It’s understandable that some football fans - not us, never us, but other people - write Arsenal Fan TV off as a guilty pleasure. Football’s equivalent of The Real Housewives franchise (shouts to Lisa Rinna), with a Blud Fam twist. The heart of the YouTube channel’s programming slate is irate fans lamenting ill-timed Gabriel tackles, Granit Xhaka red cards, and Arsene Wenger’s existence.
But if you speak to the man in charge at Arsenal Fan TV, it’s clear it means more to him than #WengerOut. Robbie Lyle is the channel’s host/founder/producer/director and one of only two staff members (the other is his camera person). Prior to starting the channel, he had no production experience, and until last year worked full-time as a building surveyor to support his passion.
This week, we had a chance to catch up with Robbie for about 45 minutes via phone. His personality belies the bombast of many of his interview subjects. Far from preachy or pedantic, he comes across as a gent who first and foremost loves football. During our conversation, we also got a sense that he truly loves the club, believes in the channel’s mission of giving fans a voice, and is genuinely grateful for its popularity. Parts of our conversation (edited for brevity and clarity) are below.
MiB: Take us back to the beginning. What was the catalyst for starting Arsenal Fan TV?
Robbie: I used to tag along with a mate of mine who had a similar channel for boxing. I didn’t have any production experience. He would focus the camera, hand it to me and I just sort of held it it while he did interviews. I was interested in doing something similar for football, but instead of talking to the footballers or experts, I wanted to hear from fans. The type of people who turn up to the ground every week to watch. So in 2012, a mate and I borrowed a camera and a microphone and we started Arsenal Fan TV. The first few times we set up, we got stick, people telling us to get lost and that. But after a while, we had people coming up to us, wanting to be interviewed.
MiB: The channel has come a long way since then. More than 233 million views and almost half a million YouTube subscribers. Was there a watershed moment for you when you realized just how popular it had become?
Robbie: The very first game of the 2013/2014 season. We lost to Aston Villa. I’ll never forget it. A guy named Chris Hudson walked up to us as we set up the equipment. He starts really going on about the game to us. I asked him to do a video and he said, “I’m not going to, because you probably won’t put out what I’ve got to say.” I promised him we would, he ended up doing it, and it became my favorite video we’ve ever done [WATCH HERE]. A lot of media ended up picking it up and it was this magical moment because the channel had actually given this fan a voice. And millions of people heard it.
MiB: The channel has become so popular, the media now cover YOU. What’s it like to be part of the news instead of just watching it? And how have you experienced the rise in notoriety?
Robbie: A lot of outlets wouldn’t recognize us at first. They thought the channel was a fad or little joke. That’s how the whole Gary Neville thing came about. But now they see the type of numbers we get and how popular it’s become and they take us seriously. When we first started this, there were people who said we don’t have the rights to the football, so it’ll never be a success. And I think we’ve proved them wrong. Personally, it still feels a bit weird that everywhere I go I get spotted [EDITOR’S NOTE: Robbie actually stopped the interview at one point to take a picture with a fan]. It’s very flattering as well because we must be doing something good if we’re a part of the news now.
MiB: When Arsenal lose, do you feel guilty knowing that a bad Arsenal performance often makes for GREAT Arsenal Fan TV?
Robbie: We go to every game, every week. We’re not out here chasing defeats and jumping up to high five every loss. We’re not excited to get a bunch of likes and views because other teams’ fans get excited. I’m 100% a fan first. I want to win. Even in a season as bad as this, Arsenal don’t lose that many games. And when we do, I’m as devastated as any fan.
MiB: Has the contentious state of the club made your job easier or more difficult?
Robbie: This has been the most negative season I can remember, certainly since we moved into Emirates. Let me tell you, it has made things so difficult. I wish that Arsene Wenger had just come out and said what he was going to do, whether he’s staying or going, because all the uncertainty has made the situation worse. It’s led to a lot of infighting. It’s led to anger. Some fans say we should keep quiet about Arsene, but then we wouldn’t be real. It would be fake to praise a team that does well, and then stay silent when things go poorly. We might as well be the official club website if we do things that way. We’re not here to toe party lines. We’re here to show how fans feel.
MiB: Last one. If you could make Arsenal win the title, but you have to give up ArsenalFan TV, would you make that trade?
Robbie: Yeah, I would. But only if I could start it again next season. [laughing] I so want to win the title, I really do. But I really enjoy this. That’s an evil question, you know that?
If you’re not already, follow Arsenal Fan TV on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.