called Smiv where he hosts weekly vlogs, the other, Palmers FC, which acts as an official channel for his local Sunday League club of the same name. Smiv, real name Matt Smith, documents the exploits of, as he calls them, “the boys”, and uploads highlights of their weekly fixtures to an ever expanding fanbase (at the time of writing, the Palmers FC channel has just over 217,000 subscribers). Another series, called “On the Road” features Smiv himself attending a Football League game at a different stadium every week, where he avoids a typical report on the match but gives, instead, a summary of the history of the stadium and the all-round experience there. It’s obvious from his videos that he finds entertainment in the most everyday scenarios, with the kind of turn of phrase typical of a workaday “footy” supporter.
Speaking to Smiv, it quickly becomes clear that he has the right kind of mind for content-creation in such a competitive environment as YouTube. He didn’t originally see himself becoming involved to the extent he has, however. When quizzed about his first ever upload (a video of him miming to a Frank Sinatra number) he’s quite frank: “I was scared, and I was embarrassed as well. I thought it was only for my mum.” YouTube at that time (2006) was nothing like the force it would become, and Smiv didn’t so much foresee the development of the platform as end up in the right place at the right time: “They didn’t have likes or dislikes back then, they had ratings out of five stars. I had four-and-a-half. There were loads of comments like ‘do more, do more’ and I didn’t want to do more… I was literally just building a small platform for myself, which I wanted to take to TV. YouTube’s grown so much, though, and it’s kept me on there, instead of going off to production houses and talking to important TV people. If anything, they’re the ones that are talking to us.” He also acknowledges the newfound importance of the platform today: “We grew up in a time where the media was owned by newspapers, radio and the TV. This is a new thing for us, and it’s still getting started. I know it’s just over ten years old but it’s still in its infancy and the numbers of [views] already rival if not beat TV. So it’s crazy, crazy.”
When Smiv went along to Upstaged, a BBC Three talent show hosted in Bristol’s Millennium Square in 2008, he saw one of the first public exhibitions of YouTube’s ability to captivate audiences. The YouStage section of the competition had entrants attempting to entertain a crowd for six hours at a time, with the daily winner coming back for more the next day: “It was streamed online on their website but you could go down to Bristol if you wanted and watch it live. You had to have a lot of material behind you. There were magicians, singers, songwriters and all that”. The most popular act, however, came from an unlikely source: “There was a guy on YouTube called Alex Day at the time and he was in a similar situation to me. He wanted to write songs and get it out there in the open but he was always being shut down by the mainstream media. So now the mainstream media had a show on, he wanted to prove that the internet was a bit of a force. He got who he thought were the biggest YouTubers in the UK together to just sit in the box and have a chat. It was crap, I left after three days ‘cause I didn’t like being there”. Despite Smiv’s reservations, Day’s idea proved fortuitous for those involved, at least in the short-term: “They went on and actually won the show off the back of having viewers and fans. It did prove a point, but there was no talent there. It was just people having a chat and interacting with their viewers. There were about 8 of those YouTubers but I don’t think any of them broke out and became big. They got five grand from that competition and they put that into the first ever YouTube gathering so it went to a good cause.”
In spite of his initial rejection of YouTube as a valid option income-wise, Smiv came around to the idea of content creation in 2015, with the upload of his first Sunday League video entitled ‘How to Score From a Corner’. The idea initially came from his fledgling entrepreneurial interests, “I was trying to push this video production company and I thought ‘Well I’ve got seven-thousand people out there, why don’t I print the logo on the team’s shirts and start filming the boys on a Sunday?’. I hoped people would see the logo, and I had ‘Video Production’ plastered all over the description box. It was the content, though, that took off more than the company – so I’ve shut that down, stripped back the equipment and focused on editing football videos, which is what I love.” Interest in the channel boomed after a hilariously appropriate incident, “It was about half a season in, and a video got taken by the Sun’s DreamTeam and SportBible. The content of the video? Basically… one of the lads kicked one of our players in the head”. Good grief. Smiv seems unruffled by the idea: “People really enjoyed it. If any of our videos hits a million views it’ll be that one”.
The inherent humour of Sunday League football is paramount to keeping the viewers entertained. Silly mistakes made during an average game are transformed into moments of comedy on video, which are expertly narrated by Smiv himself, playing the commentator. As well as calling the events of the game, his commentary is embellished with the kind of witty and cynical humour one would expect from the average Sunday League fan. One video, where Palmers take on SE Dons, features some excellent one-liners, such as this beauty: ‘the ball’s gone over Charlie’s head, like most things’. When some strong words are exchanged between Palmers’ recently acquired defender, “New-Signing Nick” and a Dons forward, Smiv pauses the tape and superimposes a handbag on the Dons’ players waist, green to match their kit: ‘it does come in navy as well, if you’re interested.’ This frenetic tongue-in-cheek editing keeps viewers hooked on the videos, even if they’re more than twenty minutes long.
Smiv elaborates on the changes that have come about for the team from the success of the channel: “People could get behind filming the Sunday League teams. It progressed to the point where these guys, as dumb, idiotic and, most importantly, normal as they are, they’ve become role models. It’s got to meeting people in the street and taking photos, kit deals with Nike and Kitlocker, playing at Premier League grounds”. He and the team keep it in perspective though: “We’re still just a Sunday League team and that’s what I remind the lads and the management behind it. We want to enjoy it, and we want to win things as well. The videos come second, and it’s the videos that give the lads the opportunity for extra little perks; going out and experiencing the things that Sunday League teams normally wouldn’t”. He also understands the effect of having ordinary people in such an alien situation: “The fact that it’s just me behind the camera makes them feel a bit better. We’ve set up “get-to-know” videos and Q&As and they’ve absolutely crapped themselves because there’s a camera there, but it helps that I’m with them. If somebody from outside comes in with a camera they’re not going to be too happy with it, and that comes across. It’s real, it’s unscripted”.
The monetisation of videos on YouTube is an important aspect of Smiv’s work, especially in his role as the team’s videographer of sorts: “You don’t earn as much as you used to. To be able to add mid-roll ads [ads that pop up sporadically throughout the videos, and earn more per view than the usual five-seconds-then-skip variety] the video has to be over ten minutes and you have to have a certain number of subscribers as well. I wouldn’t put an ad up every thirty seconds or a minute ‘cause that’s just taking the piss and people won’t come back. Three-to-four ads for thirty seconds is reasonable enough, and it’s not long-form ads either”. The money gained from these ads allows Smiv to help the team out with the more mundane aspects of amateur football: “It’s really important to me to give back. If I’m earning money, the first thing I’ll be doing is paying the referee fees on a Sunday and paying for the pitches for the season. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite expensive and it adds up. I’m paying for that as my thank you to them. If I was just taking all the money and still charging them for it I don’t think they’d be too well pleased!”.
Any advice for aspiring YouTubers? “Just do it. I know quite a few people who have seen what I’ve done and assumed it’s quite easy – it’s a ten-minute video, how hard can it be? – but it takes a lot of effort to put these things together. Don’t expect the numbers that you see on the internet straight away because it’s not going to happen. The hardest part is finding an audience in the beginning, and my best advice is to just post locally, on your Facebook page, your Twitter, just share it out to your friends. That’s the best way, word of mouth”.
And finally, a word on Spurs’ upcoming season: ‘“I don’t know, I’m a little bit worried”.
From a Liverpool fan, that’s a good thing to hear.