By Hugo Varley,
There are only a handful of players who have had the experience of playing at both Wembley and Old Trafford this season, but for newly promoted Essex Senior League side Hashtag United, entering the field at some of the world’s greatest stadiums has become second nature.
Hashtag, who were the brainchild of video blogger Spencer Owen, are a club like no other in the British or even global game. With each match condensed into a stylish social media package and subsequently broadcast to over 450,000 YouTube subscribers around the world, along with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage throughout the week, Hashtag are revolutionising the way that a football club can be followed.
Their entry into the Non-League pyramid at Step 6 at the start of last season heralded a new chapter in the club’s short history, before promotion from the Thurlow Nunn Division One South in April signalled a dream start to life in competitive football.
“It has been another remarkable 12 months for the club,” Hashtag boss Jay Devereux told The NLP. “In the league our aim was to just have a steady season so to have achieved promotion at the very first time of asking has gone far beyond our expectations.
“I am really jealous of the players to be honest because to be able to play for a winning team and then take to the field in exhibition games at such huge stadiums at various points in the season is something that anyone would dream of doing.”
This summer will also mark the second phase of another of the club’s pioneering initiatives, the Hashtag Academy.
The scheme, which is currently being broadcast on the club’s YouTube channel, aims to unearth footballing talent that may have slipped through the net and offers young players the chance to win a place in Hashtag’s side for next season.
The second instalment of the academy comes after the last winner, Scott Pollock, went on to secure a dream move to the Football League with Northampton Town in September.
“The demand was absolutely phenomenal this year, we had well in excess of 4,000 applicants, which shows just how much prominence the club is now getting,” added Devereux.
“It is a really unique opportunity for these players. Within 24 hours of the video of the first trials going up on our social media pages it had gained over 250,000 views, which is kind of hard to comprehend.”
With promotion secured and Hashtag’s global audience continuing to accelerate, it could be easy for Devereux to get carried away.
However, the former East Thurrock assistant knows all about the trials and tribulations of Non-League football and is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
He continued: “I think with any project of this size you will always get inflated and probably unrealistic expectations from some people. The main thing is that we stay sustainable, you see a lot of clubs who fly through the pyramid and then come crashing down.
“In one video we explained how many years we would need to gain promotion in a row to reach the Premier League, and I think that was misconstrued by some as our plan, when it really is not.
“There is no plan to be a Football League club in ‘X’ amount of years, we were just explaining our position to people who watch our videos and don’t know too much about Non-League football.
“We are loving our experience in Non-League so far and are hopefully helping to increase its profile around the world.
“We now want to continue achieving success next season as we enter both the Essex Senior League and the FA Vase.”
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