The first time I became aware of the “Fan TV” subgenre of sports media-tainment was August 2013. A sluggish and threadbare Arsenal team (the more things change) lost, 3–1, on opening day, at home (the more they stay exactly the same), to Aston Villa. Fans at the Emirates watched Villa striker Christian Benteke score twice. Arsenal’s sole acquisitions in the summer window up to that point were right-footed-French-striker-with-two-left-feet Yaya Sanogo, who didn’t get off the bench, and Italian keeper Emiliano Viviano, who didn’t even make the bench in the first place.
Losing to Aston Villa sent already simmering fan discontent into a full-on geyser of anguish. That eruption took the form of a YouTube video of Arsenal supporter Chris Hudson.
Jowls quivering with rage, eyes smoldering, his porcine index finger jabbing at the camera, Hudson tore into Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, chief executive Ivan Gazidis, the club’s board, and various media members who had been taking it easy on said manager, chief exec, and board. “Either shape up or get out, because you’ve let all the fans down,” he said, braying like Michael Caine after a stroke. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Gazidis!” It was part wrestling promo, part Guy Ritchie outtake. The video went viral and currently has over 1 million views. There would soon be others.
Premier League fan channels have increasingly become part of the conversation over the past three or four years. And rants have been a crucial ingredient in their rise. Arsenal Fan TV, for instance, has graduated to interviewing actual Arsenal players. The Redmen TV, a channel for Liverpool fans, and the first proper Premier League fan channel (est. 2010), features videos with LFC legend Robbie Fowler doing intros.
“It began life as an idea shared over a few pints,” Paul Machin of The Redmen TV told me in an email. “The basic premise was to create a Liverpool specific version of the seminal ’90s footy show Fantasy Football. Essentially, sit in a house and try not to take football too seriously … Originally we pitched the concept to, then made a pilot for, the official club channel LFC TV. Despite some initially positive feedback, things went a bit cold and that pilot sat on a shelf gathering dust for nine months or so. We reached the end of that season, and Liverpool were in mass turmoil on and off the pitch, and it sort of stirred me into action. I decided to chop up the pilot into its individual segments, and upload them to YouTube and I guess, see what people thought of it. It just grew and evolved from there really.”
Though Liverpool has given The Redmen increased access, the relationship is somewhat, as one might expect, standoffish.
“Mostly cordial, but not close.” Machin said. “I’m not sure it’s possible for it to be any more than it is. Clubs feel as though they have to safeguard both their brand, and in the instance of those with in-house media channels, their content. My feeling is that there is a ‘why let them do X, Y, or Z, when we could just do it ourselves?’ I get it. It’s frustrating, but I get it. Access tends to come via club sponsors or partners, who often have the access but not the means of maximising it.”
So, how’s the money?
“Redmen became largely self-sustaining two years ago, which was a massive relief … I always say that we can’t afford to buy Heinz Baked Beans, but we don’t have to live off Store Value Brand anymore, which is nice.”
The internet effectively democratized the means of rant production. In the past, a speaker would’ve had to be someone of note (like Pope Urban II or Christian Bale) and the subject of vital importance (like the status of Levant in the late 11th century or a crucial scene in Terminator Salvation) for a rant to be deemed worthy of transcribing, or otherwise recording. No more. People have always been mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore. Now, everyone has a platform. No surprise, then, that the tone of the internet tends toward the vituperative.
The fan rant is an evolution of an existing form: sports-talk radio, minus the gatekeepers, commercials, hosts, and uninteresting segments. Fan TV outfits don’t worry about cursing, throwing to a break, or having random people try to insert dildos in their host’s ears. In fact, they live for those moments. These channels are all about disruption.
Google Trends data shows that, over the past five years, the term “rant” was searched more often than “New York Yankees” and about 75 percent as much as “climate change.” In the age of YouTube, rants are just another form of entertainment. A YouTube search for rants returns 1.3 million results. A video of comedian Rob Paravonian ranting about Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” currently has over 13 million views.
Most people go about their day silently swallowing petty slights, insults, and generally not caring that much about autocorrect or “Pachelbel’s Canon.” So watching someone authentically blow up over the lack of winter candy apple–scented candles at their local Bath & Body Works is satisfying on several levels. A rant either speaks to you as a unifying expression of something true and truly felt (PREACH, THE CANDLES SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN WEEKS AGO) or strikes you as freaking hilarious because, hey, chill the fuck out.
Sports are the most important least important thing people care about. It’s entertainment. Deriving joy from a sporting event is a great return on a fan’s investment of money and time. But, for the most part, people don’t actually expect that return. Maybe that’s why watching people lose their shit over sports is so entertaining.
A great rant should be long; the ranter will need enough runway to work up a proper froth. Moreover, a great rant can only come from a person who has been properly inspired. A rant can be choreographed — most of the ones you’re about to see were obviously plotted out in advance — but it should feel alive. That’s because talking points go out the window once a certain emotional temperature has been reached, and that can only be appreciated in a live context. Finally, what a really, really great rant does is elevate the expression of anger and hostility and disillusionment into an art form, something that can be emulated but never replicated. It’s not a high or a delicate art form, certainly. But it’s an art form all the same.
1. “WE ARE ARROGANT AND A DISGRACE”
West Ham supporter Dom is mad. Frothing at the mouth mad. Mom-didn’t-pay-my-Xbox-Live-bill mad. What’s he mad about? His Hammers just got knocked out of the Europa League by the small Romanian team Astra Giurgiu for the second successive year. Does that justify calling the opposition “a bunch of Romanian farmers”? No. That’s not cool. Not at all. But a bristling rant is better than what some West Ham supporters had been known for in the past.
How big a defeat are we talking about? Well, Astra Giurgiu’s £111,000 wage bill per month is £14,000 less than West Ham star Dimitri Payet reportedly makes in a single week.
But the best measure of Astra’s triumph over West Ham is the jubilant words of their manager, Marius Sumudica. “This is one of the best days in my life,” he said after the game. “On pretty much the same level as when my children were born. Because I knew that they were mine. Obviously I’m kidding.” The fixture against West Ham was ostensibly the first Astra game that Sumudica was able to attend since May, when he was hit with a six-month Liga I ban for gambling on games.
That’s why Dom is mad.
My favorite thing about this rant is Dom’s subtle showmanship, and the way that craft continually breaks down under a torrent of rage. Notice how Dom turns toward the fans behind him, usually after he’s hit some emotional peak, inviting them in like a carnival barker, only for his voice to break and his ability to properly use words to flee. Also, he has two pairs of eyeglasses hanging from his collar.
In his follow-up appearance on West Ham Fan TV, three days after the Hammers fell 3–1 to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Dom, looking like he just came from a ska concert, appeared chastened, shaken by his outburst and the viral reaction to it. “Are you all right after the other night?” the host asks. “Fuck ’em,” Dom says, like David Brent after getting sacked. Subtle shame after the fact: That’s the mark of a legitimate rant.
2. “We Have Money, SPEND IT!!!”
All Arsenal Fan TV rants have the same underlying message: Purchase some players. Kelechi does that above, but with style. He opens up with a dramatic mourning wail, sinking almost to his knees, before pleading “Arsene Wenger, I need you, I need you, I need you right now, to buy a striker. Don’t let me down,” to the tune of the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” I now prefer Kelechi’s version to the actual song.
The existential struggle against stasis is the defining characteristic of the Arsenal fan. Arsenal has finished in the top four of the Premier League table for 20 years, and have qualified for Champions League play for the past 19. This is, objectively, good. Staying in the top four while working under the financial constraints imposed by the construction of the Emirates Stadium is a real achievement.
But it’s not the dream. The dream, way back in 2002–2004, when planning for the Emirates Stadium began, was that the new ground, and its surrounding real estate, would open up income streams that would vault Arsenal into the top levels of European football, and do it sustainably.
It worked. Kinda. Arsenal’s football operations brought in €435.5 million in 2014–15, good for seventh on that year’s Deloitte Football Money League list. The problem is inflation. A new television deal has Premier League teams flush with cash, and everyone knows it. The Premier League transfer market just topped a billion pounds because clubs on the continent are eager to extract the highest prices possible from English teams. Meanwhile, the rich — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and the Manchester clubs — have only gotten richer. That same €435.5 million valuation in 2008–09 would’ve made Arsenal the richest club in the world.
And the wheel spins round and round.
3. “Angry Irish Red Rants About Liverpool Ticket Prices!!!”
In the 77th minute of Liverpool’s eventual 2–2 draw against Sunderland this February, thousands of Liverpool fans rose from their seats and headed for the exits. The timing of the protest was meant to call attention to recently announced increases in ticket prices, including a £77 match ticket (up from £59).
Unnamed Irish Guy, who looks and speaks like he walked straight out of Peaky Blinders, was one of them. His rant takes a while to build up steam. But, when it does, it’s worth it, because the Irish curse better than any other English-speaking people.
“£77! To watch that? Are you fucking mad? JAMES MILNER? What the fuck? Jordan Henderson is your captain? FUCK OFF. Honestly. Would you pay £77 to watch fucking Jordan Henderson kick a ball against a wall? No! Fuck off.”
Fenway Sports Group, the American holding company that also owns the Red Sox, argued that the new price structure — with many seats, mostly at the bottom end of the price scale, either staying the same price or even decreasing, plus an initiative to provide free tickets to local children — actually provided great value for the community. “It is 200 tickets at £77 for six games a season — it is less than half a percent of the total capacity,” said Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre.
Didn’t matter. An estimated 10,000 fans of the 44,179 in attendance joined the protest. Four days later, FSG backed down, announcing a two-year freeze on prices.
4. “He’s Ripped Our Heart Out!”
With just under 300,000 subscribers, FullTimeDEVILS is the most popular EPL Fan TV channel on YouTube. No surprise there. United are the winningest team of the Premier League era, with 13 titles since 1992. José Mourinho, never above strangling the life out of a match for the three points or, failing that, poking a dude in the eye, is now the manager. He’s brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of some of the most titanic, taekwondo goals ever seen and the dude who once questioned Pep Guardiola’s manhood, as the tip of United’s attack. Paul Pogba, one of the most exciting young talents in football, recently joined on a world-record transfer fee.
In March 2014, though, all this seemed very far away. United had just lost 3–0 to Liverpool, and sat in seventh place, 22 points off first. After the game, an ashen David Moyes admitted that the top four was “a long way off.”
After the match, old-time United fan Ray dropped the full weight of his decades-long history with the team on Moyes in a classic rant. He declared Moyes to be “Scooby Doo,” i.e., clueless, and decried the team as “absolutely bobbins,” Manchester industrial revolution slang for trash.
The following month, Moyes was fired. His legacy at United is that five of FullTimeDEVILS’ 10 most-watched videos are rants about him.
5. “Ivanovic and Fabregas can F — OFF”
In October 2015, Mourinho was nearing his three-season expiration date at Chelsea. Along with the traditional targets of his disdain, like Arsene Wenger and referees, José was feuding with his players, fighting off a shadow insurgency in the locker room, and was soon to be named in ex-physio Eva Carneiro’s discrimination lawsuit (Chelsea and Mourinho recently agreed to settle with Carneiro for a reported £5 million fee).
After a loss to the Southampton on October 3, Chelsea fan Louis had finally had enough. His subsequent rant builds like a tidal wave, cresting into an “eat your vegetables”–style screed against fellow Chelsea fans who left the game early. “YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED. IF YOU’RE HERE TO WATCH CHELSEA, YOU FUCKING STAY, AND YOU FUCKING WATCH CHELSEA.”
Sidebar: I love when opposing fans blaspheme the sanctity of the ranter’s cathedral of rage by popping up behind him or her mid-screed and screaming something like “HEYYYYYYY!” In those moments, the distance between victory and defeat collapses to nothing.
Extra Time: “Doing It for the Badge”
The future of the Premier League fan rant is good, if in small hands. Young Charlie is obviously green, possessing a naïveté that can only be described as childlike. It’s very important to him, for instance, that the players interact as if “they were all best friends.” When asked who his man of the match is, Charlie’s voice squeals with joy. “Ashley Young!” Then he gets tongue-tied, and calls him “Ashley Yang.” Still, the potential is there. Once he taps into his anger, he’ll be unstoppable.