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Missouri to Montrose: Tweets, Podcasts and the rise of the lower league alternative...


Jack Dorsey might not be a name who is familiar to many of the people who would line the terraces of SPFL grounds but he's certainly had a huge impact for clubs and is a key figure in the development of the lower league alternative. Dorsey is the 43 year old founder of Twitter and it's journey from Missouri to Montrose represents one of the biggest equalisers for smaller football clubs in a world dominated by Europe's top leagues. With a degree of creativity, the likes of the Gable Endies have taken social media by storm in recent times with their content and "signing reveals".


Their unveiling of Harry Cochrane has, at this this point, over 109.5k views and will have provided exposure across the country for their club. While that might not mean that they'll guarantee any additional revenue immediately it's an indicator of the rise of the lower tiers of the SPFL as a new alternative in a footballing world which has been dominated in the last three decades by television coverage of the major European leagues. The Mo are showing that regardless of your stature clubs can attract attention with a blend of creativity and ingenuity and they're certainly not alone in the Scottish game: various clubs including Rovers have worked to develop their online profile over the last few seasons. It's something that they deserve credit for as it's a vital method of interacting with fans.


But in true Scottish football style, there's always some ridiculous to go with the sublime and Twitter is no different. Berwick Rangers being unable to provide match updates as they were going to Creamfields. Caley Thistle's admin liking Pornhub links. Ayr United asking for medical advice about a rash in a suspicious area before asking people not to screen grab. It's all part of the circus. Even Rovers have found it rough with their #roaringback campaign in the 17/18 which ultimately backfired when they lost the title on the last day. As fans, you can't be too critical - social media and marketing are often handled by volunteers and done with the best interests at heart.


Historically, the marketing of Scottish football has tended to basic. The powers that be have often tried to marketing us as similar to the English leagues: it's understandable given we're sharing an island and the historical ties in the sport spanning back since the mid 19th century. This has, for the most part, been a hindrance: the 90s saw Scottish clubs try to spend heavily in order to compete with clubs in England while also trying to introduce a minimum capacity for 10,000 seater stadia in the top flight. It was a disastrous move with many clubs wracking up huge debts and some even falling into administration or folding. What hasn't helped is an insistence to mimic the league structure - you only had to wait a few years from the rebranding of the English divisions into the Championship, League 1 and 2 before Scotland followed suit. It's trite to say but there really has been a lack of original thinking at times as the powers that be often base things around Rangers and Celtic plus 40 others. You only need to look at Sky's preview of the semi-final between Celtic and Aberdeen which contained over 20 Celtic goals and none for Aberdeen.


But the last ten years, the rise of social media has allowed for the lower tiers of Scottish football to showcase it's own charm and personality. The development of Youtube and podcasting has taken the microphones from journalists and moved them directly into the hands of fans. There's been a move from lower league fans being limited to Scotsport on a Sunday to having weekly high quality highlights package, live streaming and footage of fans from at the games.


The development of smartphones means that unique moments can be shared among fans: the good, the bad and the ugly. One of my favourite clips to encapsulate the chaotic nature of the Scottish lower leagues is by Rovers fan Kev Barretto from our 4-3 win against Airdrie in the 18/19 season.


Fans who attended that game now speak about it with excited tones when it's mentioned: going from 3-1 down to win 4-3 with ten men in the dying stages of a game is something which very few fans will ever experience and those who attended will speak of it as long as they can recall it: "That day at Airdrie". It was ultimately a game which didn't have any bearing on our season but the whole experience was so far against the odds.


The brilliance of Kev's clip is that it just highlights the sheer ecstasy in the stands: You have the players streaming over to celebrate with the fans, you've got people charging down steps to get to the front, people hugging strangers, and the odd person making sure to get it right up the opposing fans. It's a small reminder of why Scottish football is so important to those that follow it:

Similarly, there has also been the development of fan TV channels. While I'm not a person who'll actively hunt these videos out they do offer a positive role for fans to put out creative content to showcase their clubs. This of course isn't unique to Scottish clubs: the most well known is Arsenal fan TV which is to all intents and purposes, a circus of attention seekers outside a ground spewing reactionary nonsense. It can be quite easy to be critical when you see someone recording their reaction to a goal rather than celebrating with the folk around them but it's all about capturing the experiences of going to a match - something which many young people miss due to the oversaturation of top flight football on TV.


With that being said, it's absolute beautiful to hear the reaction of rival fans such as Ben 1885 screaming "DON'T YOU DARE..." as Lewis Vaughan charged through to secure his historic hat-trick in the Scottish Cup:


Over the last few years, podcasts have become the go to place for fans to air their opinions on Scottish football. As a fan, I'll quite happily listen to the reactions of fans of other clubs to try to gauge how they're doing and these are a great way to do this. Most SPFL clubs have (or have had) a podcast. While Rovers don't have one as such, they do have the excellent 'Saturday Sports Show' hosted by Graeme Kilgour each Saturday from 1pm where he'll interview current players and discuss how the club are doing with a guest.


There are also an increasing number of more non-club-specific podcasts which have taken shape over the last few years. Examples of this are the likes of TellHimHesPele.com and their Pele Podcast and Lower League Ramblings which is hosted by East Fife winger Danny Denholm and Stenhousemuir captain (and former Rovers youth player) Andrew Munro - both the shows have provided players an opportunity to tell their side of the story and what their experience of the game has been like whether positive or negative. If you've not already done so, I'd encourage any Rovers fan to listen to Bobby Barr and Grant Anderson on the Pele podcast and Lewis Vaughan on LLR - all three share their experiences of the highs and lows of being with the club both in good and bad times.


Arguably the most successful podcast has been The Terrace. Since it's creation in 2007, the podcast has covered every level of professional football in Scotland and continues to grow each year. They've recently recruited former Wolves striker Craig Iwelumo for a weekly show with Craig Cairns. Iwelumo provides a really interesting viewpoint as a former player and his passion for the SPFL and Scottish football really shines through - he's upbeat, positive and willing to go into detail about what life is like as a footballer.


The great bit about the Terrace is that it strikes you as just being a group of friends who sit down each week to talk about something they're all passionate about - they don't try to pretend the Scottish game is anything other than a chaotic barrel of laughs. They've also been willing to tackle some of the tough topics - Craig Fowler took the time to interview Christian Nade, Kevin Harper, Sean Clare and Marvin Bartley about racism both in football and wider society. Again, it's something I'd recommend any readers to listen to. The success of the podcast has allowed for a natural evolution into a TV show. The show carries over a lot of the themes while also allowing for vignettes - it's a visual showcase of why so many people are engrossed with our national game both at the professional and non-league level.


At the moment, there's never been a better time for media coverage of Scottish football. We're spoiled for choice compared to past years. At points during the pandemic, I do wonder how Scottish football clubs would have survived this pandemic if it were fifteen years ago (though we're by no means out of the woods at the moment live streaming at least offers clubs a chance). Fans can go onto YouTube and watch old games to their hearts content - recreating a fraction of the euphoria they got from a 90th minute goal. Fanbases have a new way of interacting with each other and also with the players they idolise. It's something which is constantly developing and the sky is the limit for the creative types. For now we'll continue to keep an eye out for Montrose doing numbers on social media.




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