So what was the highlight of 2013? I know the answer’s obvious so I feel terribly disloyal in admitting this: for me it was run close by the day we were robbed! CheeseGate took the club on a journey which ended with us making a bit of cash and beating some of the biggest clubs in England!
It was a remarkable moment at Kidderminster which set things in motion. Wrexham winger Adrian Cieslewicz surged through the home team’s defence and hit a shot in a million which went into the bottom corner and straight through a hole in the net without any deflection or change of pace. Naturally the referee didn’t think we’d scored as when the ball doesn’t stay in the net the officials’ first instinct isn’t to award a goal, and all hell broke loose! It took six minutes before the matter was resolved and Cieslewicz’s effort was finally recognised.
That bizarre incident couldn’t have happened at a better time. It allowed the Wrexham Player media team, of which I’m a part, to give a terrific boost to a revenue stream which could become genuinely significant for the club. We produce media content for the club, from videos to match commentaries, and a decision by the Football League, which has overall control of our media rights, to let us put highlights on a YouTube channel, means we can make money for the club based on how popular our videos are.
So now we needed to devise strategies to make sure we could make the most of what we had. The club secretary Geraint Parry and one of my co-commentators, Carl Hogan, went to a conference run by the Football League and picked up some great ideas so, allied with our other commentator Alex Taylor, we tried to come up with a way to get some extra views.
We were driven by a very ambitious goal. We receive a weekly email which tells us what the top ten videos of the week were across all the Football League channels, and we dreamed of one day getting into the top ten. However, that objective wasn’t going to be easy. At the conference I mentioned the Football League top media people held up our work as an example to other clubs of how to do it, but the fact is that we’re always going to struggle to compete in popularity with clubs the size of Burnley, Wolves or Blackburn Rovers. We’d typically get between one and two thousand views for our most popular videos, and you’d usually need at least five times that to creep into the top ten.
What we really needed was for something remarkable to happen in a game. Nothing beats having an actual story.
And then Mister Cieslewicz came along!
After the match I was desperate to get home and get the video online, not least because I thought if Kidderminster did so first then they’d have stolen our thunder! Geraint and I searched desperately around the corridors of Aggborough for a power socket for our DVD copier and finally ended up plugging it in outside the away changing room. So there I was, hopping impatiently from foot to foot, getting in the way of the players, waiting for the disk to be spat out so I could fly home and get cracking!
I managed to post it as our exclusive footage, and then I waited for the hits to roll in! Could this be the video that cracked the top ten?
I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was. At around five o’clock on Sunday evening we had six thousand hits, which dwarfed our previous best of just over two thousand. But still we thirsted for more! Then I remembered a suggestion my lad had made earlier when we’d discussed how to popularise our youtube channel. He thought that if we could somehow haul internet phenomenon KSI into the equation, we’d be quids in!
KSI is one of a modern generation who have made a career out of the internet. Starting out by making his own videos of games he’d played and pranks he’d pulled, his popularity snowballed to the point where he has earned himself jobs presenting on BT Sport and superstar status on youtube. So I tagged him in a tweet and an hour later the views had doubled to twelve thousand!
That’s often enough to creep into that elusive top ten, so I was already delighted. But the fun was only just beginning. Whether by coincidence or not, this was where the whole thing snowballed. Some tweets I’d sent earlier began to bear fruit as the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror featured the video on their websites, and the views began to multiply. Fifteen thousand, twenty thousand, forty thousand. By the time I went to bed we’d 81,862 views (not that the number’s etched into my proud little brain or anything!) We’d gone viral!
The next morning I rushed to my phone to check on progress and saw what I’d hoped to see: we’d got over 100,000 views! We’d filled Wembley!
And still it kept going. Carl had embarked on a superbly audacious approach, tweeting Polish news outlets and football figures to see if they were interested in a Polish player’s bizarre experience in Britain. It worked. Europe began to take interest, and soon we were big news in Portugal!
I thought I’d join in and used my rusty schoolboy German and French to point out on Twitter the similarity to a recent incident in The Bundesliga, where Stefan Kiessling scored his own “ghost goal” for Bayer Leverkusen. I didn’t think it was anything more than a shot in the dark, but soon afterwards Bild, Germany’s best-selling tabloid with the fifth biggest circulation in the world, was in touch asking for permission to use the video! Funnily enough, we said yes!
By the time I got home from work on Monday we’d passed the 150,000 mark. Once I’d finished by tea we had 200,000. Our impossible dream of whether we’d come in the top ten was now a certainty. The question was whether we’d be able to crack the top five!
This was the point where we broke YouTube. We got to 210,000 the next day, and then nothing happened. For twenty four hours the figure stayed the same. Obviously this wasn’t right, but I started fretting: we were making substantial amounts of money for the club through this video, and I wanted us to get the benefit. And then someone in California flicked a switch and our view count changed. To 382,541!
We waited eagerly for that email t come round telling us if we’d achieved the dream. Could we possibly have even come top of the tree? Most weeks that many views would get you top spot easily, but you never know. If by coincidence Swansea, Cardiff or Southampton had come up with something spectacular, we’d have missed out on our shot of glory.
After a tense evening spent checking my email, the news finally arrived. I could barely bring myself to look, but slowly worked my way down to the top ten and found we’d done! We were number one by miles!
But the good news didn’t end there. The popularity of the video meant more people were checking out the rest of our material so our views were through the roof across the board. I scrolled further down the email to find that not only had we produced the top video, but our channel was number one! We’d beaten all the Football League clubs and half the Premier League! Not bad for a little Skrill Premier team from North Wales!
Naturally things slowed down as time passed, but it’s still getting hits. At the moment it’s hovered around 435,000 and my next dream is to have it top half a million eventually.
But there’s no time to dwell on the past, as there’s more money to be made for the club. When our players versus fans versus my cat prediction league catches on, we’re going to be rolling in cash!
I’m very proud, as a supporter of a fan-owned club, to see our work raising much needed funds for Wrexham FC. Since the supporters trust took over the club, we’ve seen so much good work done by fans to raise the money which will not only help the club to succeed but also give followers of other clubs the confidence to strike out and run their teams themselves, breaking free from the traditional model of ownership which sees them watch helplessly in the hope that their owner and benefactor will have honourable intentions.
But football’s not about the money, it’s about the glory. We’ve been top of the league once and it was a blast. I can’t wait until we do it again! Maybe it’s time for stop-motion Subbuteo Wrexham games to go viral!
Or Players versus Fans versus Cats!
Or Andy Morrell’s Brazilian fan club!
Do I look like I’m enjoying this? Thought so!