Robbie Lyle: The man behind the rise of ArsenalFanTV

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The digital world is ever-changing, and when it comes to raw sporting content, ArsenalFanTV are right at the forefront of it. And it’s all down to Robbie Lyle.

Born out of a frustration with traditional media and the level of access given to a football club’s supporters, ArsenalFanTV is now arguably the biggest fan-focussed channel on the planet.

Counting over 100,000 Twitter followers, almost 300,000 Youtube subscribers and over 250,000 Facebook likes, Robbie has opened up a whole new digital outlet for supporters.

Each video and live post across their platforms bring in tens of thousands of viewers, a fine return in a little over four years since Robbie kicked it all off.

We caught up with him for an exclusive chat at the Ladbrokes Christmas Shoot.

Ladbrokes News: Robbie, tell us how ArsenalFanTV came to be the force it is today?

Robbie Lyle: We had an idea, what we thought was a very unique idea. What we wanted to do was give ordinary Arsenal fans a voice, because we always thought that you never ever hear from the fans.

“You always hear from ex-players, you hear from pundits, you hear from experts, but you never heard from the people who invest their time, their money and their emotions into their club.

So the whole idea and the whole concept of the channel is to give those fans a voice, and that’s how we came up with the idea of ArsenalFanTV.

LN: Do you think mainstream media have missed out on an opportunity?

RL: Traditional media I think, not only overlooked, but deliberately overlooked the core of a football club – the fans. For me, when I look at a football club, I think of the three most important things. I think of the players, I think of TV, as that brings the game to the masses, and equally as important as those two things are the fans.

If you’ve got no fans then you’ve got no club, you’ve got nothing to talk about and nobody is interested in it.

So why did we never hear anything from the fans? Sometimes there might be a token thing for the fans but you never really heard from them. We’ve all been to a game and gone to the pub afterwards, and even if you haven’t been to the game, we’ve been at home, you know about all the discussions that go on within fans after the game.

We wanted to capture that and we wanted to get fans involved. That was the whole purpose of setting it up and it’s been growing since then.

LN: When did ArsenalFanTV get up and running?

We started it in 2012, around November time, so just over four years ago now. Me and my business partner, we just said ‘right let’s do this’. We had no experience. He had worked at a film studios so he knew how to work a camera, but we had no camera! We had no microphone. We had no anything!

We just borrowed stuff, went down to Arsenal, pitched up and started from there. We had no Twitter account, we had no Facebook account, we had no YouTube page. We didn’t even have personal accounts to do with football – we had nothing. It literally started from scratch to where we are now.

I was a season ticket holder at Arsenal, we went to away games as well. At first we said we were just going to do home games, but we got a good reaction when we started out, and we decided we had to do away games too. We’ve literally learned it all as we’ve gone along.

When we started we were both working full-time jobs. I used to work as a surveyor and my camera guy used to work in sales. I used to have to sneak out a lot to get to the games! But now over the last year we’ve been doing it full-time and we’re looking to expand our team. It’s been an incredible journey.

LN: Some people credit ArsenalFanTV as being the first of its kind, would you agree with that?

RL: Yeah I’d say we are the first. It’s nice to be known as something like a trailblazer in that regard. We get a lot of people getting in contact with us looking to launch their own channels for their football clubs. We give them free advice in how to get it set-up, best practices and stuff like that. So it’s nice to know that people want to come to us for help.

I also think we’ve only just begun on this journey. I think there’s so much more that can be done. There are all these platforms now that are available to everybody, so if we can utilise them, and we utilise them in the right way, then we can provide really good sports content.

LN: What’s the main asset that ArsenalFanTV brings to digital sports content?

I think that what we provide is very real. ArsenalFanTV is all about being real. We’re at games, we interview fans before the games, we interview fans as they’re just coming out. We get their reaction straight away. We interview the fans during the week and that’s what it’s all about, so yeah I guess we have been trailblazing.

It’s 100 per cent real and that’s the purpose. If you’re an Arsenal fan and you want to have a say about the game, you don’t have to have 100,000 followers on Twitter, you don’t have to be an ex-player, you don’t have to be a journalist.

If you’ve gone to the game, and if you aren’t even on social media, and you feel like you want to say something about the performance, whether you want to big the team up or you’re unhappy, whatever it is, we will give you a platform and I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of – we will give a platform to every fan.

LN: ArsenalFanTV is four years old now, what lies ahead in the next four years?

RL: Four years down the line? I don’t know where we’ll be. But I’m looking to improve in everything that we’re doing, that includes quality-wise. I’m looking to do more content, more entertaining content, more stuff involving fans from around the world as well. I can’t pinpoint where we want it to be, but I want it to grow as big as it can.

I’ve also started another channel called ManLikeRobbie, which is a general football channel.  The aim of that is, again, to be another trailblazing channel where it can be a rival to some of the daily radio stations and media, and again, that’s another fan-orientated channel.

LN: Moving onto Arsenal’s on-pitch form, what do you make of their season so far?

RL: The last couple of games have been so depressing because we had been playing so well. That first defeat on the opening day but that had mitigating circumstances, because we were missing so many players for that game against Liverpool. And we still scored three goals!

But then we went on a run, we were winning games, we topped our group in the Champions League. Even in November which traditionally is a bad month for us, we came through that well, and then we get to December, start off well, but then we have these two back-to-back games.

And they’re tough games, Everton away and Manchester City away, two really difficult games. But I think it’s the fact that in both games we were leading, and then we go and concede and throw away a lead.

I think at the moment the problem with Arsenal fans is that we’re very fragile. For so many years we’ve been the nearly men, and then we mess up and what’s happened in the past couple of games is it has reminded everyone of that, and what always happens.

Everybody is feeling depressed now, it’s all ‘Oh he we go again, it’s gonna be the same old same old’. So I think the challenge to the team now is to prove everybody wrong. To prove to the fans that they’ve got the mentality to put this right. They’ve got a lot of winnable games coming up, so if they can put those games right then we’ve got a chance.

Overall this season we’ve performed very well, we’ve been very, very consistent. The last  two games have just been a real blemish on what’s been a very decent season so far.  But we’ve not even halfway through the season yet. So I urge all the fans out there to stick together, lets get behind the club.

We can do something this year, but it will come down to what the players do on the pitch and the time has come now for them to deliver. It’s always really difficult to win the Premier League, you’ve got Manchester City,  Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, all these teams and they’re all very, very good.

But we’ve got to challenge. We’ve got to be in there. We can’t be sat with six weeks of the season to go and be out of it. We need to be fighting to the end to win back the fans.

LN: Has the absence of Shkodran Mustafi, plus the contract negotiations with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, had an impact on the last two games?

RL: I don’t think the Sanchez and Ozil contract talks have had an impact on the last two games. Sanchez always gives 150 per cent on the pitch, and I think Ozil has just had a couple of quiet games, but he’s been playing very well for us this season, so I don’t think it has anything to do with the contracts.

Missing Mustafi though, that has been massive. He and Koscielny have struck up a great partnership, and they’ve been playing very, very well but even that isn’t fully the excuse. At the moment we’re not keeping clean sheets, and that’s the difference with us and Chelsea – they have had three games recently where they’re playing against teams you think they’d beat easily, but they didn’t.

They struggled to break down Sunderland, but they did, 1-0. They struggled to break down West Brom, 1-0. They struggled to break down Crystal Palace, 1-0. The common denominator in all those games is that they kept a clean sheet.

Us on the other hand, we went 1-0 up against Everton and Man City but we’ve not kept a clean sheet and that is why. We’re being punished for poor defending, and if we can get our defending right then we’ve got a chance of winning the league, but we cannot win the league if we keep conceding like we have in the past few games.

LN: Do you think Wenger should buy in January?

RL: I think Wenger should go in the market in January. I don’t think he needs a lot of players, in previous seasons we’ve needed loads of players. What I think we could do with now, is a player in the middle of the park. Santi Cazorla is out and we’ve missed him massively, he brings control to the team, he gets on the ball and he does a lot of work that people don’t always notice. He doesn’t give the ball away, he keeps it simple and keeps us ticking over.

Granit Xhaka is not the same sort of player as Santi, nor is Francis Coquelin and nor is Mohamed Elneny, they’re more defensive-minded players. If we could find a ball playing midfielder, with Cazorla being out long-term, to start creating good chances for the forward line that we’ve got, and it’s a very good forward line, then that would help us a lot.

Someone like Isco, at Real Madrid, who some say is unsettled, even looking at it long-term, he could be a very good replacement for Santi, so if we could get a player like that, or real quality to go in the middle of the park, I would go for a player like that.

I think we still have problems down the left-hand side. Iwobi has done brilliant, but if we had a naturally left-footed player on that side then that would help, it’s not essentially right now, but it would be a help. But that player in the middle of the park would be really really good for us.”

LN: Finally from us, are you ready for the busy Christmas schedule?

RL: I’m a bit depressed after the last couple of games but I’m excited for the next few weeks! I just love Arsenal Football Club and I love going to the football. I love the camaraderie and I love football in general so you’ve got to be excited about the games coming up.

In a couple of days time I’ll be over the last few games, we’ve been playing good stuff. So if we can bounce back, get a win on Boxing Day, and go on a little run, and Arsenal are known to do that, you never know what could happen.

In the Champions League we’ve got the games against Bayern Munich – I’m excited for that, and we’ve got Preston in the Emirates FA Cup – I’m excited for that too as I haven’t been to Deepdale in years! So yeah, you’ve got to be excited about what’s coming up.

You can find ArsenalFanTV on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Richard Marsh

Richard loves his sport, especially if it involves the sound of tyres screaming around a race track. He's not fussy though and his '90s Premier League nostalgia and knowledge of team nicknames is tough to match.