Formats Unpacked: The United Stand Fan Channel

How a sports format makes your team being absolutely terrible bearable

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OK. Today it’s me doing the unpacking. You don’t have to be a football fan to get value out of this piece. Similarly, you don’t have to be a Manchester United fan to enjoy this fan channel. Find out why by reading on…

What is it

The United Stand (YouTube Channel)

What’s the Format

The United Stand is one of the world’s biggest independent football fan channels run by fans of Manchester United. Founder and host Mark Goldbridge fronts a collection of live stream formats across multiple platforms, including pre/during/post-match commentary, a minimum of three daily streams throughout the week, manager press conference reactions, transfer news and breaking news. Whilst Mark is undoubtedly the face of the channel, other fans contribute via regular debate shows, and the polarising fancam in which mostly irate fans give their post-match opinion as they leave the ground. 

What’s the magic that makes it special?

With the football media landscape now dominated by ex-pros as pundits, fan channels have become a welcome platform for the voice of true fans. TV coverage of what was once called ‘the people’s game’ is now filled with ex-footballers dressed in designer outfits, faking outrage, and criticising the opinions of refs, fans, or anyone outside of their coterie of ex-professional players. But not everyone who can do something brilliantly can talk about it brilliantly, and this is the opportunity that has led to the rise of fan channels.

Similar to ex-pros, fan channels hold an uneasy place in the hearts of football fans. For many, they’re adored. They’re hugely entertaining, deliver up-to-the-minute news about their club, and provide multiple spaces for fans to either vent or celebrate their team’s performance. But true fans, or ‘Top Reds’ in the case of Manchester United, wouldn’t be seen dead admitting to liking them. They view the hosts as clowns, and criticise the fancams for their extreme or ill-informed views, giving fans of other clubs hours of content to clip into mocking social media posts. But despite this love/hate relationship, fan channels are booming.

The United Stand has 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.3 million followers on Twitter. The Youtube channel will soon smash through the one billion views mark. While Manchester United will always guarantee numbers, there’s no denying that Mark Goldbridge is also a big pull. He’s widely regarded as football’s very own Alan Partridge thanks to his slightly rubbish one-liners, such as “slower than a snail’s funeral”, and “he’s as much use as a hotdog at a vegetarian convention”.

He might not have played football at a decent level, he’s never had a trial for a lower league club, and he probably doesn’t even have a shelf full of schoolboy medals, but what he does have is authentic passion combined with an innocence that makes him likable to a broad range of fans. The football hipsters and Top Reds are never going to like him, but with over a million subscribers to his other three personal YouTube channels, I’m sure he’s not too concerned.

Behind Mark Goldbridge’s slightly amateur appeal is the real magic of Fan Channels - hope. He knows what it’s like to be a fan whose team is currently ten years into decline, who conceded four goals in twenty-five minutes to Brentford at the weekend, whose top scorer this season is ‘Own Goal’, who are bottom of the league and the laughing stock of the game. I genuinely believe football is at its most engaging when your club is at its worse. Fans of clubs who’ve never won the Premier League or Champions League will no doubt disagree. But seriously, football is boring when you remove hope. Just ask any Manchester City fan. 

Contrary to the popular saying, it’s not the hope that kills you. Hope is what ignites dopamine. Hope is what keeps you showing up and tuning in. Hope that your team will get better this season. Hope that your team will not make the same mistakes in the next game. Hope that your owners buy the right players. Hope that the player you’ve naively championed for three seasons will finally come good. Hope that a good cup run will give you something to look forward to once winning the league or finishing in the top four becomes a mathematical impossibility. Hope that despite your team’s inability to string two passes together, they will somehow find the magic needed to beat your far superior closest rival.

Mark Goldbridge - like every club’s Fan Channel host - might not know how to spray perfect 70 yard passes across the pitch, but he understands hope, and he knows how much fans need hope to keep turning up, week after week after week.

Favourite Episode

Goldbridge’s meltdowns during Saturday thrashing to Brentford were pretty epic. You can watch the highlights here.

Purely by coincidence, my co-director and Storythings founder Matt Locke wrote another piece about football this week for Why Is This Interesting. If you don’t already subscribe to this weekday newsletter you really should. It’s fascinating, short enough to read in a few minutes, and introduces you to lots of really smart people. If any readers would like to unpack WITI or their Monday Media Diet, get in touch.

Thanks for reading. Leave your thoughts on this format, or your hopes and dreams for your team, in the comments below.

Til next time,

Hugh

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