YouTuber Robbie Lyle has made a name for himself as the face of Arsenal Fan TV, a channel popular among football fans for its curation of the comical and concerned views of fans of ‘The Gunners’.
Robbie is the cameraman and main interviewer for the channel, which has a cult following in England – perhaps more among rival fans than the Arsenal faithful – and its videos now generate over 20 million views a month.
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Robbie is a lifelong Arsenal fan and has now dedicated his time to giving a stage to Arsenal fans – from traditional fans to the more diverse – garnering 741,000 YouTube subscribers along the way. Usual interviewees include Troopz, DT, Ty and Claude, all with a following of their own on social media.
The channel and the main protagonists are of the love-to-hate kind of football fan, who generate views as much as they grind gears and, ultimately, entertain their viewers.
Eyes On Events Sport spoke to Robbie ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League second leg game against CSKA Moscow on Thursday. The London side take a 4-1 lead into the game and are looking to book themselves a semi-final spot in the quest for manager Arsene Wenger’s first European trophy.
Eyes On Events: Robbie, welcome to Moscow, what have been your first impressions of Russia?
Robbie Lyle: I'm enjoying Moscow, I really am. It's my first time here. Obviously coming over here as an English fan you hear a lot of things, people discourage you from coming. But I really wanted to come over here and find out what it's like for myself and I'm so glad I did that. So far I've really enjoyed it, I've found people very friendly, yeah I've had a good time. It's a very big, historic city, very modern as well. So yeah, I've been pleased with what I've seen so far.
Eyes On Events: As a journalist, you must have read the headlines in Western press warning English fans away from the Russia 2018 World Cup, what do you make of them?
RL: I would say from my impressions, it's way off the mark. We all know what happened with English and Russian fans in the Euros and I think that's what has driven a lot of it, and obviously what happened recently with the spy thing. But listen, I'm always a firm believer in ‘come and see for yourself’. It's nothing like what's been reported, and you know I think the people have been very friendly, and you know I think it's a sporting nation, and I actually think in the World Cup, I get the feeling it's going to be a really well-organized event. So for me, I'll be saying to fans coming over here: 'do not be discouraged'. Obviously I'm only in one city here in Moscow, but I have found it well organized. So, come over and find out for yourself is what I'd say. I get the feeling English fans will enjoy it over here. And the vodka as well!
Funny thing is, you can hear things, if somebody was coming over to England from Russia, and they were being told by the foreign office of Russia don't go to England, if you're going to watch Arsenal be very careful because they've had more murders in London than New York and someone would be discouraged from coming to England, I mean they would be quite right in saying that, because that is a fact. But the thing is, we all know there would be no hassle for a football fan coming over from Russia to England. So that is why you need to go and find out for yourself. What I've seen so far has been fine.
Eyes On Events: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said the political landscape will not affect the game, or the World Cup in Russia this summer. Do you think the World Cup will go ahead as normal?
RL: I do. I sincerely hope so. I don't really like when politics starts affecting sport. Of course there are certain circumstances that can be so extreme where it wouldn't be right to come play. But I just don't feel at the moment the circumstances that are happening, they're political and they're to do with spies you know. Let that be sorted out by the government, it's got nothing to do with sport. The fans that are coming from CSKA Moscow, the fans that are coming from Arsenal, that has got nothing to do with us. That's all sorted out by the politicians. So, I’m coming for the World Cup and I'm looking forward to it. And I certainly hope there is nothing that happens that is going to stop fans from coming. So I certainly hope that doesn't happen.
Eyes On Events: An issue more closely related to football is racism. How does that issue in Russia compare to in the UK?
RL: I’d say, listen the game is tonight, so the racism at football thing, racism in the street I have not seen, since I have been here. You can see there is not a lot of black people here. So I have not been going around getting looks or stuff like that. I've just been able to go on as normal, so I've found that fine. At the game tonight, who knows what that is going to be like. I will be able to tell you what that is like tomorrow.
I have seen issues before in Russia and in other countries around Europe, and I just feel the clubs need to address it more. I think one of the good things in England what they have done over the years is they have done zero tolerance on it. So if you get done for racism at football in an English ground, you know that's it, that's your last game, you're banned for life. And I think that if they do similar things in Russia and in other countries, it works.
The ultimate deterrent of not being able to see your football club again because you do some stupid monkey chant or something like that is a strong deterrent. You know, it has to be in force. I think that's what has to come in. Not these stupid fines and things like that. The clubs themselves need to take control of the situation. Because I have been going to football for a long time and I have seen it. It happens, it starts with a couple of people and if they feel they can get away with it, the other people join in. And sometimes some of the people joining in, they're not even racist or whatever, but they are just joining in for a laugh. And I've seen even at Arsenal when there has been anti-Semitic chants and you say to fans, 'why are you saying that', and they don't even understand what they are saying, but they are just joining in on that because other people did. So zero tolerance to those sort of things can solve it and I think from what I have seen, Russia is no more racist than, so far, what I've seen in England. But on the football thing, that is what they need to do. England have done it really well. When I first started going to football back in the day we had a serious problem and it's almost gone now, because of that.
Eyes On Events: How would you compare Russian football fans to English fans?
RL: From what I have seen the atmosphere is fantastic here, it’s always the same around Europe. I think that's one of the things we have really fallen behind on in England, is that clubs around Europe really take atmosphere seriously, that's like a source of pride for them. The atmosphere will be brilliant, the CSKA fans I saw them in London the other day, even though there weren't a lot of them, but they were still right behind their team even when it was 4-1. Whereas in England, if Arsenal are losing 4-1, I'd probably be the only one left there, everyone would have gone home. So the atmosphere is always fantastic at these European clubs and I expect it to be the same here. We can learn a lot in English football from that. We have lost that. That is one of my biggest regrets at the moment is that we used to be the leaders of that, but we are now last when it comes to atmosphere and it's disgusting what's happened. We really need to address that in English clubs.
by Danny Armstrong for Eyes On Events Sport